The labyrinth beneath Dirtmouth is dark and crawling with bugs. There’s a mantis tribunal, a stag beetle with a saddle, and an unending army of worms. Beyond the Infinite Worms is a ruined city lost to dirt and water, and a creature who refers to itself only as the Nailmaster, who apparently bears no relation to that scumbag Chad from college.
In Hollow Knight, wandering the tunnels of Hollownest is an isolating experience. Everything about the world design is meant to make you feel like you’re in over your tiny head. Despite starring bugs, the sense of scale is impressive and humbling. Exploration and discovery are central to the Hollow Knight experience, and Team Cherry are not afraid to you wander aimlessly. And yet, there is Cornifer, a sweet bug with an unabashed love for cartography.
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The first area of Hollownest you’ll explore is the Forgotten Crossroads. Upon dropping into the well in Dirtmouth, the Knight is greeted with multiple paths and no clear goal. So he wanders. He wanders until he encounters Quirrell, who is entranced by the mystery of the Black Egg Temple. He wanders through a few straggling enemies, and down an enormous pit. He wanders until he happens upon a trail of discarded paper, and the sounds of humming echo cheerily through caverns.
The first time the player encounters Cornifer, he’s waist deep in a pile of discarded papers scribbling away at some unseen thing. “Come down to explore these beautiful old ruins?” he says upon greeting. “Don't mind me... I've a fondness for exploring myself. Getting lost and finding your way again is a pleasure like no other. We're exquisitely lucky, you and I…”
This philosophy underlies nearly every aspect of Hollow Knight. As the Knight travels further and further underground, his surroundings become more oppressive and unwelcoming. Enemies become stronger. Environmental traversal becomes more hazardous. But while the challenge rises, so does the thrill of victory. It doesn’t take long for Cornifer’s humming to take on a symbolic quality, a bright light in the darkness that signals safety and familiarity.
You see, Cornifer sells maps. He, like the Kinight, wanders Hollownest in search of...something. The unknown, perhaps, or the thrill of discovery like some kind of Evel Knievel but for spelunking. His maps aren’t complete, though. You’ll have to fill in the gaps yourself, and buy a compass from Cornifer’s wife Iselda so that you can pinpoint your exact position. You also have to search for Cornifer himself upon reaching new areas. After carefully picking your way through unfamiliar tunnels, hearing that cheerful humming is a reward in itself.
Hollow Knight wants you to feel lost, a scheme that exponentially increases the satisfaction of helping Cornifer complete his project. Once you’ve purchased every one of his maps, the cartographer retreats to the safety of his and his Iselda’s shop up in Dirtmouth so that he can rest. After untangling the web that is Hollownest, he’s earned the respite. And may his humming serve as a source of joy to those seeking adventure below.