General Overview: Finally, we get to that “Boreal Valley”—or at least one part of it—we’ve been hearing about and it’s frankly kind of beautiful, in a pre-industrial England sort of way, like Central Yharnam sans the dead bodies and pitchfork-mobs. I just hope you took out the Deacons of the Deep before coming here or else you’re in for a nasty surprise.
Design Notes: On top of the breath-taking view, there is just a lot here. It’s a sprawling area that finally feels grand in scale, rather than just a bunch of empty space filled with enemies.
The enemies here also reinforce that you’ve embarked onto a new chapter of your journey. The knights we encountered previously—whether it was a Black Knight or a Cathedral Knight—were the heavy-hitting outliers out in the wilds; this area is lousy with a new type: the Pontiff Knights. They can still pack a whallop, but they do with speed and virtuousity, rather than a tank-y build and a heavy weapon.
But wait, there’s more!:
—The Fire Witches: these tall, regal figure might seem to be some royal standard-bearer, up until the point that they shoot gouts of flame at you!
—Sewer Centipede: That’s the official name, but I would prefer to call them Nightmare Fuel. With their long black hair, multiple limbs, and gaping chest-maw, these are like a hybrid of J-horror and body-horror tropes. And if you were fooled by the whole “come closer, we’re just prone corpses” trick, you obviously haven’t played enough Dark Souls.
—Irithyllian Slaves: Even the hollows get an upgrade! If you took the Humanity Phantoms from DS1 and gave them a frail hollow body, this is basically what you would get. Plus, they have some limited ability to go invisible, which is...um...something...
Nitpick: The whole invisible thing—between those Slaves and the four Sulyvhn’s Beasts skulking around town—feels like the developers have come close to crossing a line. Yes, there has been invisibility before—most notably, Crossbreed Priscilla—but it allowed for the player to easily note the footprints...and you didn’t even have to fight her if you didn’t want to. The Beasts just appear off in the distance and start charging you while the Slaves start to become visible as they get near enough for a strike. In either case, there is some allowance for reaction time, so it’s not quite a rage-quit-inspiring deal-breaker.
I should be more pissed about the fire-witches’ crazy range for their casting, but after the casters in DS2's Shrine of Amana, this seems like a mercy. If the developers had put more of these ladies about in remote location—to make it harder for you to shut them down immediately—it would be patently unfair. Thankfully, all of them are often a short jog away from meeting the sharp end of your sword.
However, the aggro-at-the-same-time Drang twins...that’s just not fun. Waiting for an opening on two quick-comboing enemies is a pain in the ass. Stop it, From Software!
Very Speculative Lore Notes: This is where a lot of the loose threads and factions from all the previous areas and bosses seem to converge: the Deacons of the Deep make a reappearance, Aldrich and Pontiff Sulyvahn are both close at hand, and you’ll be getting some serious Anor Londo vibes toward the end. I suppose we are to presume this is an outgrowth of the long-diminished home of DS1's OGs (Original Gods). Like the Firelink Shrine, it’s not clear how much time has passed since DS1's events. It is clear that the place is under new management, however.
I have no idea about the ghosts, though. They appear similar to the Pontiff Knights; I was anticipating they might suddenly aggro and attack me, but they never did.
The Tourism Board recommends: There’s two hidden covenants in this area—one full of assholes that will mob you if you dare embering up in the latter half of the area, the other who full of players who MIGHT show up if you get invaded (PvP invaders will always out-numbers Blue Sentinels or Darkmoons)—if you’re feeling adventurous.
The Misanthrope’s Pro-Tip: If you’re not feeling like you’re ready for the big time with Pontiff Sulyvahn and Aldrich (he devours gods...what chance do I have?), you can instead chase down Yhorm the Giant by traversing the Irithyll Dungeon...or maybe take a look at that scenic Smouldering Lake you passed by some time ago.