Jun 072016
 

Status: Finished DLC up to Maria, got tired of it, completed main game (Moon Presence ending)

Most Intriguing Idea: Guns don’t kill people, they stun them.

Best Design Decision: The health-regain mechanic

Worst Design Decision: Vast, overwhelming grayness

Summary:

I bounced right off of Bloodborne‘s introductory segment—a textbook case of tedious bullshit passing as difficulty—the first time I tried it, but I returned to the game after Dark Souls 3 because the games seemed to be communicating on a mechanical level (seemingly to DS3‘s detriment). Bloodborne favors pairing conservative strategies of engagement with aggressive tactics of combat, and playing DS3 that way made it, if not a cakewalk, at least substantially less difficult.

In Bloodborne this approach is fostered by a group of advantages and vulnerabilities. The stamina cost of dodging is very low, and if a player fails to dodge e can regain health by attacking immediately. Poise barely exists, so both the player and enemies can interrupt each other, making it critical to get in the first strike. However, the player has essentially no long-range attack and no ability to block enemy blows. This pushes the player to close, attack, and withdraw as quickly as possible, while using range and terrain to manage enemy aggro and numbers. This is important because almost any three enemies, unless they are very low level, can stunlock the player character to death.

If you can grok this it makes Bloodborne almost easy at times: this is the first of From’s Souls-style games where I killed multiple bosses on the first try, usually a time when I’m just trying to figure out tells and attacks. That’s not to say the game is trivial: Logarius and Ebrietas, for example, both gave me fits. Also, certain parts of the game, notably the snake-filled portion of the Forbidden Woods and the bits of Yahar’gul with the chime maidens, gave me that old Souls sense of trepidation. That feeling of wondering whether I dared risk pressing forward or if I was even capable of advancing in a level was largely missing from DS3.

However, Bloodborne also has some of the most awkward examples of From’s efforts to manage that feeling, with its plethora of elevators and doors that only open from one side and make levels coil in on and around themselves. Now, in certain spots this tendency pays off; it makes Yharnam seem appropriately labyrinthine. However, an area like the Forbidden Woods that could (and arguably should) feel expansive instead comes across absurdly constricted, even though it’s a case where even the shortcuts leave a huge swath of the level to fight through or run past to get from savepoint to boss. Opening a shortcut always offers a sense of relief and safety, but it also turns the levels into a kind of structural anticlimax, where the real triumph is getting back to where you started.

Aesthetically I have to say I don’t much care for much of what went on here. The world tended to be a bit monochromatic, with a palette overwhelmed by blacks and grays with all other colors aggressively desaturated, and the enemies were often gray too. I can’t even count the number of times I saw a player echo running around and dove out of the way thinking it was one of the enemies I’d failed to account for. The DLC levels had a few spots that majorly improved on this, and as enemies got freakier late in the game it became more interesting to look at, but I never grew to love it, even though its Victorian gothic aesthetic in general appeals to me.

All that said, Bloodborne has some levels I’m glad I played and bosses I’m glad I fought, and anyone who’s a fan of demanding 3rd-person action games would get a lot out of it.

Verdict: Cautiously recommended

  2 Responses to “Bloodborne”

  1. I’m interested if you agree with Brad Galloway’s (and mine) opinion that the story is a mess. I really liked the Victorian Gothic feel of it all, but I think the game dragged you away from the city instead of keeping you there and unfolding more of the story while in the city. Dark Souls gave a very clear and non-convoluted presentation of it’s background and set the player up with simple tasks (“ring the bells of awaking”) to move forward with. I never got that sense with Bloodborne. It just felt like you wake up and are expected to kill anything that attacks you. There was no true unfolding of any kind of narrative which would of helped the player along.

    I did like the new approach to combat though, and am fine with there being less customisation – this would have worked better with more story upfront though, so you were less concerned with the RPG elements and more focused on uncovering the story.

    • I don’t know that the game needed to spend any more time in Yharnam, unless it was really going to delve into the hierarchy of the city. That turns out to be beside the point more or less so it’s fine for me that they sort of skip it. However, Byrgenwerth and the Church’s own background really needed more elaboration. In game their facilities are either tiny or almost solely seen from their public face. From a story perspective the Research Hall was the best part of the DLC for me. Also, just in general, the idea that “it’s all a dreeeeeeam” never appeals to me.

      One thing I definitely did not like about the story was the way the level design worked against finding it. The situation after Vicar Amelia is particularly bad, where to advance you have to find a weird door down a hard-to-see staircase in a side area, while the game simultaneously offers up two obvious pathways that lead to, essentially, dead ends.

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