With the announcement of Dark Souls 3 at E3 2015, and the Scholar of the First Sin reboot of Dark Souls 2, it’s never been a better time to be a fan of From Software. Then, of course, there’s Bloodborne, one of this year’s most highly anticipated–and critically well-received–games. I spent many dozens of hours with From’s dark, Lovecraftian tale when it was first released, reveling in the game’s faster mechanics, rich visuals, and typically obtuse storyline. But now, nearly four months later, with Bloodborne‘s online community less robust and other great games pulling my attention away, I returned to Bloodborne to see if time and perspective have changed my initial, glowing opinion.
After playing both Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin in the interim, I appreciated anew Bloodborne‘s rapid-paced combat and focus on aggressive play. Dark Souls, especially, now feels downright lugubrious, with animations that seem to take forever. Playing through both Souls games, one really misses Bloodborne’s Regain mechanic, where continuing to score against the enemy helps regain lost hit points. After spending weeks with Bloodborne and its generally excellent pacing, Dark Souls 2‘s tendency to create challenge by simply increasing the number of enemies feels especially cheap, amplified by Scholar of the First Sin.
Of course, not all of Bloodborne’s innovations succeed equally, and the Insight and Frenzy systems especially seemed–and continue to seem–undercooked and inconsistent. Equally disappointing are the game’s Chalice Dungeons, extra levels that are an adjunct to the main game–though related by lore–that exist primarily as a place to farm for upgrade materials and, being at least partially randomly generated, extend the life of the game without the immediate need for DLC. Without the guiding hand of a designer, and re-purposing bosses and assets from the main game, the Chalice Dungeons are certainly challenging, but also repetitive and boring.
In terms of environmental, level, and enemy design, Bloodborne is still amazing and while all of the Souls games feature outstanding artistic direction and meticulous detail, Bloodborne’s Gothic/Victorian aesthetic and Lovecraft-inspired creature design are still incredibly impressive. Every corner of every frame feels filled in and consistent, with textures and models that rarely obviously repeat. While all of the previous Souls games featured a wider variety of environments and certainly a larger palette of colors, there is still no lack of variety in Bloodborne, especially past the early urban levels.
The Souls games’ unique approach to multiplayer didn’t change too much in Bloodborne, with the ability to summon and be summoned remaining intact, but with unwanted invasions far less of a hindrance than in Dark Souls 2. Four months after release, there are far fewer available players of the appropriate level to call on for assistance or to help, but in general there are enough active players (especially in the evening or on weekends) with whom to party up. Invasions can be expected at some of the more inopportune moments in the game.
From’s storytelling has always been based upon reading environmental clues, item descriptions, and filling in the blanks, but not being a literal part of the Souls universe, Bloodborne was free to tell a rather direct and relatively coherent tale of horror and the supernatural with rather far-reaching implications. Less static mobs and NPCs give the game a feeling of life going on around the player; while it may be true that Bloodborne’s supporting cast may be less interesting than that of Dark Souls, there are plenty of side-quests and optional bosses.
Coming back to Bloodborne after several months’ hiatus, I was instantly sucked back into the game’s addictive pacing, rewarding combat, and impressively designed world. Despite that there have been some exceptional games since Bloodborne‘s release–mostly notably The Witcher 3–I can’t imagine Bloodborne not being at or near the top of my “best of” list for 2015. It’s still a great game and one of the best of the Souls series.
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