This week I finally decided to bite the bullet and purchase a PlayStation 4. As a big fan of the souls series, I just couldn’t resist buying the console now that Bloodborne has hit the market. My first impressions of the console and Bloodborne are very good, and without further ado, here are ten things that I have learnt during the time I have spent in Yharnam so far (warning: will contain some mild gameplay spoilers).
Groups of Enemies Don’t Feel Cheap
The difficulty found in Dark Souls is centred around providing the player with a fair, but extremely tough challenge, the game is extremely rewarding, and its world wonderfully designed. Whilst I feel that Dark Souls hit the nail on the head perfectly, I feel that the sequel was a bit hit and miss.
Now, that’s not to say that I think Dark Souls 2 is a bad game, rather I just feel that the developers did not approach the game’s difficulty in the correct way. Too often Dark Souls 2 resorts to simply throwing hordes of enemies at the player in an attempt to increase the challenge of the game. There are a lot of instances whereby it isn’t clever, and can be frustrating for all the wrong reasons.
In summary, my encounters with large groups of enemies in Dark Souls 2 at times felt like a chore, whereas in Bloodborne they feel like the polar opposite, and manage to set my pulse racing. Simply put, the combat in Bloodborne is much better suited to fighting hordes of enemies than the combat found in the souls series.
Combat is significantly quicker, as is stamina recovery time, meaning engaging with a horde of beasts is a lot more fun (and fair) than fighting a pack of the undead in Dark Souls 2. Even during moments when I am being overrun by enemies in Bloodborne, I always believe that I have a chance of coming out victorious, which just goes to show how wonderfully well designed the game is.
The Health Regain Mechanic Is A Brilliant Risk-Reward System
A new feature found amongst the many others in Bloodborne is the health regain system. After a player takes damage a portion of their life bar will be coloured orange, this segment of life can be recovered, providing the player manages to strike and land an attack on an enemy during the relativity generous window of time provided.
It’s clear that this mechanic is implemented in Bloodborne to encourage players to be more aggressive. Most souls players will be used to taking a cautious approach, whereas now instead of sitting back and using an item to replenish one’s life, players can hit back at the enemy immediately to refill some of their life bar, in some cases it is even possible to make a complete recovery.
Despite what I have mentioned above concerning the benefits of being aggressive, I have discovered that it is wise not to be too greedy, sometimes it is better to hold back and wait, rather than attack an enemy in the hope of recovering some life, to then only be killed by said enemy. (Yes, this has happened to me.) It’s a very clever system that can reward bravery, but also punish recklessness.
Bloodborne Doesn’t Hold The Player’s Hand
I’ve seen a lot of articles mention how Bloodborne is a more “streamlined” experience when compared to the souls games, and whilst I agree with this in the sense that many features have been altered or simplified which were previously in those games, ultimately the player is still thrown into a world without much explanation and expected to explore without being led.
It is entirely possible to run out onto the dangerous streets of Yharnam without even knowing how to acquire a weapon. I’ve read and witnessed accounts of many players doing so. Even after completing Dark Souls 1 and 2 (unfortunately I haven’t played Demon’s Souls due to not owning a PS3) there are still many things in Bloodborne that I just don’t understand yet. What is frenzy, and how does it work? What do the shining coins do? How do I use runes? I have many unanswered questions.
My gameplay session last night summed up how confusing at times the souls games can be. After defeating Vicar Amelia I travelled to the right of the cathedral ward and found myself in an empty room with a looked door, I tried to open the door, but to no avail, so, I decided to leave the area. As I tried to leave the room I was grabbed by a glowing blue light, thrust into the air, and killed. I have no idea what happened. Bloodborne may be streamlined in the sense that it removes a lot features from the souls games that wouldn’t fit with its new direction, but it still remains just as opaque as the games that came before it.
There Is No Equip Load Statistic
Demon’s Souls, Darks Souls 1 and 2 all contain an equip load statistic, the heavier the player’s armour, weapons, and items that they have equipped, the quicker their stamina bar will deplete and the longer it will take to regenerate.
In addition, if player’s have a very high equip load it will affect the speed in which they can roll and dodge, and whether they can roll properly (see: fat rolling) at all. In summary, managing the weight of equipment is vital in the souls games, whereas in Bloodborne, it doesn’t even feature.
Whilst I think that the weight of one’s equipment having an effect on stamina recovery and roll speed is a very clever mechanic, it wouldn’t make sense to include it within Bloodborne. The reason being is that because the combat is so fast heavier equipped players would always be at a disadvantage, Bloodborne is all about perfecting dodging and is much more gung-ho than Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls. Sitting back with a massive suit of armour on and trying to defend would not work at all. The equip load statistic may be gone, but I don’t miss it.
Fall Damage Has Been Reduced
It is likely that those of us who have played a souls game before have encountered both of the following situations: firstly, we have tried to make a jump, not quite made it and fell to our demise, secondly, we all have fallen off an edge whilst fighting an enemy to then be greeted by those famous words, “YOU DIED.”
And after stupidly missing this ladder completely in Central Yharnam, I expected to die from a fall once again.
Except, I didn’t.
I survived the fall, a fall that I’m sure would have killed me in Dark Souls. I then carried on through Yharnam, only to die by an enemy 20 seconds later…
The Load Times Suck
Get used to seeing this screen, you will see it lot when you play Bloodborne.
Digital foundry has reported that the respawn loading time can take up to 44 seconds, which in a game where you can die in about 4 seconds (or even less than that) is a hell of a long time. For me it hasn’t been a huge issue that has really affected my enjoyment of the game so far, but hopefully From Software release a patch that fixes this in the near future.
At Times Bloodborne Can Be Genuinely Scary
I’ve always found Dark Souls and it’s sequel to be scary, well at least on the initial playthrough anyway, not scary in a horror film kind of way, (well apart from those clams and tentacle monsters in the first game) but still scary nonetheless. The reason being is that I fear dying, I don’t want to lose my souls and be forced to replay the entire area, unlike many other games death has consequences in Dark Souls, which makes me more feel more invested and a result, more scared.
Bloodborne is just scary because it’s scary. I know that enemies are likely to jump out at me or be hiding behind corners, this has been a staple of these games since Demon’s souls, but it still manages to get me. I think part of the reason is due to the fact that because Bloodborne is a lot faster paced, so I’m not walking around each area as slowly as I would in Dark Souls, and therefore am more susceptible to jump scares. There have also been a few instances in which I’ve turned around to find enemies behind me, during which Bloodborne has reminded me of my time aboard the Ishimura in Dead Space (I’m guessing you weren’t expecting that comparison).
The setting is also inherently creepy, with the starting area’s horde of enemies feeling like a scene from Resident Evil 4. The game is dripping with atmosphere, and I’ve found myself many times wandering around with my touch in hand, in the darkness, praying (to the moon) that I don’t be attacked.
Praise The Gun
Blunderbuss, how I love thee. An ode to the gun.
At first I did not think that Bloodborne should include a gun,
but it allows you to use a visceral attack on a beast which is extremely fun,
you must wait for them to begin their attack and then shoot,
they will stumble back, stunned, then you can heavily damage the brute.
Plunging a weapon into their chest, the hunter is covered in blood,
and with a forceful kick the beast is launched back, crashing with a thud,
before I could not see myself playing with a gun rather than a shield,
but to the great and mighty blunderbuss, I respectfully yield.
So….err… yeah… I like the guns. Let’s move on, shall we…
Miyazaki Is An Incredible Level Designer
One of the main issues that I have with Dark Souls 2 is that the world doesn’t feel at all connected, a lot of time I spent in Drangleic consisted of travelling travel through an area in a straight line, until I reached the end and then warping back to the central hub of Majula. Bonfires were also too prevalent in Dark Souls 2, some were situated a minute or two from another.
It’s predecessor on the other hand is an expertly connected maze, shortcuts are abundant and I remember many instances of feeling amazed when I realised that a certain area led to another. I still recall the incredible feeling I experienced when I opened the flood gates of New Londo, draining all the water from the area, to see that it was connected to the Valley of Drakes. Dark Souls feels like a world, whereas Dark Souls 2 just feels like a selection of levels.
Bloodborne in this respect feels like Dark Souls. It’s clear to see how much Miyazaki contributed to the world design of Dark Souls when playing Bloodborne, and clear to see how much he was missed on Dark Souls 2. So far I’ve unlocked a huge amount of shortcuts in Bloodborne, and coming to the realisation that an entire area is interconnected still remains a wonderful feeling.
A good of example of this is when I managed to find a shortcut of the beaten path near the area in which I had to fight The Blood Starved Beast, after which my journey to the beast only took around a minute or so, which in turn made dying a lot less painful. The level design so far has been brilliant, and I’m glad Miyazaki is back.
The Bosses Haven’t Blown Me Away (Yet)
So far on my travels I’ve defeated Father Gascoigne, The Cleric Beast, The Blood Starved Beast and Vicar Amelia. With the exception of The Cleric Beast, whom I managed to defeat the first time, the bosses remain as challenging as would be expected from a Miyazaki game. The only problem I have so far is that apart from Father Gascoigne, the other three bosses I have encountered haven’t been particularly memorable, both in terms of their visual design and actual game mechanics.
The Cleric Beast just resembles some kind of messy giant tree, The Blood Starved Beast looks like a giant blob, and Vicar Amelia looks a combination of Amaterasu on drugs and something that could be found at a Chinese Dragon parade.
Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh, but so far I just haven’t felt that same kind of feeling that I did when I encountered Sif or the Bell Gargoyles in Dark Souls. I found a lot of the bosses in Dark Souls 2 to be forgettable, and hopefully Bloodborne doesn’t fall into the same trap.
Still, there is a lot of game to be played and I have faith that something jaw-dropping awaits me further down the line. Overall I’m having a fantastic time with Bloodborne, and I hope to keep you updated on my progress over the next few weeks.