In their latest attempt to kill everyone, From Software are about to release Bloodborne to the general public. It’s almost impossible not to draw comparisons to their previous Souls games, as they share a lot of the same general themes and gameplay mechanics. The question is, how different is it? Is it another Souls game or something completely different? The short answer would be that it’s both.
This being a From Software game, I already had an idea of what to expect after booting up the game. I watched an ominous opening movie, created my character, and then started up the adventure. Once I walked downstairs, I immediately got mauled by a werewolf and died. It’s a pretty straightforward tutorial.
Bloodborne may have a different name, but it is unmistakably a Souls game. For anyone concerned: Bloodborne is not an easy game. At the same time, it’s challenging in a fair and rewarding way. I’m sure it was possible to take down that werewolf on your first try, but my skills were clearly lacking. Like the other Souls games, Bloodborne is all about learning from your mistakes. When it comes to differences, the devil is in the details.
Aggressiveness is key when it comes to combat. I generally liked to approach everything slowly and play defensively in the Souls games, but that doesn’t cut it in Bloodborne. Ranged styles of play involving spells simply don’t exist. Enemies will often try to overwhelm you with sheer numbers, and the only way to efficiently clear them out is to charge in and try to thin their numbers. While in other games I would have been tempted to back off and heal after taking damage, now I attempted to get a few more hits in because you can get a little bit of health back.
While making the first move is encouraged, you can’t just mash the attack button and come out on top of every situation. Many enemies will be able to attack through your barrage, killing you before you can really do any real damage. When fighting a tough enemy, you’re constantly balancing between looking for openings in their attack patterns and trying to get some hits in to get health back. It’s a risk-reward that further increases the tension in an already very tense game.
But even with all the risk-taking, what really stood out to me is the emphasis on planning. Often it’s better sit back and let enemies pass you by before making a move. A very early area in Bloodborne has you exploring a street full of enemies, and it’s a scene reminiscent of the opening village level of Resident Evil 4. Some enemies are huddled around a fire, others are waiting on top of ledges with their guns loaded, and others are patrolling up and down the street. It’s an incredibly dangerous situation, just running in would be suicide.
As you approach this area, you can get a good view of all of it from a distance. It’s perfect for assessing where the patrols move, who is positioned where, and what the best approach would be. I ended up devising a plan where I would lure out the patrols as carefully as I could, then move on to the gunmen on the sides. From there I would take some chances and rush the enemies in the middle. After a few attempts, I managed to pull everything off perfectly. I love with it when a plan comes together.
You’re given a lot of options to concoct plans like these. Maneuvering around hazardous enemies is easier than ever thanks to the fluidity of your dodges and rolls. Items like pebbles and Molotov cocktails allow you to either lure key enemies away from the group or straight up remove them from the playing field. Additionally, your main weapon can change modes, generally from a close range melee to a wide sweeping blade, so you can quickly adapt to situations as they unfold.
Despite the constant threat of death looming, Bloodborne actually gives you a lot more leeway than the Souls games in some aspects. In addition to letting you get health back by attacking, enemies also tend to drop healing items like candy. You leave yourself open to attack when you use these items, but the recovery is short and you can hold up to 20 at a time. They don’t refill automatically at checkpoints like an Estus Flask, but they’re incredibly handy nonetheless. There’s a surprising amount of room for error now. You can still die super fast, of course, but it’s the thought that counts.
Yet in other ways, Bloodborne punishes you more harshly than any of its predecessors too. If you weren’t a fan of dying in Dark Souls, you’re going to hate it even more here. When you die you lose all of your currency like you’d expect, but it’s no longer as simple as just going back to your place of death and grabbing up what’s left of your remains. Now enemies can actually absorb your essence, and you have to defeat them to get it back. If you died due to a careless mistake then that may not be a big deal, but if you were genuinely defeated, having to prevail the second time around can be a scary proposition.
Furthermore, the load times are absolutely brutal. Dying often means you’ll have plenty of time to cool down, for better or for worse. This problem is further exacerbated when it comes to warping to different areas. Bloodborne isn’t like Dark Souls II, which allowed you to just warp around to any place you’ve found a checkpoint at. Instead you have to warp back to the hub area, sit through a long loading screen, warp to the place you want to be, sit through an even longer loading screen, then realize you forgot something and have to go through it all again. I’d often hesitate to use the warp feature, because it honestly didn’t seem much faster than just running over to where I wanted to be normally.
Perhaps the best conclusion to draw is simply that Bloodborne is different but largely the same. It has a ton in common with the Souls games, but if you approach it the exact same way then you’ll have some issues. If you’ve never cared for the Souls games, I don’t think you’ll find much to appreciate in Bloodborne. For those are already initiated into these kinds of games, however, it’s like trying a different flavor of ice cream, except the ice cream wants you dead. Personally, I’ve had a blast playing so far, and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface.
Update: Since our impressions went up, Sony have sent out an e-mail to the press, stating that the the development team is “currently exploring another patch” for Bloodborne, this one designed to reduce loading times and make other performance tweaks.