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Iron Keep: A Castle in the Clouds?By skarekrow13
Iron Keep is not a castle in the clouds. And likely you owe From an apology for laughing at their elevator “mistake.” At least that's what I'm about to try to convince you of. This article is me presenting the evidence I've been collecting over the last couple months of playing Dark Souls II. It lead me to the conclusion that the Iron Keep location and elevator ride are not mistakes at all. Rather, they're likely clues made to illustrate world concepts. I'll warn you that this is likely going to be a long read as it is. For the purposes of not making you pull out your hair or yell at me through the screen (won't work, my speakers are off), I'll point out that I will be doing a follow up article to go over the world concepts that the Iron Keep elevator may be trying to point us toward. For now I only intend to provide compelling evidence that this design choice was intentional.
And Emergence gets a shout out for being a sounding board for me while I conducted much of the research. He survived many'a text wall. Thankee sai!
A Little Story ‘Bout Me
For five years, ending last September, I was an investigator. I want to share a life lesson from that period of my existence. Being objective in that role is the foremost skill necessary to be successful. However, humans are flawed and biased creatures. We never truly enter into something objectively. A lifetime of baggage and expectations follows us all. So how then do we reach objectivity? It's simple in concept. What I learned in that time is that true objectivity is merely the ability to allow yourself to be proven wrong. For example, I was handed an incident where a gentleman with known psychosis and auditory hallucinations reported something that seemed consistent with earlier psychotic episodes. I felt that I could start my report with the conclusion. But after looking at the evidence I was wrong. Very wrong. And that's OK.
This definition of objectivity is what I ask of you the reader and what I promise in return. If you like the lore and concepts of Dark Souls (I and II) then you will enjoy this regardless I hope. But from being involved with the community as I am, I know that many of you reading this are already of the mindset that From ed up royally when they designed that elevator. What I ask is that you allow yourself to be proven wrong. What I promise is that I will listen to any counterarguments you want to bring, and will change my mind if the evidence you have outweighs the evidence below.
The Iron Keep Elevator
I'm guessing you noticed that, by making “The Iron Keep Elevator” a heading about 3-4 seconds ago that it's only a piece of the puzzle. You're right. It is only a piece of the puzzle. I told you this was gonna be a long one.
Let's start with the “mistake” most people are familiar with. When going from Earthen Peak to Iron Keep after defeating Mytha, it was noticed early on that we ride an elevator up. Yet Earthen Peak is a tower like structure and Iron Keep is a castle sinking into a large bed of lava. In other words, way to make a much larger piece of geography/architecture just kinda sitting on top of a tower From. I saw comments that suggested that the elevator should go DOWN and that was the mistake. Except that makes even less sense than up if you can believe it.
And going up doesn't make sense. Let's just admit that right now and get it out of the way. Iron Keep is not visible above Earthen Peak. There is no large bed of lava on or around Earthen Peak. The elevator is not far enough up to make Iron Keep a castle in the clouds (plus there's no elevator visible above it). And if Iron Keep were above the clouds it'd actually be between layers of clouds. Take a look around, Iron Keep is surrounded by sky and cloud formations tinted red from the lava. So yes. Up is absolutely not right.
But think about down. How long would that elevator ride be to get to a location underground that has it's own atmosphere/sky? While we're talking about how long the elevator ride lasts, let's talk architecture. I won't bore you with how I know this (yes I will), but Mytha's room is only a little bit more than halfway up Earthen Peak. The elevator ride isn't very long. My best guess is that the elevator would only reach the top of Earthen Peak. So you can forget about clouds or underground kingdoms.
So where the hell is this place anyway? Take a look at your map (if you ordered the Collector's Edition) or track the map in the Majula Mansion with the little fires. That will show you where Iron Keep is. I believe it's what we'd call “Southeast” of Earthen Peak (I made it easy for ya, look at the bottom of this article).
In other words, the only elevator that COULD get you from one place to the other would be a Great Glass one. And no, the Bell Keepers aren't murderous Oompa Loompas in lederhosen. There is no elevator in Drangleic that could connect the two (maybe there is, wait until the next article).
Majula, Oddly Distant
I need to confess. My theories (next article you rascal) came before I looked into the “mistakes” made by From. When the Iron Keep thing was brought up I chuckled thinking that From might have finally given me evidence to support something I suspected since Dark Souls. I figured I would need to look hard to find more evidence and never thought I'd find enough to write this article. My theory was not to be shared in all likelihood.
And then I was hanging out in Heide's one day and saw Majula.
“Holy shit!” I thought, that seems REALLY far away. “Isn't it like a 40 second walk?” Well yeah, it is a very short walk through that tunnel. So I looked into it more.
First things first, I warped back to Majula (to the stone pillar Saulden rests at, which is what I had seen from Heide's) and took out my binoculars (these were used a lot). Sure enough, you can see Heide's and the Cathedral of Blue clear as day. Just way, way, waaaaaaaaaay too far away to make any sense. Then there's the matter of the tunnel we use to get there. Not only is it not far enough of a walk to make sense, it doesn't seem to me to go far enough down to reach (spoiler alert) BELOW the water. Why does it need to go below the water, you say? The building we come out of in Heide's is not even close to the cliffs. In short, since there's no connected walk between the cliffs and the building in Heide's there should be a sub-aquatic walkway we can't see. It appears we walk into an arch cut into the rocks in Majula and seamlessly exit out a building in Heide's. Except we have a whole lot of rock we should need to tunnel through to reach the water line. Then a sub-aquatic walkway from the cliff to the building in Heide's. All in all a long trek that requires several drastic elevation changes. None of which happen how they should. I don't mean to say there is a sub-aquatic tunnel by the way. I'm merely pointing out that it's the only possible option to actually walk from Majula to Heide's.
Surely the Forest of Fallen Giants walk is accurate though right? Probably not. Leaving Majula we should hug the coast. The ruins that became the Forest of Fallen Giants is on the water (gorgeous view from the Pursuer fight). So that seems accurate. Now go back to the stone by Saulden and look along the coast. There's absolutely no sign of the ruins anywhere that resembles the short distance we actually walk. There is however a suspicious looking (see the shifty eyes?) castle like structure exceedingly far off in the distance on the coast. It's my belief that it's supposed to be the Forest of Fallen Giants. But again, far too far away to be where we walked too.
But where else can we walk to that should be right there? Huntsman's Copse is not that far of a walk. More importantly, Undead Purgatory is elevated quite a bit and is a monstrous structure. I can't find evidence of either location from Majula. Nor can I see Majula from either location.
The trash disposal pit by the Mansion leading to the Grave of Saints and Gutter/Black Gulch might be correct as far as distance etc. It's just weird to have something like this hanging out like it is. I have something with this area you'll see in the next article regarding theories.
Remember the need for a sub-aquatic tunnel to go from Majula to Heide's? It should have a sibling. We ride an elevator down from the second bonfire in Heide's (which is in the actual lighthouse as a fun fact) and then move somewhat laterally and end up in a cave leading to No Man's Wharf. We can surmise that the lower portion of these structures are at water level or thereabout as there's some flooding. In addition, we have had no elevation change that's significant from the transition from building to cave (Heide's to Wharf). The Wharf is obviously also right about at water level (since we can see the water level and all). But take a look outside again while you're in Heide's. The building we descend into is not even close to the cliffs on the other side. The distances are again wrong. But more importantly, if the lowest we ever reached was about water level (and that's the floor) the rest of the structure should be visible above the water. There should be a tunnel from building to cliffs (again). I'll save you some time. There isn't one. So yet again the distances are wrong and required passages don't exist. We haven't even gotten our first soul of an Old One yet and we're already seeing a pattern.
Here's where your ability to picture my crazy ramblings will need to be top notch. We've left the Wharf by boat and arrive at the base of the Bastille. We see a tunnel ahead and the boat is behind. Roughly at our back is the moon. The tunnel curves only slightly meaning even as we come inside our back is still approximately to the boat and the moon. We enter an elevator and must turn around 180º. The moon and boat are in front of us now. We go up. The stairs ahead go straight…um…ahead. The moon should still be in front of us as we come up. Yay! It's right there! Sweet. Except there's also the matter of a very large tower right in front of us. A tower that extends all the way to the water. Yeah, you guessed it, the same water the boat below should occupy. Can we see the boat below? Lol, nooooooo. Is the tower visible from the docks below? Ha ha. Nice try. You CAN see some of the walkway of the Bastille from the dock. It SHOULD be the same walk that you come out on. It probably is. It should probably connect to things better though. Like the cliff face. Or the rest of the Bastille that hugs the cliff to the left of where you come out.
To make matters worse (far, faaaaaar worse), that large tower that the boat should have crashed into is the one that has the elevator down to Sinner's Rise. If you go down that elevator you'll notice that the entire location is actually inside an area much like No Man's Wharf. Except that from the top of that tower none of that is happening. Again, something occurred in that transition that doesn't match what we can observe from other angles.
It's starting to seem like elevators and tunnels don't play nice with a thing called “reality.”
The Rest of the “Mistakes”
(some of them anyway)
How far up do we walk from Majula to Huntsman's Copse? Not far enough I reckon. Take a look around while you're basking in the nighttime wood. A sprawling forest is below that stretches as far as the eye can see. It's very far below though. As in, “way too far below to match the elevation we climbed.” And we haven't walked that far from the coast have we? Why can't we see that? Did we get turned around and the coast is on the other side of the mountains? That could be. But then we should be able to see the mountains from Majula and the forest that stretches away endlessly would take the place of Drangleic Castle or something like that. So wait…another area in which we've seemingly traveled a far greater distance than what we physically walked? Yup
Speaking of sightlines, there's no objective reason that I can't see the Undead Purgatory or any of the Copse from the Earthen Peak balconies. So why can't I then?
Admittedly, some transitions are hard to gauge. Remember that word from here on out. “Transition” is going to be a major “thing” next time.
Majula to Shaded Woods/Ruins? Who knows, we cut into rock pretty quick (meaning sight lines suck) and you can see a lot of structures from Majula. I'm on the fence about that one. Go take a look and tell me what you think. Personally I can't find anything blatantly off with distances pretty much all the way to Tseldora. And in Tseldora we've clearly had a large slab of rock cutting off our line of sight. So these transitions might be a wash.
Castle Drangleic is clearly wrong though. After going through the Shrine of Winter you can see the castle in the distance. On top of a mountain basically. One we never ascend. We pop out of the tunnel (more on the tunnel next time) and traverse a fairly small increase in elevation before coming to the castle (aka, “nowhere near high enough to be accurate”). Leaving the castle does't get much better…
From the Mirror Knight arena you can actually see the lowest point of the elevator from the top. So the distance down is observable and able to be estimated. Now go take a peek off the side. There's an even greater distance down (strongly supported by the earlier evidence of the castle being up the mountain). So problem “A” is that the distances don't appear to match. Then problem “B” is that the Shrine of Amana is a vast location. It is covered by a combination of roots and open air as a sort of ceiling to the area. So why then would the view from the castle show a narrowing set of cliff faces that only lead to more rock? Yet again an elevator has screwed with Drangleic.
We've established that the Iron Keep isn't a castle in the clouds, but that doesn't mean things are less wacky when they did make a castle in the clouds. I'm talking about the Dragon Shrine of course. I haven't seen anyone question the elevator here. Of course you should go up. You should just go a whole lot MORE up. Look around from the base. The clouds are far above. The pillars extending up in the distance have no visible structures on top of them. These pillars aren't remotely near your location either. Yet, while looking out the windows on the ride up there's a point where you see yourself still below the clouds, then no windows, then suddenly we're above the clouds. The pillars now have structures on top (called the Dragon Aerie and Dragon Shrine) and most importantly there's a cluster of them supporting the walkways needed to reach the shrine. This cluster of pillars is right near you. There is zero mirroring of the geography observed at the base except that both have the rising formations (just wildly different interpretations of them).
I told you I would try to convince you that the Iron Keep “mistake” was intentional. This section is short and hinges on three ideas.
First, if it were one or two “mistakes” only, the evidence would support a couple lapses in judgment. Or major miscues in the world design people communicating with the level design people. But it's not a couple errors. It's just about every transition between locations. Most “point A to point B” scenarios in this game simply don't make sense with the geography.
Secondly, if it were “lazy game design” like I've heard, they could have gone the laziest route possible and reverted the game to the Archstone system of Demon's Souls. There's no reason to show me Heide's from Majula. Just throw the place in a dark cave or Nexus and have me teleport there. I can also reasonably tell you that they ABSOLUTELY wanted me to see Heide's from Majula. I'd have to be pretty confident to use the word “absolutely” in all caps. Take this into account, when at the second bonfire in Heide's looking toward the tower to the elevator leading to the Wharf, there are partially submerged buildings on the right hand side in the water. They're inaccessible scenery. They are not visible from Majula however (and this likely is a mistake). What this means, as far as I can surmise, is that the Heide's we play in is not the same thing as the one we see from Majula. One is a level, the other is akin to painted scenery.
Which brings me to my most compelling argument for intent. They mapped the world out for us and even handed it to us as a literal, physical gift with the collector's edition. They remembered to make the in game map in the Majula Mansion match it. They made the geography match in the eyes of the binoculars. At every step of the way, they show us a world design and have it match. Except for these wacky transition areas. Whatever could it all mean?
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