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Bloodborne takes brave steps with its "truly perilous combat"

It's Souls. But not as you know it. Head in for the gamescom briefing's every detail.

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"Demon's Souls already had this extreme difficulty level set, so it wasn't an easy task for him by any means. He couldn't really put the bar higher. The difficulty was already at its limit back then."

It was game of the show without any question, and starred in the only gamescom presentation I sat in last week in which people clapped. Bloodborne stood out for two main reasons: it's the next game in the Souls series; it looks good enough for you to believe "next generation" is finally going to happen.

These points knock together to make Bloodborne one of the most anticipated games in development, and the visual element is important. "Graphics" has never really been one of Souls strongest points, with the focus instead on witheringly hardcore action-RPG play, but this time fidelity plays a major part.

Producer Masaaki Yamagiwa's main thrust in the gamescom presentation was something he called "truly perilous combat". It's a concept in which any Souls fan is well versed, but the approach this time differs from previous games.

"We're trying to achieve and deliver this truly perilous combat to the gamers by two methods," said Yamagiwa, speaking through the translation of Jun Yoshino, Bloodborne's European producer.

"One is through visual representation. We've got new hardware, and PS4 is capable of quite a lot of things we weren't able to do before. The second one is through brand new game mechanics."

The Bloodborne team wants you to be constantly on edge.

"We're not really going for this kind of over-violent horror feel to the game," Yamagiwa said.

"What we want to do is make the user feel terror at each turn, and once you're in a combat situation, whatever it may be, that you have a huge sense of relief as well as still maintaining that level of achievement you get from playing something from the Souls series."

The use of graphics was essential to taking the Souls formula gameplay forward, Yamagiwa said.

"When our game director [Hidetaka Miyazaki - ed] thought about how we can maintain that sense of achievement, and how to build up on that from Demon's Souls... Demon's Souls already had this extreme difficulty level set, so it wasn't an easy task for him by any means. He couldn't really put the bar higher. The difficulty was already at its limit back then. So with the visual representation, offering a different feel, a unique world and unique enemies, we hoped to build up on that sense of achievement after you play through the game."

The second combat facet, obviously, is the gameplay itself. From Software showed Bloodborne's HUD at gamescom for the first time, and there was a lengthy explanation of some of the combat mechanics. I'm just going to give you the entire transcription of this section. There's a lot of detail, and, well, Souls fans like detail.

"We want to introduce to you our Regain system," said Yamagiwa, "and this is something that we feel really adds to the sense of terror and perilous combat. You really feel that relief and sense of achievement at every single enemy you face.

"In the Regain system, when you receive damage from enemies you have a very limited time-frame to get that health back by landing your own attacks.

"We offer this other than your more traditional shield block, defense kind of thing. It leads the player into the exchange of deadly blows and really draws the user into the perilous combat that we want to deliver.

"With things like the shield it's quite obvious that the attack's going to come in and you time the block with the shield, but with this you're looking for an opportunity to get your own hit back. If you go in blindly and take multiple hits then you will miss that opportunity to get the health back.

"Visually it's going to look pretty crazy, but in the midst of the craziness of the battle you still have to keep your cool. You have to watch what your enemies are doing and how many of them there are, what kind of movement that're doing and really measure your attacks, and really look for the opportunity to get your own hit back. You can't leave it for too long.

"The HUD was not shown at E3, so today we're pretty much showing it for the first time.

"As you might imagine, the red gauge along the top is your Health, and the one beneath it is your Stamina, [which dictates] how many movements you can make.

"The gauges should be familiar to everyone, but one thing that sticks out here is that we've separated out your Health item, which is this orange phial at the top. We've separated that out from your item allotment in the boxes. This is because in the previous titles, people were always occupying at least one slot with the Health item, so we've taken that as a given.

"Also, we really want everyone to explore what kind of different items are available and what they do, and how they can be used to everyone's individual strategy. We want more emphasis on people playing around and seeing what each item does. This is one of the reasons why we separated the Health item and the other items.

"Now the heal item is assigned to your triangle button at all times, and square will be using the items you've equipped. One of the examples we can show you now is that you can equip an oil item, chuck the oil at the enemy and then follow with a Molotov cocktail. Instead of throwing the Molotov cocktail straight away, if you use the oil you'll have added damage.

"Those are the small things that we've prepared, just one example, and we really want people to play around with the combination of items.

"Pay close attention to the Health gauge. When you receive an attack it'll leave a trail of yellow, and that's an indicator of what you can get back. You can take it back by landing your own hits. You have this white misty effect and that's the indicator that you're regaining. As I took multiple hits, the yellow gauge disappeared, so you really have to watch out. You can't can't just be running in blindly, or you're going to end up dead.

"We hope that with this system in place, people aren't going to be holding back. We want to draw the gamer into this brutal combat.

"We only have a one-on-one encounter there, but you could be faced with multiple enemies, so it's really up the player to decide when to go for the Regain or just give up on it and heal another time. That's one of the key strategies that people will be thinking about when they play this game."

"We touched on the Regain system, and you saw mechanics-wise how it works. When we asked Miyazaki-san, he added his own philosophy which is quite interesting. He has is a very interesting guy, and he has a very interesting way of looking at things. With the Regain system and how the health bar works in this game, he looks at the health gauge not really like health: it's your power of will to go on, and as that goes down you're plunging more into despair. As you get hit you can still get your hope back by landing your own attacks, but if you leave it for too long then you're plunging more and more into despair, so when your health reaches zero that's complete despair. But until that happens you're still alive and you can still go on, and you can still get your hope back. He just doesn't see a health gauge. He sees that, and that's how it's implemented in Bloodborne.

"We're really focusing on the gameplay at gamescom. With the Regain system, with Miyazaki-san's thoughts behind it, with the new firearms and transforming weapons, we really think that we're going to deliver a brand new experience to all the gamers out there."

And that's the Regain system. Have fun? Next: weapons. Get everything Yamagiwa said on page two.

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"You might think with the Regain system that it's looking like a more offensive type of game. The block-with-the-shield-and-attack thing isn't really going on, but we're not really going for this all-out exaggerated hack-'n'-slash game. It's very much still about strategy."

"We're going to run through a few examples of these unique transforming weapons," said Yamagiwa.

"Back at E3, we showed the Saw-Cleaver, one of the more distinctive weapons in the game. It's transformable. It's has two different states and they behave differently, but you can also transform it as you're swinging the weapon. That adds another set of movements, another set of attacks and affects so just one weapon is potential giving you three different move sets with three effects on the enemy. It's very deep in that sense. Players can take time out to learn how they move, learn to see if they suit situations and the way they play. There's a lot of depth in every single weapon.

"We're just going to start off with the Saw-Cleaver. We want to show it to you again. We can't really touch on the story today, but the Saw-Cleaver is a very distinctive weapon that these hunter characters use as one of their main features.

"Most of you have already seen that you can close it. We want to go into detail about what happens when you change its form as you're attacking. You can open it up mid-combo. It's really effective against enemies who have a defense method, such as a shield. If you open it up as you hit the shield it'll have a knock-back effect, and then you can knock away his shield and follow it up, as long as your stamina allows you to. That's one of the things you should always keep in mind while playing.

"Next up we have a new weapons we're showing today, also playable in the showfloor demo. It's an anti-beast axe. This differs from the Saw-Cleaver in that it's a bit more cumbersome to wield. It's a little bit heavier and your swing's a little bit slower. You can transform it from a short axe, more of a one-handed axe, to a long, two-handed axe.

"Each blow is more powerful than the previous weapon, but it's slow. It leaves a lot of openings, and you have to be careful after each swing. One of its benefits is that when you're trying to go for the regain you get more health back with this weapon per hit.

"You'll notice that when it's in its short form you can still hold another weapon in your left hand. The axe can also transform during combinations.

"I'm going to face some multiple enemies ahead, so depending on your capabilities as a player there's also charge attack. With the axe in the long form when you do a charge attack it'll spin round. That's something you might use if you're up against two of three enemies at the same time.

"This next weapon is a mechanical stave, like a sharp stick. We're not showing it to the general public. You can set and unleash the stake. It's not a projectile as it's still attached to you. It's something you want to play around with, set the stake and fire it out in a very timed attack.

"It's going to consume a little bit of time when you're setting the stake. There are a lot of openings. You become quite vulnerable after each attack and you're vulnerable as you're setting the weapon, but we hope there's people out there that really enjoy trying to master this weapon and post up loads of videos in which they clear a whole area using this weapon, or something like that. It's difficult to use, for the advanced gamer.

"It's very hard to time, but it'll give people boasting rights to wield this weapon very well."

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The next part of the demo featured two videos, one from a graveyard and one from a section slightly further on from the gamescom playable demo. Yamagiwa was keen to show that Bloodborne sticks to Souls' roots, and that the new combat mechanics haven't deviated too far from the previous games.

"You might think with the Regain system that it's looking like a more offensive type of game. The block-with-the-shield-and-attack thing isn't really going on, but we're not really going for this all-out exaggerated hack-'n'-slash game," he said. "It's very much still about strategy. Back in the Demon's Souls days where practice was key, experience was key, you needed to take time out to learn every single weapon and every single situation and build on that experience. That element is still intact for this game as well.

"In terms of what I just said, we'd like to give you a little example with an area called [inaudible] Graveyard, and there'll be multiple, old lady-looking enemies ahead. It's an area where you can easily get overwhelmed and surrounded. It's an example of how you might approach a situation like that.

"A wise player will always try to go for a one-on-one situation, but in this game you're not going to get that all the time. There'll be many areas where you'll be surrounded and have to take out multiple enemies, but each enemy is different. One of their key indicators is appearance. You want to look at each enemy and try to grasp their weak spot, and you can overcome them even if you're surrounded by them. Just watch this footage and see what the weakness is.

"These enemies are based on old ladies. If you think about old people, they might have a weak back, weak hips or weak legs, so if you roll into them they're going to stutter and you can create an opening. As long as you can figure out the weakness of each enemy, you can overcome the situation even if you're surrounded. If you roll into her she's going to stumble. That's not going to work with every enemy, but, with this one in particular, that's one of the strategies you can use to get through."

The second gameplay video, from the section after the showfloor demo, showed off new enemies. And some gore.

"You've just had a big boss fight here," said Yamagiwa. "That's why there's blood everywhere. There's plenty of verticality in how this area's structured. You can expect a lot of that, but it's very atmospheric and really helps to immerse you in this world of terror. You don't know what's lurking around. Audio is something that's quite unique to the game as well, and really adds to the experience. You're not going to just get humanoid characters. There are enemies of all shapes and sizes.

"As you can imagine, you don't know what to expect, but you're always expecting something, you're always expecting something that might just come out and kill you. But, like we said earlier, you've got tools to get you through the game. If you can, you just keep your cool and observe everything around you and you can get through it.

"As you saw there, the enemies were immobile until you took the item. Depending on your situation, you may want to ignore that item if you know that they're all going to start moving if you pick the item up, or pull a switch, or something like that. But it's all part of this perilous combat and the build up to it."

That was pretty much it. Bloodborne is a brave game. Souls fans are some of the hardest-coreiest in the entire medium, and the From team is taking a different path this time. But you shouldn't worry: the end result is unbelievably attractive.

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One last thing. After the session, I published this news story which highlighted From's desire to hit a wider audience with Bloodborne than had been possible with Dark Souls and Demon's Souls. I got this email from a reader in response:

Patrick,

I can't help but feel your article (the title specifically) regarding Bloodborne's "less punishing" difficulty is clickbait. In the article itself you quote the developer saying that the difficulty will remain the same, yet the title is one which you KNOW will incite frenzy among Souls fans.

Today it was revealed exactly what they meant by that comment. When they say the game will be less punishing, they're referring to the health regain system, which will still rely on player skill and courage. I feel like you should do a followup article or an amendment to the original clearing up the huge misconception you've caused. Since, you know, virtually every other video game website has copied your article and pasted it onto their site.

Thanks for your time.

And thanks for the feedback! Just to qualify, I felt the story was important (difficulty is a major part of any Souls discussion) and would be generally useful to our readership. You can listen to the question and answer from which the quotes originated in the clip below. I'm afraid I have no idea who asked the question. You can hear Masaaki Yamagiwa answering the question in Japanese. The translator speaking in English is Jun Yoshino. Hopefully you'll agree I was just reporting on what was said. Sorry for the poor sound quality.

Bloodborne releases for PS4 in 2015.

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