Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Date Played: January 2016
Rating: Awesome (although hard)
Many years back to played a couple days worth of Dark Souls, by this same developer. So when I was recently perusing some “best games of 2015” and came across the PS4 Bloodborne, a more updated take on the “mega-difficult action RPG genre” I decided to give it a try.
Although it might not be obvious, Bloodborne is really a spiritual descendant not only of those older “Souls” games (also by FromSoftware), but of Castlevania. It’s dark, gothic, and a creature hunting action roll playing game with lots of secrets.
Let’s talk about atmosphere. Bloodborne is Japanese Gothic, with a kind of vaguely european, vaguely 18th or 19th century vibe. Creepy cities, leather, top hats, blunderbusses, werwolves, and all that. It’s a gorgeous gorgeous kind of dark game. Excellent and moody visuals and soundscape.
At the mechanic level, Bloodborne is a sort of brawler. You fight usually two handed, with both a firearm in the left hand (generally a slow shooting blunderbuss or flintlock pistol) and a “trick weapon” in the right hand. The trick weapons switch between a smaller faster version and a bigger slower one. This switch can be done in the middle of combat. In fact, you can have two of each kind of weapon and switch those out too. Combat is careful and calculated, generally up close and personal, very visceral — not unlike a Final Fight style brawler. You dodge slow deadly blows, shoot guys to stun them, and then bash their faces in — combos abound. This refinement of the Souls hand-to-hand combat is faster and more furious. Different kinds of weapons and blows are satisfying. The monsters are varied, their animations clear and effective. A new mechanic where you can steal back lost hit points by attacking immediately after loosing them is very effective to encourage a more furious style of fight.
But all that is this micro-mechanic. The macro mechanics (i.e. the RPG element) are brutal and different (although less evil that the Souls games). Blood echoes are xp earned by killing monsters, but you loose them all when you die. However, some nearby monster picks them up, and if you return to kill him (after killing everything up to him again), you can regain them — unless you die a second time on route. This mechanic, combined with a ridiculous scarcity of continue points means that you spend a LONG time killing the same guys over and over, learning every corner of the world. In fact, you have to kill one of the hideous bosses to get a continue, and it took me over a week to do that. Long before that I pretty much learned the ins and outs of the first area (which has a choice of two bosses).
And you can spend your blood echoes on leveling up, or weapons, or leveling your weapons, which are all great ways to get better at the game. Too bad you can’t actually spend anything until you at least see the first boss — and this is quite brutally challenging without leveling up.
Nor did the game bother to explain this, or much else about its rather oddball but well crafted macro-mechanics. Bloodborne, like the Souls games is virtually free of the burden of documentation, walk-thru, or any of those niceties for coddled modern player. Instead it relies on painful trial and error — and no small amount of walkthrough video viewing.
It took me about a week to kill the first boss. By the time I even faced him seriously, he really wasn’t that hard, but my initial encounters at low level had been so punishing I took my time leveling and exploring. For while the monsters respawn every time you die or return to the leveling hub, rare items and “doors” are persistent. That is you can only collect an item once, and a door, once opened stays open. It is this last, since the level is folded around itself, that makes the long traversal through the level more manageable after awhile. For example, an initially locked gate near the checkpoint, when unlocked from the back allows “quick” (killing “only” 11 monster) access to the first boss.
And while one might think that slinking around killing the same monsters over and over again would be boring, the addictive rhythm to the combat and the slow progress in both leveling and skill makes it all quite rewarding — if dastardly difficult.
All ARPGs involve a grind. Diablo 3, one of my favorites, is nothing but grind. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. In Diablo, you just slay slay with abandon in order to earn xp and small changes at gear upgrades. In Bloodborne, you pick your way through carefully, for the consequences of death are much sharper. Still, fundamentally you kill monsters, collect XP, and improve your character for more more monster killing. Such is the name of the game.
More thoughts to come after I progress…