Editorial: Blood Born-Again

If anything it threatens to become too actiony, but I have some faith Miyazaki will preserve the feel of the series.
In Bloodborne the character is depicted wielding a cleaver-type weapon in the right hand and a steam punk style rifle in the left hand. It’s a big departure from the lumbering shield-wielding knight.

First Gamescom and now PAX is taking over the videogame news feeds, I honestly think there are so many games conventions and expos that they might as well all get rolled into one big thing that never ends. I will call it the Electronic Tokyo PennyCom Games Expo Mag Prime Fest Developer’s Conference or ETPCGEMPFC. Thankfully I am not one of the many trapped in the crowds these shows draw, especially the ones open to the public, and even more thankfully these shows do occasionally break some interesting news about games I am interested in. Anyone who follows my articles knows that one of my favorite topics for discussion is Hidetaka Miyazaki’s Souls series that began on the PS3 in 2009. After the release of the disappointing Dark Souls 2, which was not directed by Miyazaki, news of the true successor to the series was teased in the new title Bloodborne. After much speculation and, later, confirmation about some of the radical shifts this new game is taking I came to realize something that could be Bloodborne’s biggest asset: unfamiliarity.

First of all, it was not initially very clear if Bloodborne was going to be anything like the Souls games aside from some aesthetic similarities, but recent video of the game in action and some preview build coverage has confirmed that this will indeed be another game loosely tied into that series. The plot of any game in this series, which as now lost its moniker with new name, has always been entirely unconnected even between the only direct sequel with Dark Souls 2. It is also worth pointing out that Bloodborne will be a PS4 exclusive in the same way Demon’s Souls was a PS3 exclusive published by Sony. Perhaps to avoid name confusion between the other Souls games Sony or developer From Software decided to change the name to reflect the exclusivity.

No, I haven't bothered with any of the DLC. No thanks.
Dark Souls 2 had a lot of recycled content, not the least of which were its bosses. This encounter with the Bell Gargoyles is lifted shamelessly.

But naming aside, the game seems set to take the best-touted aspects of the Souls games and remove all of the safety blankets I and many other players would use to get through the game. If the previews show the whole picture then the weapon layout for the character has changed dramatically and now requires the use of a melee weapon in the right hand and a ranged weapon in the left hand. No shield will be present to simply block 100% of all incoming damage, no safety when plodding along slowly in a new area while peeking around dark corners. It would seem from this glaring omission and inventory restriction that Miyazaki noticed how most players were progressing through the PvE content of the past three games and decided that it offered too much security by deflating most enemy assaults. As long as the player had enough stamina and raised their shield strategically to preserve their reserves then most attacks could be tanked through with the heaviest armors and strongest shields.

Bloodborne looks to forgo that whole method in favor of a much riskier, and potentially much more rewarding, offensive tactic. In the previews and videos shown the right hand melee weapon had two forms, a longer reaching weaker form and a closer range stronger form. Switching between the two is easy enough, but the important part is comboing the melee strikes with the ranged weapon in the character’s left hand to stun enemies and leave them open for a special melee strike not unlike the ripost mechanic in the Souls games. In this case a good offense makes for a good defense, requiring players to continually look for the soonest attacks of opportunity and not just take them at their leisure once the enemy’s attack pattern has been memorized. The ranged weapon, shown as some kind of steam punk rifle in these early builds, is less suited for doing direct damage and more used as a tactical tool to pull enemy aggro one at a time and to interrupt their attacks. While there is still a lot of time between now and the “TBA 2015” release, I hope that the gun’s uses remain firmly in this capacity and that a third person shooter does not arise out of the experience as I had initially feared from the first trailer.

Here's to hoping they never make a Dark Souls 3.
The original Dark Souls Bell Gargoyles were pretty fun and surprising. The second time around was less than half as thrilling.

As well as the removal of the shield for a gun, the healing mechanics have changed to emphasize offense. Whenever hit by an attack the player’s health bar will go down and leave a yellow outline of the amount the bar was decreased. The player then has a limited time to hit the (same?) enemy back to regain that lost health. Once that yellow outline goes down the recovery opportunity is lost. Once again this rewards players for consistent fighting as opposed to slower safer combat. In order to survive one must do well with reacting to enemy attacks quickly and despite any unfamiliarity. This unfamiliarity in turn can create a greater sense of stress and challenge, two qualities the masses were quick to append to the previous games, which should help to make progress feel that much more rewarding. It is a very difficult thing to balance frustration with challenge to gain that earned and proud sense of accomplishment and apparently a difficult thing to not give in to fan demands for similarity. Miyazaki has proven to be a man with a clear goal for his game that will not be swayed overmuch by what many players believe is their favorite aspect of the previous games. It should prove as little surprise that most game players do not constitute accurately observant game designers and thereby cannot articulate well the things they enjoy in a complicated collaborative endeavor like a modern AAA videogame. Thankfully some people in this industry still understand that popular demand is not necessarily market demand.

Bloodborne looks to be on track for the next big release alongside a veritable landslide of other new gen titles that were pushed into 2015. I have high hopes that it will hold its own among the competition, but what do you think? If you were ever a fan of the previous games in this loosely associated series (we need a good name for it) then what do you think of this newest addition? Have the previews and trailers given you any different impressions from my own? Lower that shield, reader, and comment comment comment!

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4 comments

  1. “free banana stickers”

    We’re out of banana stickers.

    On-topic: this game is DRIPPING with atmosphere. I just want it to be something that it probably isn’t, and that’s a problem (albeit only for me).

  2. The setting looks much more focused this time compared to all past titles in the “series”. Before there was some general high fantasy medieval European setting, but it now seems much more zeroed in on a steam punk Victorian England setting replete with werewolves. In fact I continue to feel this game’s successes will be pinned on the very refined and focused nature of its design, visually and mechanically. In much the same way Dark Souls 1 was praised for the cohesiveness of its world and how well it all fit together, I think this one will prove to be a great and natural progression of the skills built from that game.

    Unlike Dark Souls 2 which is a meandering mess of lifted art assets strung together.

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