Aimlessly Going Forward

blog by Tomas Sedovic

Bloodborne

Dark Souls changed something in me. I strongly dislike games with combat (especially real time), repetition (any form of grinding or repeating what you've already done) and bosses.

And yet Dark Souls is one of my all time favourite games. I have spent a huge amount of time playing it. I've recorded a full video playthrough of it. It literally changed the way I approach difficult problems in real life.

I kept hearing about Bloodborne, but it being a PlayStation 4 exclusive (which I didn't have) it was always relegated to "that time when they port it to PC or I get the console".

Well, a few months ago, I've cashed all the rewards my colleagues sent me (thanks y'all!), bought the PS4 and booted the game up.

Dark Souls?

This game is extremely similar to Dark Souls. If you've played any game in the series, you'll feel right at home. The core mechanic is the same, so is the main loop, the way the inventory works, the way the story is told, the gorgeous architecture, the weird NPCs, the verticality and interconnectedness of the locations, the obscurity of the world.

If you've no idea about any of that, then briefly:

Bloodborne as well as Dark Souls are exploration games with challenging combat that have mastered the art of repetition. You are expected to fail and keep failing at a location or a set of enemies until you learn them enough to progress.

They have a vast and rich world which strongly rewards meticulous exploration. You can unlock shortcuts that will let you move about much more quickly. Unlike most games, the world has a strong verticality to it -- you will get to the deepest depths as well as the highest heights.

The world is seamless (no loading screens when you explore -- though there will be a loading screen if you die or teleport) and in general: if you can see a place, you can get there. Nothing is there just for the show.

The combat is challenging, but fair. If you pay attention, you will get better at avoiding getting hit and dealing damage. And when you do lose, it is almost certainly due to a mistake you've made (often being too greedy or mashing buttons instead of thinking).

The games have deep fascinating lore that is rather obscure. You learn it by reading short snippets in the item descriptions and talking to the handful of NPCs rather than through cutscenes or lore dump books and documents. And you learn it by paying attention to your surroundings. The buildings, statues, enemy placements and connections are not random.

You level up in a relatively classic RPG fashion with one exception: your Experience Points and currency come from the same pool so you always face a dilemma: do you increase your level or buy some items?

In addition to your level and actual player skill, your gear plays an important part. The weapons can be upgraded and while there are ones that give more or less damage, you can finish the game with your (appropriately upgraded) starting weapon and not be at a huge disadvantage.

Each weapon has its own very specific look and feel. Each own sets of movements. This means every weapon plays differently so it is more about finding one that fits your preferred style of play rather than which outputs the most damage.

Victorian Dark Souls!

There are differences from Dark Souls.

First, it is set in a Victorian-like era. And the whole mystery revolves around blood (which can heal you and give you abilities if you inject yourself with it), beasts which started appearing (some by people turning into them, others... who knows?) and the hunters who cleanse the streets.

And somehow, all this is connected to the very mysteries of the Cosmos (or should I say Kosmos?).

I adore the setting. The visuals, dresses, characters, mysteries. It is all really really cool.

When it comes to gameplay, the first thing you'll notice is what was removed: 6 basic stats (compared to Dark Souls' 10), no equip load, no shields, no armour upgrading.

Personally, I've welcomed all of these changes. They make the game more focused and I was not missing any of the removed stuff. Bloodborne still gives you all of the complexity and freedom of choice, but with less faffing about.

Unless you're preferred way of playing was a knight with a shield. It never was mine -- turns out I've mostly played Dark Souls the way Bloodborne is expected to be played anyway -- without a shield, avoiding getting hit.

The most significant-seeming departure of the established rules -- one I worried about the most -- is the fact that the healing items (Blood Vials) are a consumable item. Meaning unlike Estus in Dark Souls, you can run out. At which point you won't be able to heal.

And you can't take all of them with you. Each run lets you take a 20 vials, the rest is in your stash and replenishes only when you die or rest at a Lantern (Bloodborne's "bonfire").

This is not as big a deal as I thought for two reasons: first, the vials are pretty generously spread around the world as items to pick up and monsters drop them frequently too. Second, you can buy them pretty cheaply in the shop.

In practice, this meant that it never presented an issue for me particularly, but if someone struggles more than I did -- especially early in the game where you get less "money" -- it might be annoying.

I don't think using the Dark Souls' approach would harm the game any and I was always a little nervous about my vial supply, but it never amounted to any serious issue.

In fact, combined with another change, this actually does have an advantage.

When you get hit, if you deal damage of your own quickly enough, you can recover lost health. This encourages a more offensive approach -- where instead of backing down and healing up you are supposed to give as much as you got -- and it means that even if you make a mistake you can still get out of a fight unscathed.

So even if you run out of your Blood Vials, you can replenish lost health if you play it right. And in fact, you can discover more vials on the way.

That means that your runs can be longer. That means fewer loading screens and more exploration. More echoes (experience/currency), more items and of course: greatest risk of a loss if you do die before reaching the next lantern (checkpoint).

I have definitely enjoyed these longer runs (with higher stakes) more. There were several places where I've managed to reach the next checkpoint on my first ever run through the location. Something that never really happened in Dark Souls.

Difficulty

I am a slow person. I panic easily, operate terribly under pressure and take a long time to react. Bloodborne is a faster, more aggressive game compared to Dark Souls.

So there were areas where I struggled more. Especially with the faster bosses.

Lady Maria of the Astral Clocktower in particular was really really hard for me to deal with.

It should be noted that I did not play with other people and I've only summoned help for two bosses: Shadows of Yharnam and The One Reborn -- both of these had multiple enemies and I could really use the split attention. Every other boss I faced alone.

So some of the difficulty was self-inflicted. I don't know, it felt to me that this game needs a lone hunter. Don't ask me why.

Lady Maria

I would also like to note that Lady Maria is my favourite fight of the entire game too. It took me several days and countless attempts to get past her, but I have absolutely enjoyed it.

I wasn't recording the rest of the gameplay, but I did record that fight:

https://youtu.be/cbdhCFc4rZI

(not the smoothest one but I really love it -- this is the closest I've ever felt to the old "combat and dance have a lot in common" sentiment)

My next playthrough will be as Lady Maria. Meaning my character will wear Maria's dress and weapon throughout the whole game.

Oh, that reminds me. This is Akuchi, my character:

Akuchi

For the first ~10 years of my gaming life, I have always tried to play characters based on me. Using my name or nick, the same age and looks.

And then I got bored of it and started to design and play characters that are different from me: women, people of colour, older people, etc.

This is a ton of fun!

I mention this to point out that even regardless of the broader issues of representation, role models and everything else, having every character in every piece of artwork being the same gets booooooring over time.

It is much more interesting to mix things up.

When I've entered the Astral Clocktower as Akuchi, a black lady with a big fucking hammer only to find herself facing Maria -- a milky-white woman with two swords, speed of a panther and an aggression of a bull I was absolutely delighted.

Black versus white. Hammer versus two swords. Good? versus Evil? But who's the good one?

I dunno. Diversity is valuable even if you're straight white English-speaking cis-man is what I'm trying to say.

(also, if your main character is a woman, you're halfway to passing the Bechdel test just sayin')*

Chalice Dungeons

The game has some procedurally-generated dungeons with unique items and bosses in them. These sound cool, but for some reason they didn't really draw me in yet.

I do want to give them a go at some point though.

PlayStation 4

Since Bloodborne is a PS4-exclusive and it is the only console I've ever owned, I'd like to mention a few words on the topic.

It should be noted that I've always wanted a console as a kid (but we never had enough money to get one). I've also always thought that for a lot of games a controller is a superior option.

Being someone who works with a computer, keyboard and mouse, I have bought a controller (the Xbox One one) a few years ago and if a game can be played with it, I will do it. I've played Dark Souls with one.

So, PS4.

There's some good and bad stuff.

The good bits: it's easy to set up and control. If a new game comes out on the PS 4, you will be able to play it. You don't need to keep upgrading its hardware. You don't need to buy an operating system or scour the net for the right combination of a graphics card, motherboard, CPU and RAM.

It's a box. You buy it, plug it in, wait two hours to download its updates (sigh, really?), put the game in and play, confident that the game will run smoothly.

That is all extremely valuable for me.

I also really like the PS4 controller. The Xbox One controller really similar, but the PS4's placement of the D-pad and left stick works much better for me.

More importantly, the D-pad itself is four separate buttons and that in my opinion is vastly superior.

Xbox One controller:

Xbox One controller

PS4 controller:

DualShock 4 -- controller for PlayStation 4

Apparently, it's possible to hook it up to a PC as well, so I might try that out some time. That said, pretty much every PC game that supports a controller supports the Xbox one and it's only marginally worse. So it's also possible I'll keep them separate.

PlayStation Plus

There's one thing I really was not expecting about PS4 and it is something that will make it much less likely that I will play any other game on it: the PlayStation Plus subscription.

I was wholly unaware of how this all worked. What I thought was: you can optionally pay Sony (the company behind PS4) a monthly fee and you will get some free games for as long as you do. Plus IDK some discounts, wallpapers, that sort of crap.

Which is cool. I can absolutely see the value of that for someone who isn't me. I've got a particular approach to games and my desire of just getting a random game and trying it our are pretty much nil.

But it sounds like a fantastic thing for people who like getting random games every month. I might get it if I ever have children.

And if it ended there, it would be fantastic.

But they did something I (coming from the PC world) still struggle to comprehend -- all of the online functionality of Bloodborne is locked behind the PS Plus subscription.

That means the co-operative play, but also all the bloodstains, character "ghosts" and the messages players leave throughout the world. And that is such a fundamental part of the game. The experience would be greatly diminished without it.

So, despite the fact that I am absolutely not the target audience for PS Plus and I don't care for any of its offering, I've set up a subscription because playing Bloodborne offline would severely diminish it. Especially for the first time.

Having just finished the game, I've cancelled the subscription and I do not expect to re-enable it. My subsequent Bloodborne playthroughs will be offline.

What this means however, is that the likelihood of me getting another game on the PS 4 is much lower than I initially thought.

For example, it means that I will get Sekiro (the latest game of the Dark Souls and Bloodborne people) on the PC.

I would have loved to get Spelunky 2 on the PS4 -- like I said, the controller is better. But: what will Spelunky without PS Plus look like? No multiplayer, that's clear. But: will I lose the daily challenges as well? If so, it's PC again.

Similarly, one game I've played that would otherwise make perfect sense to get on the PS4 would have been Life is Strange. But at the end of every episode you get a little breakdown of the how different players approached certain key decisions in the game. I find this intriguing. Will that require PS Plus?

Again, if it does, I'll get any future LiS (or whatever Dontnod come up with) on the PC.

And I resent the fact that I now have to do additional research to see whether any given game I'm interested in is actually viable on an offline PlayStation.

So: if you're interested in getting a PlayStation, be aware of this. I wasn't and while it would not have affected my decision to get it for Bloodborne, it bums me out and makes the console much less useful.

Conclusion

If you liked Dark Souls, you will almost certainly love Bloodborne.

If've never played a Dark Souls/Bloodborned game, this would be an excellent entry in opinion (if you've got a PS 4 that is).

Bloodborne is an absolutely wonderful game and I've thoroughly enjoyed playing it.

PlayStation 4 is neat and the controller is awesome. The fact that all multiplayer functionality is tied to a paid recurring subscription means I probably won't play another game there.

Tomas Sedovic on 28 July, 2019