The Top 7 Columnar Basalt Formations in Games

Columnar basalt formations! Who among us isn’t familiar with these typically hexagonal volcanic arrangements? These fascinating geologic creations are formed by evenly spaced contractions as lava cools. Sure, the Giant’s Causeway and Toketee Falls are among the most famous examples, but columnar basalt formations are easy to find in our daily lives.

Or at least, that’s what video games would have us believe. These rock formations are everywhere in games, and as a fan of them, I decided to document some of the most prominent examples to try and figure out why that is.

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1. Doors of Pharros (Dark Souls 2) 

The worst you can say about this area of the game is that it’s a little bit disorienting when you are walking from the entrance to the main area. Otherwise, it’s a cavern full of traps and doors that enemies conveniently can’t fit through. While a little spooky, it’s actually one of the less threatening areas of the game. 

Unlike most areas in Souls games, this one doesn’t feel lonely. There are statues around the upper area that make it seem populated. It has easy access to sniper perches that actually make it downright pleasant as far as Dark Souls goes. It would probably be my second choice of comfy places to live in DS2, after Dead Man’s Wharf.

2. Lady Shayna’s Valley (Dragon Age: Inquisition)

There’s a dragon to contend with here, but most players would agree that the real enemy is the columnar basalt itself. Completionists like myself will spend hours trying to jump to reach the Shard perched like a jaunty hat atop a high column. 

The Valley itself is bright — it’s on fire — and full of healing Elfroot. Between fighting off dragonlings and trying to jump your mount up a narrow, badly laid out basalt staircase, this area is frustrating but pretty.

3. Elder’s Recess (Monster Hunter World)

Elder’s Recess is, on first pass, pretty impressive. The entry space is filled with some excellent examples of columnar basalt. It’s cavernous enough that it feels like a huge crevasse on a distant moon. It’s a long ways from the relatively-realistic jungle in which you begin Monster Hunter World.

However, the cavern quickly gets crowded when our monster bud, the Uragaan, shows up. He’s huge and fierce and covered with spikes of columnar basalt! But also kind of adorable. This rolly polly round boi kills the creepy mood and will do the same to you, if you aren’t careful. 

4. Solthseim (Skyrim: Dragonborn)

Skyrim is a land of spectacular and majestic mountain ranges, idyllic lakes and rolling plains. It’s peaceful, in the indifferent way real life nature is. 

Dragonborn turns this all on its head. In this DLC you emerge from the Redoran outpost to mist-shrouded Solthseim Island. It’s cold, it’s dark, and rearing up from behind the columnar basalt formations is a Revered Dragon, spewing purple fire. The ring of basalt makes an atmospheric and spooky beginning to your quest. It’s unclear if the formations are naturally formed or humanoid built, which only adds to the eerie feel. 

5. Mushroom Kingdom U (Super Smash Brothers Ultimate)

Just a good place for a picnic.

6. River (The Witness)

Johnathan Blow’s puzzle-based exploratory art game The Witness is known for its fiendishly difficult maze puzzles and bright, simple landscapes. But it should also be recognized as an exemplar of columnar basalt formation representation in games. They fit right in on the island, being both striking and puzzling.

7. Basalt

I’d be remiss not to include this game since it’s called Basalt and the main game mechanic involves jumping on columnar basalt. Created for Global Game Jam 2017, it’s a fun, quick game with good sound design. The big skull enemies are a little bit scary, but the bright sunny atmosphere and gorgeous water effects makes the basalt in Basalt very charming. Bonus points for including lava.

And the Rest

We could do this all day. Morrowind, Uncharted 4, DinoRPG, Lifeless Planet, Bloodborne, Shadow of the Colossus, World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XV, and more all contain columnar basalt formations. And at the end of my extended period of intense research, I’ve realized why columnar basalt figures so heavily in video game terrain.

Columnar basalt is uncanny because it straddles the line between natural and artificial. We associate clean, sharp lines with built structures, and the hexagonal appearance of basalt formations is thus unnerving. It blurs the line between the natural and the human-made, serving as a kind of sinister seasoning, a visual shorthand for “this area’s weird!” 

Or, maybe it’s just easier to make hexagons than smooth terrain in rendering software.