Tea: Ginger Lemon (spicy and sour, yet oddly soothingly sweet, just like Bloodborne)
Bloodborne is a Souls-Game by From Software. I am calling it that, since that is basically its own genre now, or rather the niche From Soft has cut out for itself. As a result it features similar controls and a similar brutal level of controller-crushing difficulty. Harsh critics would call it a palette swap of any other Souls game, now dipped into a nice big pot of blood and Victorian scenery. And for some aspects that holds true. A lot of usable items have just received a new name and icon, but basically stay the same. Just like the world’s currency, which is referred to as blood echoes, but I will continue to call souls until my dying day as it is shorter to say.
Just calling it another souls-game might actually be a bit harsh, considering the fact that it is a major step up from Dark Souls II, which was a severe step down from the superior Dark Souls I. I don’t quite know where to fit Demons’ Souls (a title that just rolls off the tongue) into this, but defiantly above DSII. Bloodborne goes back to a more complex level design, including a lot of shortcuts and overlaying maps. As a matter of fact, the level design is actually one of the strongest aspects of Bloodborne: The scenery is mostly highly detailed and often so dark and gothic any screenshot could be a death metal album-cover. The step away from heavy and light armours to just coats underlines this quite nicely. I fully support this decision, seeing that I also rather wear coats than heavy armour.
A more important point to go over would probably be how it is not like Dark Souls, as most people who played the previous iterations are already familiar with those. Gone are shields and heavy armour in general, rolling and dodging is the new dictum, which I quite welcome as I always felt it was the proper way to play. Standing directly in front of a big boss, tanking everything he throws at you while you wind up your incredibly slow weapon always seemed boring to me. The heavy-cheating-casual shields have been replaced with guns of all things, which are used to riposte. A mechanic similar to parrying but less spam-able, due to the limited number of bullets you can carry at a time. A rather nice approach that values a more thoughtful and strategic approach, but leads to my biggest gripe with the game: Consumable farming. As mentioned before Quicksilverbullets are not infinite and are looted off enemies or bought in the shop at a horrendously high price, so yeah farming it is. The same holds true for your estus fl- I mean blood vials. Some areas are loaded with enemies dropping them like a professor drops essay-assignments, while other areas are blood vial deserts, forcing you to retread old ground and farm the bloody things (pun as a lucky coincidence). I wouldn’t be so enraged about it if the healing system hadn’t already been sort of perfected before. The estus-system in DSI was almost flawless. It restocked five potions at every bonfire at the cost of all enemies respawning. The maximum number could be increased at the cost of humanity, a rare substance also needed for online play. My point is that the cost-gain balance was thought-out and well-considered. DSII made the mistake of including consumable healing items that could be stocked up to 99 on your character, while also giving you estus flasks.
Another, I wouldn’t say, problem is the fact that everything has been toned down in terms of playstyles. Weapon upgrade paths are now limited to one, but you can further customise it with bloodgems, rare drops from certain enemies, so good luck getting the one you need.
Up to this point I have typed the word “blood” 10 times and this just goes the show this games infatuation with the aforementioned word I refuse to use from now on, since I don’t want to appear too dark and edgy. Almost every item has the human life juice in its name and if it is not in the name it can surely be found in the description. Which leads nicely into the story aspect of Haemoglobinborne, the story, but the fans don’t call it story, since it is all about the lore. The lore, you see, is everything that happened prior to you entering the world of Yarnham and explains, if you can find and decipher the proper item description, why things are as messed up as they are now. I quite enjoyed the completely new tone of the story, going away from the dark fantasy vibe of DSI and further away from the retreading of old ground in DSII. The story here is straight up lovecraftian horror and in that far more effective than recent horror games.
“Quality instead of quantity” seems to have been the guiding principle for the weapon design. All of them are unique transforming weapons that can switch with a single button press, mostly transforming a one-handed into a two-handed weapon. I would have called them all outstanding and creative, if it wasn’t for the Saw Spear, a weapon that is functionally identical to the Saw Cleaver, as seen on the cover and in every promotional piece of this game. Yes, I am quite aware of the different transformed move -set, but the weapon is pointless to me anyway as there is a spear in the game. This weapon could have been another creative transforming weapon instead, like two sabres, transforming into a twinblade or whatever. Aside from that I must praise the weapon design, I am a fan of tight focus and that seemed to have been applied here. Gone are the tons of useless weapons from DS that were basically all the same. So it is just a minor point of criticism.
A stand out feature of the Souls-series have been its amazing, or less amazing, boss fights and Vital-fluids-borne is no exception. Without spoiling much, almost all the bosses are well-designed grotesque monstrosities, a nice step away from the endless parade of armoured dudes in DSII. Sometimes the arena design outshines the boss fight, I am looking at you spider boss I will not name. The best boss is probably either the first or second, depending on you route, or the last. Both being a really tough challenge with a great interplay of gameplay, music, and environment.
While the game I ran out of names for, may just be another souls title, it is certainly a refreshing experience, with steps forward, but sadly also some backward. Never mind though, I am a glutton for punishment and would take more palette swaps of that kind. It stands out among the wasteland of recent gaming, not only in its design choices, but also as a narrative experience. It’s just good, what more do you want?