Bloodborne. I had it in my grasping, sticky paws. They made me give it back.
“I’m not saying Bloodborne isn’t riddled with the same DNA as Demon’s Souls – it most certainly is – but it’s much of an evolution than an iteration on the core design concepts.”
Bloodborne, you guys! Bloodborne! I played it! That happened!
Don’t get me wrong, I liked Dark Souls a heck of a lot, and although I’ve played less I also love the sequel. But my heart will always belong to Demon’s Souls, and although it may seem contradictory, having followed the evolution from King’s Field to Demon’s Souls to Dark Souls I’m more interested in seeing where Hidetaka Miyazaki goes next than another Dark Souls sequel.
Indeed, although it’s not a sequel to either Souls property, I think Bloodborne is better position to succeed Demon’s Souls than Dark Souls, because its starting conditions are much more similar. From is collaborating with SCE Studio Japan, and more importantly, Miyazaki has been given free rein to do whatever he wants, unlike Dark Souls and any forthcoming sequels, which have an obligation to fans not to stray too far from the formula.
I’m not saying Bloodborne isn’t riddled with the same DNA as Demon’s Souls – it most certainly is – but it’s much of an evolution than an iteration on the core design concepts. That’s exciting to me, and I practically ran up the stairs when Sony finally let me into the press lounge at the Tokyo Game Show today, in order to clasp Bloodborne lovingly to my bosom. (Sadly, just like the public booths downstairs there was an enormous queue, so the bosom-clasping suffered a short delay. But we got there. We got there.)
Bloodborne! Boy howdy, is it more aggressive than any of the three Souls games. Although sword-and-board was the default approach in the past, dual wielding or two handed weapons is the way forward. You don’t hang back, shield up and circling while waiting for gaps in the enemy animation; you get in under their swings, roll, and come up striking.
“Bloodborne is more aggressive than any of the three Souls games. Although sword-and-board was the default approach in the past, dual wielding or two handed weapons is the way forward.”
It’s interesting to see how well From Software has balanced this shift in focus, because although you no longer need to approach every combat encounter like an exercise in turtling, you’ll still have your arse handed to you on a tasteful platter if you rush in. That aspect of the game has not changed; even the small opportunity to retrieve some of your health if you do make a mistake isn’t an escape from the inevitability of your horrible death.
I expect there to be quite a lot of resistance to the shift from defensively waiting for an opening to aggressively pursuing them right from the get go (“It’s not about action it’s about strategy“, etc). But this has always been a tactic favoured by series veterans; the best, highest-level Souls players will almost always favour powerful weapons and speed over heavy armour, and prefer getting in their foes’ faces to the slow duelling beginners are encouraged to exploit.
The combat is the heart of the game, of course, but setting and narrative are a justly celebrated aspect of the Souls games. Like the mechanics themselves, these facets of the Souls titles tend to go largely unexplained, with From Soft adopting a “less is more” approach. Players tease – and perhaps invent – as much lore as they feel they want to from the environments, item descriptions, and the magnificently vague ramblings of NPCs and cutscenes.
I don’t know whether From will adopt a similar approach with Bloodborne but whatever the hell it’s doing, I want to press my face to it. I had initially felt that the Jack-the-Ripper’s-London setting was a bit old hat, but it’s been brought to life beautifully. The one small area I explored in the demo felt much more alive than anywhere I visited over the course of the past few Souls games. The fiction demands this; Bloodborne takes place as a potentially civilisation-destroying event is ongoing, as opposed to in its aftermath, but it hadn’t occurred to me until I walked its streets that this might translate into something so organic feeling.
As you traipse around faux-London (I say traipse but, finger hoveringly frustratedly over where the shield button should be, it was more of a terrified crawl, of course) you get the sense of an actual, inhabited place. You can’t explore the buildings that hem in the environment, any more than you can in most games (hello, door texture, our old friend), but the buildings feel like discrete units rather than what, in terms of game design, they actually are: decorative walls shaping your exploration.
The reason they feel so discrete is partially due to the gorgeous graphics (the lighting in particular really got me, by the way; almost everyone carries a torch and the effect is subtle but wonderful, as are the many torches and bonfires) but also thanks to some great atmospheric touches. As you climb a ladder, you’ll hear a howl; I actually froze in place, and looked carefully back at the bottom of the ladder, expecting to see something beneath me. Climbing up to the platform at the top was nerve-wracking, to say the least.
Passing a certain corner, you’ll hear – something, inside. A snuffling, clawing, growling something, that paces back and forth. In another spot I heard the sounds of something repeatedly hurling itself at the other side of a nearby door. This is definitely a game to play with headphones.
Enemies seem so much more like real things, too, because they talk to you. “You fiend,” one hurled at me in a dodgy cockney accent (bless) as we threw ourselves at each other. “We don’t want your kind here,” another spat.
In addition to this startling change from the grunts and moans of the Souls games, they look more like living things, and somehow this comes as a result of their deviations from the norms of human anatomy. The guy whose hair and beard were just on the border of a Wolf-man like situation. The guy with one clawed arm longer than the other, extending rather pitifully from beyond his tattered sleeve. There seemed to be more variation of enemy type in this one area than I have seen in the Souls games, too – although they did all fight in much the same way, depending on weapon held. They definitely didn’t have that human being with the juice sucked out look of so many common enemies in all the Souls games.
For some reason, the demo features at least a dozen enemies gathered at a central bonfire, where the effigy of something (a werewolf? But half the people there were werewolves! I really need to figure out the story already) lit up a central square.
There is absolutely no way I could take on this mob; a smaller group of four had reduced me to a pathetic mess on the (gloriously shiny and damp) cobblestones, largely because I couldn’t figure out how to use my firebombs thanks to the new control system. But what I could do, if I were very, very careful, is lure them away one or a few at a time and deal with them there. Or perhaps I might have aggro’d them all to a funnel and dropped bombs on them. The point is: charging in would have been madness, Ankh-Morpork suicide.
I played Bloodborne about 20 minutes after trying one of the new Dynasty Warriors games and this provided an excellent point of comparison. In Bloodborne you never go one against 1,000. You go one on one, or maybe one or two, and you pray fervently for the best. A new focus on aggressive play has not changed that. Bloodborne isn’t a Souls game with its teeth drawn; it’s a Souls game where you have teeth, too.