Playing Bloodborne pisses me off. A lot. It makes me want a cigarette despite giving them up over a decade ago. So why has it pulled me in more than any game has in a long time and I’m still playing it every chance I get?
Bloodborne feels like strange new territory to me. Sure I played the original Demon’s Souls and while appreciating what it was trying to do, I just never jelled with it, so I never bothered with Dark Souls either. So what the hell is going on here? Let’s see why on earth I’m doing this to myself.
Bloodborne insists on the most twisted of relationships between a game and the player. No matter how good you get, you will always give more than the game will give back. The time commitment alone for such a pathetic pace of progression seems like a nightmare throughout. I’ll frequently hit walls where I can’t even grind as the cost to level up each time rises considerably and is rarely matched with ‘inflation’ or the amount of Blood Echoes I can squeeze from a current area’s enemies.
But there are moments in Bloodborne that seem rewarding. Discovering a new route hidden behind some crates for example can open up huge sections of Yharnam and provide me with an alternative to getting ripped apart from the same group of enemies that I’m too weak to take on at my level. Better yet, once shortcuts start opening up, the deaths become much less frustrating as I can make my way to my Bloodstain again with less hassle each time.
The ‘rewarding’ element in Bloodborne can’t be compared to other games (Souls aside maybe). This is because you’ll have to work incredibly hard for every level or stat you upgrade. Blood shards to upgrade weapons become very rare after your first upgrade, making every extra one I found before reaching Old Yharnam an absolute treasure. And now the game wants a new type of item to keep upgrading the weapon – now that I have a bag full of now-useless shards.
Bloodborne’s world and in particularly the ‘level’ layouts are incredible and form one of the core pillars to sticking with the game. I’ve become fully immersed into the game’s world. With no-onscreen map to help me, I must attempt to orientate myself and rely on a real sense of direction as to where I am in relation to other areas. I have to understand where I am in the world, as if it was a real place to explore. No other game demands this to such an intense degree.
The world design is incredibly dense and so very vertical. Looking above or below your position throughout is how you’ll often spot other roads that you know there must be an entrance to from somewhere nearby. Compared to most games spoon-feeding you a location, or using our phones and Google Maps in real life, the challenge is extreme but also one of the best elements of the game as the sensation of stepping into the unknown is daunting, terrifying and disgustingly moreish.
More often than not, when the route branches out, I’ve no idea which direction to take. But that downtrodden feeling when getting stuck or when enemies get too tough is cleared right up when I remember that there are other paths from a while back that I’m yet to try. Some may even have new equipment or weapon gems to become reborn with.
I’m approaching Level 30 now and the combat is still on a knife edge for me, and I imagine I won’t be able to claim mastery over it for another 30 levels – or maybe never. From my experience in the Alpha and Beta tests, I knew that the nippier combat was going to be a better fit for me than the dreadfully sluggish actions of Demon’s Souls. But I still can’t decide just how good it is.
Consistency is the biggest issue so far. I’m starting to notice the response times for dodging via the Circle button can be incredibly unreliable. This is worse when locked onto an opponent as the dodge distance is much shorter. I’m finding all too often that a basic dodge tap is just ignored on-screen, leaving me open to a cheap shot. And cheap shots are the last thing I can afford in Bloodborne.
The way my attacks interrupt enemy attacks is really inconsistent too, making it difficult to judge how many combo strikes I can get away with before getting out of there. For all the cruel difficulty and realism, it would be nice to be able to rely upon a clean strike stopping an opponent in his tracks and not having to watch his animation ignore your clean contact despite his health bar taking a beating. Surely this is the sort of thing we want our next-gen consoles to be doing for us? The varied timings of parries have caused a few fist in mouth incidents too.
But these infuriating aspects of the game are worn proudly on the sleeves of Dark Souls players, who have not dwelt on them over the years. And I think that’s the way to play those games, and indeed Bloodborne. Assume, you’re never far from being fucked and respect the ever so bent rules. I know I’ve taken advantage of some dodgy aspects of the game anyway, like hitting enemies through walls on corners.
Unlike past Souls games, I like how losing your temper can be a virtue via the regain system. Yes, the window is narrow, but being able to regain health back by violently retaliating is immensely satisfying. It’s a risky tactic against bosses, but when I’m hit by a sneak attack by humans, just unleashing the red mist via R1 until everything is dead and my health bar is full again is just great. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many health vials the game throws at me too, meaning that I don’t have to be conservative when using them, not that enemies want to give me half a second to knock one back.
The more I play, the more I’m learning that what looks impossible really isn’t. I recently fell down into a large church with around 20 enemies -probably considerably fewer, but this game certainly encourages ‘big fish’ stories. Rather than flee, I stepped up to the fight knowing that taking on more than a handful usually ends badly.
But I survived, by keeping my distance, avoiding walls, keeping the crowd funnelled towards me by circling, and maintaining my stamina bar so I’d have enough juice to roll away after a combo. Compared to the multiple clusterfucks of the bonfire scene early in the game, it was a real moment that, as a player, I knew I’d come a long way.
That doesn’t mean I don’t still screw up against weak enemies way more than I should. I really can’t afford to be seen by werewolves or let a pair of ogres get me on the ground for example. And I’ll still get enormously pissed off for dropping 7000 souls – the turret dude in Old Yharnam is my current nemesis.
But there’s that trickle of improvement keeping me going. The new gems that I can equip to my cleaver are making sod all difference if I’m honest, but there’s a hope that I’m not far from unlocking better ones and there’s always that boost of increased Blood Echoes for a new area’s enemies.
So what about those of you still unsure about playing Bloodborne because of the Dark Souls heritage? I can in no way guarantee you’ll enjoy the game. But, if I can start to find reasons to play it and push on through some pretty miserable times, I’d say that there’s a good chance many of you will get something from Bloodborne too.
It may take a shift in attitude to how you approach the game, but I’d say patience is the most important ingredient. Learning to accept when to back away from some challenges until you’re stronger will make life easier too. Just forget the usual reasoning of a game saying, ‘if you’ve managed to find a boss now, you should be able to kill it now.’ You can throw that shit right out of the window.
Still not interested? Then that’s fine too. With so many games out there, life is way too short to be able to enjoy all the ‘best’ ones. And if someone is saying they’ve no interest in the game, or aren’t into the hardcore setup, don’t be a dick and blast them with insults or say they must be rubbish at games. Some people just want to have fun when they play their games, rather than be tested by some quirky mechanics and a drawn-out progression system. For all you know, they might be way better at it than you if they were so inclined.
After over a week, I’m still not sure which way Bloodborne is going for me. Which is why I’ve not published a review yet here at Dealspwn.com. I might never finish the game, but I’m certainly willing to throw everything at it whenever I get a spare moment. I’ve no idea why it’s pulling me in like it is though. A sense of satisfaction? A professional curiosity about understanding the appeal of From Software’s games? Or am I searching for the game’s approval of my efforts with rewards of new gear (holy balls! I’ve found a new hat!) and PSN Trophies (a Bronze for Father Gascoigne, really?). Or maybe it’s for those water-cooler moments regaling friends with my adventures and painful failures. Or maybe the personal pride of taking on such a challenge? There’s a good chance it’s all of the above.