It's no secret that Hidetaka Miyazaki loves poison swamps as much as we love his games. His self-confessed masochistic streak compels him to keep adding them. Even Dark Souls 2, which wasn't directed by Miyazaki, didn't give us respite from these sludgy slimepits. If it's a Soulsborne: Ring Dies Twice game from From Software, it'll have at least one poison swamp.
That got the old brain cogs a-whirring. If all of these games have poison swamps and the big man behind them thinks they're really important, it's obvious that we can figure out which one is the objectively best game by rating the poison swamps! Folks are always banging on about objective game rankings, so this is just giving them what they want. Genius, right? No, I wasn't intensely sleep deprived from cramming in too much Elden Ring while working on this article, why do you ask?
In order to complete this arduous, malodorous task, I needed the right tools for the job. To that end, I have devised the SWOMP system to rate a poison swamp from each game. Highest score wins, simple! How does SWOMP work? Allow me to explain.
- Stickiness: The first obstacle of a poison swamp is how all that ooze sucks at your boots and tenderly engulfs your legs, making movement harder. That's what Stickiness rates.
- Wetness: Related to Stickiness, but obviously different enough to require its own category for scientific reasons and not just to make the acronym work.
- Odour: How bad does it stink on a scale of pleasantly floral wetland meadow to Bog of Eternal Stench? We don't have Smellyvision technology yet, so we're just going to have to use our imaginations like kids did in ancient times like the seventies. I did try very hard to think of a suitable word to make the acronym SWAMP, but there aren't any. I checked in the dictionary, but I got bored and stopped at arolla.
- Murkitude: This is an absolutely real word to rate the visibility, or lack thereof, in the swamp. Being unable to perceive the proper path is a large part of the poison swamp's dastardly design, so we need to take that into account. As well as actual low visibility, this also includes how hard the area is to navigate in general.
- Puissance: A poison swamp has gotta have poison, obv. Puissance is a rating of that poison's power. How quickly will it sap your health? How easily can you mitigate or overcome it?
With our objective, highly scientific system explained, let's bring on the swamps!
Dark Souls - Blighttown
For me, and for many others, the first taste of poison swamps. The standout feature here is not the swamp itself, but the preceding area. The swamp is a massive cesspool at the bottom of a huge underground chamber (think Moria in Lord of the Rings, but with London's sewage output dumped in it and you're not too far off) and to reach it, you have to navigate the rickety shanty town that has been bodged together and lashed to the chamber's massive supporting pillars. It's a confusing three dimensional maze of dead ends, drops, darkness and dogs, topped off with blow gun-wielding snipers that can inflict poison as well as toxin (poison's bigger, badder sibling. It's an exhilarating nightmare that makes the soggy bottom seem like a cakewalk by comparison. With a bit of poison resistance, island hopping to avoid getting poisoned isn't too hard and it helps that the movement-restricting effects of the swamp can be entirely mitigated by wearing the Rusted Iron Ring. At the same time, the darkness, huge size of the chamber and lack of easily identifiable landmarks can make it a pain to get around.
S: 2 W: 4 O: 5 M: 4 P: 2
Dark Souls 2 - Harvest Valley
Ahh, Harvest Valley! Sounds like a lovely place, right? Maybe a brand name for organic cereal bars or something. Judging by the name and the windmills, this was once an abundant farming region, full of life and light, but now it's all cold stone, deadly hazards and unfriendly locals. Probably why it reminds me of Peterborough. Now technically this isn't a swamp, and it isn't full of movement-impeding goop, but it is horrible to navigate and highly poisonous so it counts. I mean, Blighttown is considered THE Soulsborne poison swamp and that's just a big pool of poop. I'm here to objectively rank games, not get into arguments about wetlands. There are clouds of noxious vapour that will quickly poison you, plus pools of sludge that coat you in poison, continuing the build-up even after you've left them. The icing on the cake is that poison in DS2 is considerably nastier than in other Soulsborne titles. Rather than being an easily-manageable annoyance, it quickly eats through your health.
S: 1 W: 1 O: 4 M: 4 P: 5
Dark Souls 3 - Farron Keep
Now this is a swamp! Stinky, sprawling and maze-like, DS3's Farron Keep is the real deal. While poison is back down to the DS1 levels of annoyance, the game lacks an equivalent to the Rusted Iron Ring, so there's no way to avoid getting bogged down. It has some horribly tough enemies that really take advantage of your lack of mobility. I've played through the area so many times and I still get lost and beaten up in some dark corner. To really increase the fun/frustration (funstration?) you're required to light three ritual fires in order to progress to the next area. Instead of just squelching through as quickly as possible, you have to explore every nook and cranny of this loathsome bog. Bleh.
S: 5 W: 4 O: 3 M: 5 P: 3
Bloodborne - Nightmare Frontier
One of a couple of poison swamps in Bloodborne, this one is quite literally a Nightmare. It shares a lot of DNA with Harvest Valley, in that it's a barren, rocky maze that frequently forces you into poisonous areas, rather than, say, Blighttown's all swamp, all the time approach. It has some rock-hard enemies that will literally throw giant rocks at you, as well as nasty gribbly slug things. Nightmare Frontier is also home to a Chime Maiden, a monster who summons other players in to your game to murderise you. Usually, this only happens under certain circumstances, such as having summoned a partner to help you out, but Nightmare Frontier is one of two areas where the invasions will happen automatically! On the positive side, I don't get the feeling that it whiffs as badly as some of the other poison swamps. Can you even smell things in dreams?
S: 3 W: 3 O: 2 M: 4 P: 3
Sekiro - Ashina Depths
Is it a poison swamp area if you can pretty much entirely avoid the poison? This is the riddle posed by Ashina Depths. While it does have all the hallmarks of a classic From Software poison swamp, Dave Sekiro avoids trudging through all that 'orrible ooze through the use of a grappling hook and the ability to jump! Who'd have thought, jumping in a video game! While it is possible to take a little goo bath and become poisoned, it's easy enough to just jump and grapple from dry land to dry land, quickly leaping out again if you do fall in the muck. Even if you do get poisoned, your antidotes and healing items will go that much further. At that point it's only the convoluted pathways, secret passages and angry monkeys to contend with. So easy it may as well play itself!
S: 1 W: 2 O: 3 M: 4 P: 2
Elden Ring - Swamp of Aeonia
Elden Ring is flippin' huge. I was quite unprepared for how massive the game is and how, even right up to the end of the game, it keeps adding more stuff to the map. Of course this means more room for poison swamps, so there's a whole bunch of them in the game. Swamp of Aeonia is the standout, being a big, bright red area slap bang in the middle of one of the game's big chunks of land. It's a big visual departure from a typical poison swamp, but somehow the red manages to be even more noxious than the usual green or brown. What's more, Aeonia doesn't afflict you with mere poison, instead it's filled with Scarlet Rot, a disease which features heavily in many of the game's plot strands. Mechanically, it functions like a nastier poison, much like toxin from DS1. Much like Sekiro, the swamp's sting is significantly lessened by how much easier it is to traverse than comparable areas in other Soulsborne titles. Simply mounting your horse allows you to avoid the poison build-up entirely, and with it being a relatively open, outdoor area, you can gallop across it in no time. The other relevant tool at your disposal is an actual in-game map, so it's possible to have a good idea of Aeonia's twists and turns before setting foot in the place, if you need to dismount in the goopy bits at all.
S: 1 W: 4 O: 4 M: 1 P: 5
Demon's Souls: Valley of Defilement
I missed out on Demon's Souls the first time around. I did have a PS3, but I was living in London and had to sell it in order to make rent on the studio cupboard I was sharing with five other students at the time. I was very much looking forward to the remake, however EG HQ would not let me put a PS5 on expenses, so that's out. Therefore, I declare Demon's Souls' poison swamp to be the worst one, because I can't play it. So there.
S: 0 W: 0 O: 0 M: 0 P: 0
Looking at the scores, which I pinkie promise I didn't add up until after writing the whole thing, it seems the winner is Farron Keep, making Dark Souls 3 the official, objectively best Soulsborne title from From Software.
Next time: We look at Ryu's eyebrow game to determine the objectively best entry in the Street Fighter series.