PAX Aus 2019: Hands-on with Hollow Knight: Silksong
If you weren’t lucky enough to be at PAX Australia this year, or couldn’t wait in line the hour to play it, then lucky for you we were lucky enough to go hands-on with it. Here’s what Chris and Ollie thought about it!
I adore Hollow Knight just as much as Ollie did in his review. For hours upon hours, it conjured a continual sense of discovery and challenge to a standard few other games reach. You bet I was excited when Silksong was announced as a fully-fledged sequel. More Hollow Knight action? Yes, bloody, please.
So, what did I do 9 AM on Friday morning of PAX Australia during the media early access hour? Instead of beating the lines for the triple-A behemoths on show, I made a hornet-line directly to the Silksong booth.
The demo commenced with a cutscene showing a captured Hornet being transported across a bridge in a cage by a group of worker bugs. After a short while, she shot out several lines of silk, shattering the cage and falling to the overgrown mossy surrounds below the bridge.
Playing as popular Hollow Knight NPC, Hornet, I immediately noticed the difference in her abilities from the original adventurer. Most noticeably, she possesses greater vertical and lateral quickness; Hornet can grab and boost up from ledges, which is reflected in the level’s greater sense of verticality. Also, her down-attack moves at a 45-degree angle diagonally instead of straight down, creating more chances to lash out at enemies just out of reach. While I didn’t fully grasp Hornet’s recovery system in the already-noisy PAX environment, it appears that she recovers damage by collecting a full spindle of silk from smashing enemies and objects. Only then can you hold “a” to regenerate what I believe to be all health lost to that point.
However, the demo did not have a map available, so I did get turned around a couple of times. Fortunately, I managed to navigate to a boss encounter against the Moss Mother, a relatively straightforward bout by Hollow Knight’s standards. I’m not-so-quietly pleased I was filmed bashing this bug into oblivion, showing Hornet’s nimbleness and my l33t skills. Once the Moss Mother ate dirt, the demo concluded, leaving me wanting more. Much more.
To my dismay, the Nintendo reps were not permitted to hand out the limited edition Silksong pins until the general public doors opened at 10 AM. Did I return at 10:01 AM to collect my Hornet pin? You betcha.
Silksong so far looks and plays like a natural progression of Hollow Knight. This sequel can’t come soon enough.
I first played Hollow Knight over the span of three days, back when it first launched during E3 last year. In my review, I praised its subtle storytelling, its utterly gorgeous approach to visuals, and its fluid, satisfying combat. In a year filled with stunning releases, it was, by far, my top game of the year last year, and nothing came even remotely close to knocking it off the top of that ladder. A chance to play its sequel was my most anticipated moment at PAX Aus, and boy, it delivered. Silksong, as a sequel, is similarly gorgeous, and similarly satisfying in its combat, but unlike its predecessor, it takes a more active approach to storytelling.
The demo available on the show floor opened with a cutscene, showing an imprisoned Hornet — a fan-favourite ally in the first game — transported to a strange land, only to break free and take her first steps in an unfamiliar setting. Immediately, Hornet differs from her predecessor, The Knight. She’s quicker, more agile, lunging and dancing around her enemies with the grace expected of the princess-protector of Hallownest. Her fast-paced combat is significantly more intense than the combat of Hollow Knight, encouraging the player to always be moving, leaping in and out of the reach of her enemies to deal the killing blow. It feels jarring at first, coming from Hollow Knight, but as you learn Hornet’s strengths and limitations, her needle quickly becomes an extension of not only the princess-protector herself, but the player. It’s hard not to get caught up in the way she plays — always moving, always striking, thinking on the fly and quickly adapting to anything thrown at you. Hollow Knight’s combat was like chess, methodical, consistent, and calculated; Silksong’s is more akin to speed chess, a fine balance between strategising and acting quickly. It’s an absolute joy to play.
The mossy undergrowth of an environment we had access to in the demo was reminiscent of previous areas featured in Hollow Knight, but it felt fresher, newer, full of life in a way that Hollow Knight never did. Enemy designs were, naturally, similar to Hollow Knight’s; cute and cuddly little critters, that were also mysterious and even somewhat threatening.
One of the things I praised Hollow Knight the most for was that feeling of being lost, of immersing yourself in a foreign environment and unravelling the threads of an unknown land. It’s safe to say that Silksong competently follows in these footsteps, and offers new threads to unravel, new journeys to take, and most importantly, new landscapes to get lost in. And judging by this demo, I’m going to love every single second of being lost.
Words: Chris Button and Ollie Brandt