Bloodborne is hard, you guys.
Yeah, understatement, I know. For real, though, I just started playing From Software's popular PS4 exclusive this past weekend and I've been hooked from the get-go. Having never played Dark Souls, I didn't think I'd get so into this game but I'm glad to be wrong.
I've been playing a whole bunch of games since I got the PS4. In recent memory I've played Fallout 4 (the main quest line anyway), Arkham Knight, Infamous: Second Son (as well as First Light), and now Bloodborne. In Second Son i'm actually pretty close to 100%, in the others there's still plenty of side quests I need to do.
However, I think Bloodborne is going to suck my free time away from me, even more so than Fallout 4 did/can.
At the point of writing this, I'm two boss fights deep into the game. I am marking my progress by boss fights more than anything else, really, because I am not really sure how else to. I think that's a big part of why I love this game.
With the big open worlds of games like Grand Theft Auto, or in Bethesda titles like Fallout 4 or Skyrim, you've got a map, and quest markers, and locations you can fast travel to or waypoint on a minimap. Being that there's none of that in Bloodborne, it makes the exploration feel that much more adventurous. You don't know where you're going at first - you don't even know that there's a respite to find when you get there.
Bloodborne just drops you into the game with nothing, no concept of what to do or where to go. It just says "Hey. You're a hunter. Go kill some things. Maybe find this old Church or whatever."
It doesn't even give you specific detail in how to find said Church. Just plunks you in Yharnam and immediately tasks you with killing a giant wolf monster. I hadn't felt that sense of powerlessness from the start of a game in a little while. I was absolutely up shit's creek. I loved it.
I've heard people say or write that Bloodborne is a kind of game that won't be popular with every kind of gamer. Some people have said that it takes a particular kind of gamer to enjoy Bloodborne (and by extension, the Souls games too). I guess I get that.
I think to enjoy Bloodborne, you have to fuckin' enjoy playing video games. As dumb as that sounds, I mean it on a very fundamental level. By definition (to me) a gamer, someone who loves video games, is someone who comes to a challenging part of a game and they get fuckin' PUMPED.
Your blood starts racing, your heart trying to break your ribcage. You move to the edge of your seat, something inside you saying that by putting on your game face, you will play that much better.
Bloodborne capitalizes on that feeling. The 'levels' are punishingly difficult. Even in just getting from your spawn point to the boss zone, you can die real easily. Even when you know exactly where to go. The lack of checkpoints means that every life matters - you die, you need to to do it all over again. The enemies reset. You lose Blood Echoes, those precious resources that you use not only to level up but to buy equipment.
Then there's the boss fights themselves! You're virtually guaranteed a death screen on your first go-round with any of the game's bosses. It's that kind of bitterness only a gamer feels. The deaths in a boss fight feel like "No, FUCK YOU" moments to me. When a boss puts me down, it just gets me raring to go back stronger.
Bloodborne is a game that reintroduces stakes to a generation of gamers who have gotten soft with frequent checkpoints and deaths that don’t matter altogether that much. When you die in say, Assassin's Creed, it just loads you back to your most recent save, no harm done really.
In Bloodborne you lose precious progress and money, but it still lets you play smarter the next time to get it back. The game understands the importance of reward, the importance of the level of the challenge vs that reward.
Plenty of games now cater to instant gratification. You can jump in and know what you're doing, have clearly outlined objectives, and clear ways of clearing obstacles. In many cases, you can just pay more money to get the best stuff. Bloodborne makes you work for all of it, even the basic hunter's equipment.
Yet it doesn't do it in a way that feels like tedious grinding. It lays out in front of you the whole scope of the challenge. You are a hunter in a place teeming with monsters of varying strengths. You can learn lessons from other people's notes, you can ignore that.
The onus of the entire experience ultimately lies upon the player, and Bloodborne shows that. Everything you do, you do. The game never pulls any punches. You know from jump street that it is tough, and to expect it to be tough. For that reason it really can't be considered unfair.
This is also part of the reason that I can see how some people won't take to this game. It's too punishing for the level of casual that dominates the market nowadays. Specifically within the realm of AAA gaming, you don't see a lot of the old school values of gaming, where games were challenging to the point of dire frustration.
People continue to replay games like Mega Man, like Contra. Games that were super difficult in that you had but few lives before game over, and every death reset you to a previous point of progress that you had to fight back from. The replay value comes in the reward of finally pushing past a challenge.
One of my best friends, a member of the Squad, Leo, loves the Souls games and Bloodborne. He's played the ever-loving-shit out of Souls and from my knowledge has beaten Bloodborne too.
He raises an interesting point about the way memorization and mastery comes into play with these games. Because death is constant, and you will die in new and different ways a lot of the time, particularly to bosses, he says that after a certain point encounters are less of a skill challenge and more of a strategic puzzle to be solved.
After dying fifteen times to the same boss, you will have a deeper understanding of the telegraphs in the attacks and the pacing of the battle. You'll have a finer sense of when you need to time strikes and dodges, arguably down the point where you're playing an interactive dance.
With every death you feel more informed, better capable of taking the fight on. After enough repetition, you triumph. This sequence of risk and reward keeps the player going. As my friend puts it, "the strength of the gameplay reduces the feeling of grinding/ all the time you spend playing by giving intrinsic and extrinsic value to not dying."
The value in not dying is reaping all of the potential reward for clearing the map. However, there is some small value in death, too. It shows you where critical mistakes are made, so as to avoid them in the next life.
Basically all of what I love about Bloodborne so far is the way the game understands how players work. It understands the necessity of reward, and the equivalent value that needs to be placed upon the risk associated with it.
It understands that the onus belongs on the player. It shouldn't feel like the game is unfairly stacked against you. Bloodborne certainly IS stacked against you, but it isn't unfair about it. It tells you straight up.
Bloodborne is a beautifully rendered modern game that works tirelessly and effectively to reassert older values from gaming. It brings value back to death. It presents a challenging adventure that is both a celebration of gaming at large but also an intrepid step into the bright future of games.