Souls franchise director Hidetaka Miyazaki hopped on a rare interview circuit after the latest Elden Ring reveal, and in the process he commented on the series' fixation on swamp levels. "I don't know!" he said in an interview with Russian outlet Igromania. "Something makes me put poisonous swamps everywhere. Maybe something in my subconscious."
Whatever it is, the swamp demon that lives in Miyazaki's mind has been subjecting us to hideous, monster-infested wetlands for over a decade. With Elden Ring and its own no-doubt god-awful swamp on the horizon, I thought now would be a peachy time to look back on all the horrible, burbling landscapes that FromSoftware's action RPGs have conjured up. Put on your finest fishing waders and grab a machete; we're going swampin'.
Demon's Souls - The Tower of Latria
FromSoftware's time-honored tradition of deadly quagmires goes all the way back to world 3 - 2 of Demon's Souls and its Tower of Latria. At the base of this tower is a marsh of syrupy blood covered in squelching vines, rotted platforms, and insectoid abominations so revolting that the Souls community couldn't even look at them long enough to correctly identify the things and instead settled on calling them Man Centipedes. Imagine an area so uninviting that dropping a giant malformed heart monster on it somehow improves the decor. Thank god there isn't a newly released HD remake of this game that went out of its way to enhance every last smear of viscera, otherwise it'd probably be really hard to put this out of my mind.
Demon's Souls, again - The *checks notes* Swamp of Sorrow
In retrospect, the fact that there are two swamp levels in Demon's Souls really should've raised some red flags about where this series was headed. How naive we were in 2009. And the Valley of Defilement's Swamp of Sorrow – I mean, come on, that's actually what it's called – makes trudging through the Latria basin look like stepping in a puddle with socks on. This place is poison on venom on plague. It's got jellyfish, slugs, giant mosquitoes, lanky behemoths who move way faster than you when you're shin-deep in who knows what, and the final boss is a hornet's nest with legs. The only appropriate response to the Swamp of Sorrow is a missile stuffed with novelty air fresheners.
Dark Souls - Blighttown, obviously
Here it is, the big one. The swamp that inspired countless memes and dropped countless frames: Blighttown. You could argue that Darkroot gets a bit like Shrek's backyard, but Blighttown is the real swamp experience. Nowhere else will you find such a pitch-perfect combination of insects, poison, and dirty water, all steeped in an inimitable air of decay. So detailed is its putrilage that feeble man-made machines can't even display it at a stable frame rate. You might think this is a hardware or optimization issue, but I think it's a fail safe. There are some things for which the human mind just isn't prepared, and 60 frames of Blighttown per second is surely one of them.
Dark Souls 2 – Big swamp energy, if nothing else
I actually wasn't sure if Dark Souls 2 had a true-blue swamp in it but then I remembered there's a boss named The Rotten found in an area called the Gutter located just past the Black Gulch, and if you don't think those are some swampy-ass names, you haven't been paying attention.
This is how Miyazaki's swamp demon operates, you see. It suckers you in with, well, not sweet words, but slightly less shitty ones. "There's no swamp here," it promises. "Look, no vines, no stinky ponds, no giant mosquitoes. Come on in." In a moment of weakness, you agree, and then bam: poison darts and clouds, big-old centipedes popping out of stagnant pools, and a sentient bag of bodies with a meat cleaver. That's a swamp, FromSoftware, and I won't stand for your semantics. And yes, I know Miyazaki didn't direct Dark Souls 2. Why do you think there's no obvious poison swamp in it? The swamp demon's influence over the game's co-directors was more limited.
Bloodborne – I mean basically everywhere, but especially the Forbidden Woods
When I think of a video game swamp, I think of ramshackle settlements reclaimed by nature, and pulpy bogs overrun with creatures so offensively gross that they can cause your blood to coagulate on sight. And that describes a lot of Bloodborne quite frankly. But there ain't nothing swampier than the oily pools of the Forbidden Woods. We really start to see From Software succumb to its own madness with this one.
"What do we put in this swamp?" one designer must've asked.
"I've got it!" said another, shooting upright and shaking off a thick layer of moss and lichen. "Snake balls."
Dark Souls 3 - Farron Keep and the Road of Sacrifices
"Austin, why did you put these two areas under one heading while the Demon's Souls swamps each got their own?" I hear you ask. Well, I'll tell you, reader. It's not because I got lazy while writing this, it's because the Dark Souls 3 swamps are united by a common crime: the giant crab, the most beguiling enemy in FromSoftware history (as my colleague James Davenport documented at PC Gamer). Why is the crab so big? Why does it live exclusively in swamps? How did we sink even lower than snake balls? Truly, the giant crab is unknowable.
Perhaps it's a symbol. Just as nature seems hellbent on turning everything into crabs through a somehow not-made-up process called carcinisation, FromSoftware is steadily working toward a game that's nothing but swamp levels.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice – If it had a swamp level, it would be a nightmare
Sekiro doesn't have a swamp, thankfully, but holy hell, can you imagine if it did? Have you seen the crap that is in this game? It's got headless apes puppeted by giant millipedes, cockatrice rejects that have nothing but scorn for your pathetic block button, and googly-eyed fish warriors that look like the abominations the Demon's Soul character creator upchucks when you hit randomize too many times. I don't even want to know what Sekiro would manifest if that kind of cursed energy was filtered through the distilled awfulness of a swamp level. I'd have to repress any memory of such a wretched–
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice - Oh f***, that's right, it has like three swamp levels
Holy shit, it's even worse than I imagined. I think the swamp demon's gotten louder over time. Ashina Depths is literally just Poison: The Area. Mibu Village is 90% damp vegetation and 10% getting mauled to death. And don't try this again, FromSoftware; I know for an absolute fact that the Fountainhead Palace is a swamp, it just happens to be blue and kind of pretty. I guess. Hit Blighttown with some sakura and food coloring and it'd be the same damn thing. I'm onto you now, you won't pull the wool over my eyes.
Elden Ring – Presumably the worst swamp yet
In what could only be a personal attack against me, the first real marketing materials for Elden Ring promised "suffocating swamps" among other, hopefully less damp environments. Great! Don't have enough of those around, that's for sure! You're doing god's work, Miyazaki. I don't know which god, but presumably an Eldritch one.
Whatever. You know what? I'm actually here for it. Elden Ring looks like the most Dark Souls thing since Dark Souls, which means that FromSoftware has applied not just years of dark-fantasy prowess but also a decade and change of swamp theorycrafting. Well, bring it on, swamp demon. Give me a whole swamp continent this time. My fishing waders are ready to go.