Well From Software essentially agrees – there are no no effective shields in Bloodborne. I can’t help but feel that, for a series and studio that openly acknowledges the vital contributions of their most hardcore players, this is an explicit tip of the hat. Or maybe that’s always how Hidetaka Miyazaki played his own games. Or maybe it’s a conscious effort to siphon off from the larger, more action oriented audiences. D) All of the Above.
Just compare these two fights against multiple enemies, first from Dark Souls:
Notice the fundamental difference in how you tackle large groups of enemies in Bloodborne:
Bloodborne is decidedly all about staying assertive in combat. Not always at the sake of that crushing difficulty that had become Miyazaki’s it’s calling card, but it’s impossible to mistake how one has supplanted the other in certain key ways.
Let’s start with the rally system, since it cannot be understated how much easier this would have made the past three Souls games. Players are able to regain all of the health they just lost by immediately dealing some retribution to their enemy, the total ATP correlating to the amount of HP retrieved.
This often completely compensates for damage received from ambushes when not taking care in new areas. For the huge, lumbering bosses with predictable rotations of attacks (of which there are many), it’s usually easy to score a few cheap hits to regain life after some sloppy play.
It’s a big change – the most obvious sign of this shift in emphasis from the measured, choreographed dance of the Souls games to the frenzied, assertive assault that characterizes most of Bloodborne. It’s not that you couldn’t massacre in Demon Souls…
You certainly could. But certain builds were just never going to achieve that state of relentless destruction in the Souls games. Some classes were methodical by their very nature. See shield + polarm + tight corridors. Not so in Bloodborne, where every combination of gun/blade can bring speedy annihilation in the hands of a pro.
Maybe the closest the Souls games ever got to rewarding an all-out battering was with high-stagger weapons. Each blocked hit from these weapons knocked away big chunks of ‘poise’, eventually leaving the defender momentarily stunned. But it was rarely a science – there was no stun meter floating over the enemies’ head to reference to see how close you were.
Poise drain was also affected by the type of swing, the animation you caught your enemy in, and other minutiae like whether or not you scraped a wall mid-swing.
Bloodborne has this same mechanic, except there’s so many other ways to knock off enemies it gets neglected.
Another key difference comes in the mile wide gap between Souls’ parry-riposte system and Bloodborne’s visceral attacks, themselves performed after stunning an enemy, this time with the firearm:
Whereas ripostes could usually only be performed on smaller, humanoid enemies with some kind of weapon, a well timed gunshot can stun pretty much any enemy in the game (even bosses). Much much more importantly, these gunshots can happen at almost any range, such that players need not even be within the enemies reach to nail a stun:
Parries in the Soul’s games could only be pulled off but clashing steel – blow the timing and you get nailed. On top of that, only certain shields and daggers could perform a parry – often times they were balanced around this ability and as such carried other weaknesses. Meanwhile every gun in Bloodborne can stun with roughly equal overall effectiveness.
Comparatively, it’s possible to cheese Bloodborne bosses by hanging back out of reach, waiting for the attack that would never connect anyways, and continually try to nail the timing on a stun.
Dying will now no longer steadily deplete your max health bar down to ½, as the Souls games did before it. Obviously this is a tremendous boost from a gameplay point of view, but the mental effect cannot be understated. All of the sudden there’s so much less on the line when facing up against a boss you only have a 20% chance to take down. You have that license to just go blood lust crazy on that SOB every time around.
Pretty much the only offensive nerfing of Bloodborne is the backstab, which require a charged up R2 to pull off:
But the most profound difference – and this is one of those so-close-to-your-face-it’s invisible scenarios – is that Bloodborne ultimately doesn’t require that same level of cognitive reprogramming that Demons Souls demanded. It feels more natural, easier to pick up and play. There’s less of a learning curve. Perhaps this is a product of being the 4th game in the “series”?
Perhaps not. Take the new game-mechanic-turned-difficulty slider insight. There’s a linear, very intuitive rationale behind it’s functioning: more insight = greater difficulty.
Beat a boss? Gain insight – beating increasingly more difficult bosses means you’re getting better.
Hunt down a Madman’s Knowledge? Gain insight – proving your propensity for finding tucked away items means you’re finding rare weapons and helpful consumables, and as such are at a greater advantage.
Summon a friend? Lose insight – if you need help getting past a certain area, you probably generally need a hand.
What’s key is that the player need not truly understand this relationship to naturally experience this mechanic at work in the world, and reap the benefits/hardships of their witless actions or general skill level. It may be more or less as opaque in terms of in-game documentation, but it matters little because the experience it produces for the player is in lockstep with their performance.
That was simply not the case for the corollaries World Tendency in Demons Souls, and even for Humanity in Dark Souls. While the latter is roughly similar to insight (with some quirks), the former was a complete mystery to most players:
Other players can make my game harder? I didn’t kill this character I didn’t even know existed and now the game is easier? There’s some special event happening I had no idea about because I don’t visit the From Software forums and now this game is harder for everyone? What the hell?
These elements make Bloodborne a hell of a lot easier to just pick up and play. And that’s a good thing.
Another example: weapons became fewer and farther between as their versatility multiplied. Demons Souls had 6 different types of poleaxes and almost double the number of customization options available to them. Bloodborne has far fewer weapons to try and wrap your head around, and generally requires less foresight/strategy from the player when determining what arm suits the situation.
Ditto with weapon weight: throwing it out the window for Bloodborne means one fewer thing for the player to mentally juggle when comparing weapons and formulating a play style.
Ultimately I think this is all good news, if for nothing else than that it’s a departure from the well-trodden path the Souls game had traveled. And let’s be honest – some of those difficulty spikes weren’t really that fun anyways. I guarantee you skip that sections in 5 years when you revisit Demon Souls to see how it holds up.
Bloodborne still requires you to level up as a player (not just your character) as you progress. It’s not an easy game by any stretch. If you’re hunting for frustrating lows and intoxicating highs, Bloodborne can still deliver.
But does it need to be apologized for? Is it a sign that its forums probably won’t ever pick up the intense activity of the Souls games? Would a Bloodborne 2 meet with a warm reception?
Let’s peer into the future: