Ah, finally the days are getting consistently warm and sunny here on the East Coast. The coming allergy season will be the price I pay for getting a break from cold windy days, but then again everything comes with a price. And while I await seasonal discomfort I have taken up Bloodborne again after only a brief pause. In my review, I noted that the game offers fewer choices on how to play but that, of those existing choices, the experiences have been enhanced. My initial build, as I suspect is common, was a Strength build that focused lightly on firearms and centered itself around the Kirkhammer and Ludwig’s Holy Blade as mainhand weapons. In my second playthrough I attempted to run through New Game + with the same character and met with some frustration. What follows is my experience replaying the game and I consider my observations here be an appendix to my review. While I will not discuss story aspects here, I do consider figuring out these gameplay elements to be rewarding and so one might keep that in mind before reading ahead.
Bloodborne, quite unlike the past Souls games, has generally one optimal way to tackle its challenges. Previously, Strength and Dexterity builds would need to close the distance with a target and learn how to react to its close range attacks. An entirely different style of play was on the table if the player chose to be a magic user (governed by Faith or Intelligence) which required the player to maintain a distance from their targets, learn how to react to long-range and projectile attacks, and balance resources that enabled the use of spells. In Bloodborne there still exist differences between how a Strength character will approach a fight and how a Skill- or Arcane-focused character will handle things, but they are all themed around being much closer to an opponent. Without specialized armor and differing dodge speeds for lightly or heavily equipped characters, the encounter options for every build are the same in most respects.
And while that initially sounds like a problem for replayability, the game still proves that the subtle differences in each focus are enough to freshen up the experience for another round. I mentioned above that I began a New Game + file with my original Strength character, however I quickly ran aground of some intriguing problems. First of all, I have never been particularly attracted to the New Game + modes of the Souls games as the prospect of playing the game again but just with stronger enemies is a bit boring. Players retain access to their inventory, enemies drop souls or blood echoes appropriate for post-game levels as well as deal more damage and take more hits to down. There are no respec options, and weapons require findable items to upgrade so they can kill things quickly enough. In short, a New Game + is most wisely spent replaying the game along the same lines as the previous playthrough. But in Bloodborne another hurdle to my enjoyment cropped up, and it was tied to the somewhat mysterious Insight counter at the top of the screen.
Insight is a currency obtained from boss fights and used to purchase special items as well as to summon for co-op play. It also governs a player’s vulnerability to invasion from hostile players, decreases resistance to the Frenzy status effect, increases the Item Discovery stat, and crucially it seems to have an impact on how enemies (and bosses) behave. It would seem that many regular enemies gain several more attack patterns, essentially becoming more aggressive and leaving fewer big windows during which the player can strike. Early speculation is that this mechanic functions similarly to World Tendency in Demon’s Souls, but I will not get into exactly what that comparison means in this article. Suffice it to write that in many ways gaining Insight makes the game more difficult overall. By my second playthrough I had the maximum possible of ninety nine, which is an easy feat considering the game hands out Insight rather frequently and faster than I could ever spend it while playing mostly offline.
So with New Game + shelved for now, I rolled a new character and this time it would be a Skill, Arcane, and Bloodtinge focused build, essentially touching on all of the aspects of the game I did not focus on the first time around. Still, that build might be too broad, however I will have other issues with which to contend. Without the crushing assistance of a mighty Strength weapon, I will be much less able to stagger my opponents and have to rely more on weaving in between attacks to get in a few quick swipes. Arcane and Skill builds look to function a lot like the old Dex builds of the other Souls games, and there seems to be no viable route to take for a ranged playstyle. Some items are acquired much later on in the game that allow players to use Quicksilver Bullets like a mana pool to cast spells, and use of those items does require a certain amount of points into Arcane, but I do not think those items are meant to be replacements for a normal melee mainhand weapon. Rather, there are weapons that scale well with Arcane, meaning they give bonus damage for each point put into the Arcane stat as well as mete out Arcane damage instead of purely physical damage, and these weapons still require a close-quarters approach to gameplay.
So far my experience with this build has been thankfully challenging and refreshing given some new limitations I need to work around. However, unless I dive in with a friend for co-op or until some compelling story DLC is released, I do not see myself revisting Bloodborne anytime soon after this run through. Whereas with Dark Souls I could replay and reroll characters over and over, revisting the game many times in a year, Bloodborne sacrificed some of that inherent longevity. It is important to note that Dark Souls was created without the intention of producing DLC of any kind. Bloodborne, however, could still get me coming back only this time it will be for a price. It is fundamental to the respective makeups of Bloodborne and Dark Souls that they do not align in this way, so I do not feel overly upset about potentially getting the same amount of use out of Bloodborne for a price however I still think it an important trend to highlight here and in game design at large.