Thoughts on Bloodborne

I finished Bloodborne for the PS4 about a week ago. It’s technically not part of the Demon’s/Dark Souls series (and Dark Souls III is coming out in a couple of months), but it’s pretty much the same thing–a dark fantasy ARPG with a vague plot the player fills in themself through item descriptions and stuff. The main differences are that Bloodborne is set in a Victorian-era world and has guns (Souls games are set in a medieval world with swords and shields), there are no useful shields so the combat rewards aggression much more than being careful (there’s even a “regain” mechanic that lets you get back health if you attack an enemy right after being damaged), and there are some Lovecraftian elements in the plot. Now, keep that in mind–there’ll be spoilers for this review, so watch out!

I didn’t think the game was bad, but after beating it four times and getting the Platinum trophy for it, I found myself somewhat disappointed. My rankings would go somewhat like this:

Demon’s Souls is roughly equal to Dark Souls, which is markedly better than Bloodborne, which is somewhat better than Dark Souls II.

Now, this isn’t to say I hated Bloodborne; I’ve put nearly 200 hours into it, so I have to credit it for giving me a lot of play. To further reinforce that point, I’ll start by describing the stuff I liked about it.

First: The graphics are *excellent*! Really very, very good. The main setting of the game, the crumbling, insane city of Yharnam, looks majestic, and terrifying at night. The lighting, textures, models of the characters and monsters, etc. generally look much better than in Dark Souls 2. Now, the art direction itself I found questionable, which I’ll get to later, but on a purely technical level this game looks fantastic.

Second: The music is also reasonably good. While I didn’t think it was quite as good as Demon Soul’s soundtrack, there were a few tracks I very much liked, such as the battle themes for the Cleric Beast and Gehrman, so that puts this game above Dark Souls II, which had little or no good music, IMO.

Third: Despite my qualms with the combat (which, again, I’ll get to later), some of the boss battles are quite fun. I especially liked the fight with Gehrman, which struck me as great in all respects. He’s a hunter like the player, which means he fights like the player, except with a big scythe and a better gun. So that boss fight felt like a duel between a pair of skilled and well-matched master hunters, and while it was very difficult, it’s not entirely unfair either, and there’s a real sense of satisfaction to be gained from getting better and better at dodging his attacks, punishing him when he’s open, and finally triumphing over him. The arena in which you fight him is also excellent–it’s nice and wide open, but it also has a lot of crucifixes standing around that can be used as cover from gunfire, meaning you still have to be aware of your surroundings.

Fourth: Finally, the more fastpaced combat compared to the Souls games, combined with gunplay, *seems* like a good idea, and indeed, there are times when it’s very fun and exciting–puts you on the edge of your seat and all that. I also think they vastly improved the critical hit system. In previous games, all you needed to do was get behind someone and you’d automatically perform a heavily damaging critical attack. This made PVP kind of stupid, since what should have been tense battles turned into players just jumping and rolling around trying to get behind each other for even a second. In Bloodborne, however, you can only perform a critical strike if you hit the enemy’s back with a charged-up attack first, so it’s not as easy to pull off and takes a bit more skill. Even taking into account that improvement, though, I still wasn’t that pleased with the combat. Let me explain why, and segue into the first of my list of critiques:

1: I don’t think the ‘faster paced’ gameplay worked that well when taken as a whole. Several things made it fairly annoying. Despite the fact that you have fewer defensive options than you did in the Souls games (no shields, and no damage-reducing spells like Flash Sweat either), your character doesn’t seem that much faster to make up for it. There’s a quickstep now which replaces the roll when locked on (though you can still roll if you’re not locked on), and some dashing attacks, but I’ve noticed there’s a very slight delay between pressing the dodge button and activating your roll or quickstep. According to what I’ve been told, this is similar to Dark Souls II (but not Dark Souls), and several people besides myself have had this problem, so I don’t think it’s just my controller or TV. For a faster paced game where the difference between victory and defeat can be a single frame (like a fraction of a second), this strikes me as extremely bad. I’ve been extremely irritated by many bosses when I got hit despite pressing the dodge button before the attack landed because of the delay.

Similarly, there’s no ‘poise’ statistic as there was in Dark Souls I and II, meaning that your character will be staggered by pretty much any hit. This wouldn’t be so bad if there was a way to get out of it; in Toukiden, for instance, if you’re thrown into the air you can recover and roll immediately if you press the dodge button at the right time, which was pretty cool, and would have suited Bloodborne very well, with its focus on agility. As it is, however, one hit from pretty much any enemy will kill you because recovery takes so long you’ll get hit again and again.

2: There are more than a few glitches. While I hear most have been patched, just recently I’ve seen things like an enemy getting stuck in a pillar, chests spawning in front of a door I just opened (so I couldn’t get into the room) or facing a wall (so I couldn’t open it) in Chalice dungeons (which I’ll get to later) and that sort of thing. Very annoying.

3: The camera is generally awful, especially when it comes to large bosses that you can actually get under, such as Amygdala, Bloodletting Beast, and Watchdog of the Old Lords. It stays too close to your character, meaning that if you lock on to one of the big monsters, it’ll end up so zoomed in that all you see is a close-up of one part of the monster’s body and you can’t see anything else–you’re pretty much blind. It’s absolutely infuriating when fighting enemies that otherwise shouldn’t be *that* terrible.

4: Also, despite how good they look, the environments tend to be very repetitive visually. The first area, Yharnam, is truly a sight to behold, with its mighty clocktower and Gothic spires. Unfortunately, most of the rest of the game looks pretty similar to it. Aside from the ‘Yharnam’ aesthetic, present also in the Cathedral Ward and Yahargul, you also have wooded areas (Hemwick and Forbidden Woods), clinic/Victorian university areas (Iosefka’s Clinic, Byrgenwerth, Lecture Halls), nightmare areas (first part of Nightmare of Mensis, Nightmare Frontier), and the optional frosty Cainhust Castle, which looks like a pretty normal Dark Souls area. Even these distinctive areas tend to look similar due to the lighting and color choices.

Compared to the variety you saw in Dark Souls, this is something of a disappointment. In Dark Souls you had a medieval village (Undead Burg), a majestic divine citadel (Anor Londo), and equally great, majestic, yet sinister library (Duke’s Archives), a spooky drowned city (New Londo), a very creepy rotted, fetid deathzone (Blight Town), an equally creepy graveyard (Catacombs and Tomb of Giants), a verdant yet hostile forest (Darkling Woods), a trap-filled gauntlet (Sen’s Fortress), an icy prison (Painted World Ariamis), and a flame-filled hell (Lost Izalith). All of these places have very distinct color schemes and motifs and are very easy to distinguish. So compare Bloodborne’s approximately 5 different environmental palettes to the more than 10 Dark Souls has–it’s more than double! Thus, the world of Bloodborne seemed less satisfying to explore than Dark Souls did.

I also don’t think it did as much environmentally as it could have with the Victorian setting. This was the era of the Industrial Revolution, after all, but aside from guns and some 0f the architecture it could have easily been set in the medieval kingdoms of Boletaria or Lordran (of Demon’s and Dark Souls). There are no factories or workshops or anything aside from the clinic and university areas to suggest an 18th or 19th century timeframe. I was joking around with a friend of mine about how a exposition area (like a twisted version of the Chicago World Fair or something) might have been cool, and while that was just a joke, I think a dedicated electric or steam factory, large hospital or asylum (rather than just the small clinic), or maybe even train station might have been very nifty.

5: The game is actually pretty short. My first playthrough took a decent amount of time because I wanted to find everything, but the main game itself can be completed in a very short span of time, possibly straight in a day. You can essentially run right through:

Father Gascoigne – Vicar Amelia – Shadows of Yharnam – Rom – One Reborn – Micolash – Mergo’s Wet Nurse

and beat the game, although depending on which ending you want you may have to fight 1 to 2 more bosses (Gehrman and Moon Presence) which are right near each other. So that’s just 7 to 9 bosses, and all their stages can be ran through very quickly. In Demon’s Souls, however, you had to fight like 17 bosses total to beat the game. Now, a short main game wouldn’t be so bad if it had a lot of replay value, but…Bloodborne really doesn’t. Aside from the endings, there’s very little incentive to play through the game more than once. In the previous Souls games, there were several spells and weapons you *couldn’t* get on your first playthrough, you had to kill some bosses several times, up to three times in fact, to get all their weapons, armor, and magic. In Bloodborne, on the other hand, you can get everything in pretty much one go, so after you beat the game once there’s no reason not to rush straight through it (which is easy). I think the creators intended for the Chalice Dungeons to present most of the replay value after beating the game, but…

6: The Chalice Dungeons are really pretty bad. For those of you who don’t know, Chalice Dungeons are supposed to be procedurally generated dungeons that are completely unique, i.e each one a player creates will be different, with a different layout, enemies, etc., and you can share them with all the other players, making an essentially limitless choice of dungeons to explore to your heart’s content. Unfortunately, in practice the dungeons tend to be insanely boring and repetitive. See, the way they work is that they draw from a pool of precreated rooms, then place those rooms in a random arrangement and sprinkle a random selection of enemies and treasure around, all also drawn from a precreated pool. Unfortunately, those pools are *tiny*. There are only like a half dozen rooms to choose from, so even when they’re placed together randomly it feels like you’ve gone through the exact same dungeon over and over again by the time you beat about 5 chalice dungeons.

And while there are some cool chalice-specific enemies and bosses, for the most part a lot of the enemies are the same ones you’ve fought in the main game; adding insult to injury is that a lot of them are just given some extra HP and set up as bosses in some Chalice Dungeons, which feels incredibly lazy! Finally, the treasure in Chalice Dungeons is generally underwhelming. The only things you really get are materials needed to create more chalice dungeons, some variants (lost and uncanny) of other weapons that are almost the same thing, and Blood Gems, which can be used to power up your weapons. Blood Gems are the only things you really need, and hunting for them alone just isn’t enough to make the Chalice Dungeons feel particularly rewarding. So overall, the Chalice Dungeon feature, which was a big selling point for Bloodborne, just feels like a big failure in the final analysis, despite how cool it initially sounded.

7: Finally, I think the multiplayer in Bloodborne is much worse than it was in the Souls games. In those, if you wanted to help someone else, you’d place a “summon sign” on the ground, and another player would encounter that summon sign, press the X button, and summon you into their game–*right* where you placed the summon sign. In Bloodborne, on the other hand, you ring a Resonant Bell, and someone who wants help will ring a Beckoning Bell, bringing you to their world.

This sounds good until you realize that when you get summoned while ringing a Resonant Bell, you spawn in your beckoner’s world at the location you’re at in your world–which might be very far away from where your beckoner is at the moment. With signs, you know exactly where you’ll show up, which means your summoner has to be right nearby. With bells, however, it’s extremely easy to get lost. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve summoned someone only to have no idea of where they are, at which point they die before they can even get close enough to help me because neither of us has any idea where the other is. I don’t know why the developers didn’t make it so cooperators spawned right near their beckoners instead of wherever they were standing in their own game.

Similarly, PVP is pretty poor. In Dark Souls 1 and 2, you could be invaded by an evil player-killer Red Phantom at pretty much any time if you were in “human form.” Duelists who wanted to be fair could place red summon signs on the ground too, so anyone who wanted to fight (rather than be invaded randomly) could summon someone from a red summon sign for a fair fight.

In Bloodborne, however, whenever you ring a Beckoning Bell, an enemy called a bell-ringing woman appears and starts summoning people who are ringing Sinister Bells to fight you. Now, the bell-ringing woman only appears (except in the Nightmare Frontier and Nightmare of Mensis) if you’ve actually summoned someone. This makes it much easier if you don’t want to PVP, since you can only be invaded if you choose to have help, but it also makes 1-on-1 PVP much harder, since players can only invade if another player already has at least 1 friend, so most battles will be 2 or even 3 on one. Again, the Nightmare areas are an exception, but even then dueling is hard, since you can only ring bells rather than choose opponents who’ve left summon signs, like you could in Dark Souls. So both the cooperative and competitive multiplayer functions of Bloodborne seem very disappointing, despite their cool ideas.

Thus, here are some suggestions for improvement for the next installment, if they ever make a Bloodborne 2:

1: Add more magic! There are only like 9 spells in Bloodborne–summon tentacles, summon 3 spirits, large magic blast, knockback blast, speed buff, magic weapon buff, heal friends, turn into a messenger, and lightning blast. This is pretty scanty compared to the Souls games, which had dozens of different spells, hexes and pyromancies, all of which did different things–homing missiles, status buffs and debuffs, fire explosions and shields, etc. etc. etc.

2: Ability to transform into a beast! People transforming into scary beasties is a big part of Bloodborne, the whole game revolves around that, in fact. However, you can’t transform yourself! There’s something called a “beast gauge” you can activate with beast blood pellets, but all that really does is increase your damage while reducing your defense for a while. It doesn’t turn you into a werewolf or other type of monster, which would have been really nifty. I wish they’d actually done something like that…

3: More weapons and armor! The thing about Bloodborne is that every weapon has 2 modes, so that adds some diversity, but even with that taken into account there’s not as much choice in weaponry as there was in the souls games, which had tons of swords, spears, daggers, whips, and so on. Same thing with armor–while there are some cool looking sets, like the Bone Ash set, most of the armor looks relatively similar to each other and there’s nowhere near as much variety as in the Souls games, which had light, medium, and heavy armor of all types.

4: Fix the multiplayer! There should be a dedicated PVP arena somewhere (Dark Souls II had these), and cooperators should spawn closer to their beckoner.

5: Finally, there should be more guns in Bloodborne. Like I said above, that was one of the disappointing things for me–aside from the Flamesprayer, Rosmarius, and Cannon, the only thing guns really do in this game is “parry” attacks, like shields and some daggers did in the Souls games–if you press the L2 button at the right time while an enemy attacks, you’ll stun it and be able to hit with a devastating critical attack. I wish pistols, shotguns, long guns, and heavy artillery did different things instead of the same thing.

Now, it seems like the Bloodborne expansion coming out in November might solve some of these problems. From the trailer, there looks to be a bunch of new weapons and armor and an actual, real transformation, so it may address some of the qualms I had about the game. Still, unless they totally overhaul the chalice dungeons, I doubt it’ll be that much better. Ah, well, I’ll probably get it anyways.

That about does it for this entry…and there may not be one like it for a while. I gotta get hardcore down to work on my dissertation! So next week will probably be an update on my progress 😀

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