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Bloodborne is Dark Souls for those who were intimidated by From Software’s dungeon crawler. That doesn’t mean it’ll go easy on you
You die a lot in Bloodborne. That’s just the way this game is wired.
You’ll get shot to pieces by a lone, lanky goon whose position you’ll misjudge for a powered-up strike. You’ll be chopped up at the hands of an axe-and-pitchfork-wielding mob that gathered in the street to watch the corpse of a monster burn in front of them. You’ll be turned into paint by a fat, bloated giant whose speed of movement belies his overweight form.
It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Bloodborne, after all, is the brainchild of Hidetake Miyazaki, the mastermind behind Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls – two of the hardest games ever birthed into the industry. His last two titles weren’t just a pair of superbly crafted hardcore dungeon-crawlers, they became a rallying call for old-school gaming sensibilities.
If you didn’t like Dark Souls, some said, you weren’t a real gamer.
Funnily enough, though, a lot of people didn’t like Dark Souls and that fact didn’t in any way put them off playing video games. Bloodborne may be the hardcore title that papers over that crack. It’s difficult, unforgiving and it doesn’t offer any free rides but players are more likely to be drawn to it than the games Miyazaki presided over ahead of it.
It’s easy to chalk this up to the game’s presentation. Bloodborne is set in a nightmarish city that owes as much to HP Lovecraft as it does to Victorian London in terms of visual representation. A permanent cloudy midnight hovers over the necropolis’s leering spires and bloodstained cobbles. The game’s protagonist sports a leather duster and tri-corn hat that become more and more bloodied as they carve their way through the streets. The whole environment is soaked in a Gothic pallor that never shifts, whether the player is stalking through the street or engaged in a pitched battle with myriad foes.
It’s a more popular – and by extension, one would say – easier world to get to grips with, in spite of the fact that it’s darker in tone than either Demon’s Souls or Dark Souls. A purist would argue that it’s warmer and more inviting and they’d be right. Bloodborne is more accessible. Players will want to invest in this world.
The mechanics are more inviting too. Rather than have players oscillate between attack and defence – slash away or hide behind a shield – Bloodborne offers only a powerful dodge as the primary means of evading damage. The protagonist walks into every battle with a weapon in both hands. There’s no blocking option here – at least not in the build on offer at Sony’s demo – and instead there’s just a dual attack. You can’t cower behind a shield in Bloodborne. You get out of the way or you get badly hurt.
The new attack set-up lends a new fluidity to the combat. Since players have no blocking option, they’re forced to be on the front foot, regardless of the challenge ahead of them. Bloodborne rewards this bloody minded approach; if an enemy scores a hit, the player is given a limited time to score multiple attacks in return that juice their lifebar back up to healthy levels. Here, offence isn’t just the best defence – it’s a life-saving tactic.
There’s a rather sick logic underpinning all of this; Bloodborne is an intimidating beast, but it’s also one that pushes players to move out of their comfort zone. For example, at one point the player may find themself caught between two enemies of equal threat. On the one side, there’s a group of five goons on patrol and sneaking past them is impossible. On the other is a mutated giant – who easily qualifies as a min-boss – who will be unaware of them until they attack. Both camps pose equal threats, but which should the player pick?
It’s moments such as these that make Bloodborne such an enticing prospect, because the answer to the above question all depends on how confident the player feels, given their ability and the equipment they have stashed. That, and the fact that the truth is they’re probably capable of taking down either set of enemies provided they’ve done their homework and they’re prepared to treat each encounter in the game as potential lethal, regardless of what they’re facing.
Just like in Dark Souls.
Bloodborne is better than Dark Souls, because it makes no concessions and still provides the hardcore with the experience they need to feel challenged. It seems strange to say it, but Bloodborne may be the best gateway into the hardcore gaming experience that casual players have ever been offered.
After all, you die a lot in Bloodborne. That’s just the way this game is wired.
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