Fextralife’s Hands-on with the Next Generation of Souls
When fans read that Bloodborne was going to “appeal to a wider audience”, we quickly began polishing forks and lighting torches. Isn’t it comforting to know that the folks with forks and torches in the game are still going to kill you very, very much? With that said, a third type of mob had to be avoided to even come to that conclusion: The visitors of the Gamescom 2014 in Cologne, Germany. As my current identity claims I am located in that same country, it seemed the opportunity for Fextralife to get a hands-on with From Software’s latest project.
Finding Sony Computer Entertainment Europe wasn’t too hard, nor was finding the Bloodborne booth. Among all the shiny bright-blue stages, screens and speakers bursting loud music & trailers, and on-stage hosts rallying the crowd with giveaways and contests; the weathered, pointy steel fence and graveyard-gate-like entrance to the Bloodborne showcase stuck out like a sore, dark-enchanted, grimy thumb.
I introduced myself to the nearest member of the blue-shirted local Sony police force, who in turn kindly hooked me up with a media fast pass – and the license to cut line was badly needed, given one of the smallest kiosks got among the biggest attention. Waiting for the current crew to finish their go, obvious Dark and/or Demon’s Souls veterans eagerly discussed their tactics and while keeping out of those particular conversations, I felt that feeling rise within me. I suppressed it.
We were lead inside into a weirdly appropriate, pitch black room; only the Playstation system LEDs providing me and other, equally physically talented people just enough light not to cause serious property damage. I initially chose the center-most rig, but quickly gave it up after realizing the other two attendees in my line were not only a young couple, but also acknowledged never having played a Souls game before. I chuckled to myself, and the feeling crept inside again, but I pushed it back once more.
While I was aware that photography and recording in general was strictly forbidden, I noticed a few terms I wanted to document on the loading splash screen explaining the controls, but the Sony promoter was as vigilant as a mountain lynx. I sighed at the creeping thought of how tragically similiar that guy’s behavior was to From’s storytelling and surrendered my phone. “Just me and you, brain”, I figured. And if those two weren’t for bad enough odds, there it was again: that misleading, unproductive cockiness and certainty of having “figured out their scheme”. The feeling that cost me so many Human Effigies at the start of Dark Souls 2, because I totally aced the first one. The feeling that in itself proves that, as simple the enemy behavior seems during a second playthrough of a Souls game, it always manages to catch you off-guard and show you how crafty you really are in any next installment or DLC.
Bloodborne: This is Souls
After spawning into the Victorian city of Yharnam at nighttime, I felt right at home from the very first second. The camera, the controls, the animations & the movement itself, down to the sound of the footsteps, were familiar. This is a Souls game, hallelujah!
I was roaming about for some time, tried out what my movement options were: Dodging, light attack, heavy attack, rolling attack. The controls are almost identical and the user interface comfortingly familiar, featuring a health and stamina bar that depletes as you attack and dodge. However there were new things: Instead of blocking, L1 will now make your character “transform” their weapon – i.e. extend or collapse the blade of your melee weapon. The loading screen splash claimed doing so mid-swing will unleash what is called a “transformation attack“, but I was unable to properly execute it during my time. Given that it is a reserved spot on the button map, it is safe to assume this is not only going to be an important feature, but also inherent to the majority of weapons. Since my character was essentially the figure seen in most of the promotional material released (including the cover), my melee option was some kind of cleaver that could be extended into a polearm crowned by an over-sized shaving razor.
The newest addition to the realm should be what rested in my left hand: A legitimate, good old-fashioned blunderbuss. It does what it’s supposed to do: With L2 you fire your gun. The particular piece I was carrying had a wide arcing blast, with low damage and very high spread. This is not going to be a shooter, which is also evident when looking at your ammo counter: Six. Not exactly a lot of slugs for a straightforward shootout. However, it wasn’t until my first serious combat encounter that I realized what it’s true purpose in this game seems to be: crowd control, block break and poise break. I didn’t have to wait very long for my first opportunity to put my tools of trade to good use.
Gameplay: The twists
As any veteran would feel with this wonderful opportunity, I was torn between exploring every corner and rushing forward to see “more”. After scanning every niche for deviously placed loot and exercising a bit in the dark alley the game dropped me into, the Sony promoter finally lost his cool and pointed out how I should totally climb up the overly obvious ladder right in front of me to proceed. You know, by pressing X? I grinned in self-righteous satisfaction when I finally spotted a rotten carcass with a shiny orb in its hands, and picked up what I simply felt had to be there. This is From after all – again, don’t worry. And because it is From, it wasn’t the Shining Killaxe +15, but a “Pebble“. Granted, five of them. Their usage was as bluntly straightforward as one might expect: You throw a pebble. Legions of darkness, hear me roar.
To my caretaker’s sigh of relief, I finally went to climb up the ladder. Halfway up, I heard a terrible shrieking and glass shattering. It’s moments like this you appreciate the “sprint climbing” of DKS2, apparently being here to stay (it does not drain stamina anymore) – false alarm. Having reached the rooftop safely, I looked back down to make sure I hadn’t been followed. Relieved, I turned around just in time to dodge the lunge of my very first enemy. An inhumanely slender man, wearing tattered, Victorian age clothing and a hat, his face covered with mold and pieces of rags. He shouted at me. Those weren’t all guttural noises we was making. He spoke. A distorted, feral and angry voice, but those were actual words. I had no time to process this new and unexpected behavior.
Without thinking, I executed my inner Dark Souls-choreography – locked the camera onto him, while dodge-rolling under his crude, makeshift blade, and unleashed a flurry of R1s. With my brain still turned off, I waited for his counter attack with my finger resting on L2, as it always had – only to see my character, much to my unaware surprise, yank the blunderbuss upwards and virtually blowing my opponent into the metal fence at point blank range. My ammo counter went down to five, and while it may have been wasteful and also a tad overkill, it felt very empowering at the same time.
Having annexed this particular rooftop in my mind, I proceeded down a set of stairs, only to be greeted by another pair of similar (yet slightly different) looking enemies. One of them carried what seemed like a plank shield and I took that as his personal statement against firearms – respecting his beliefs, I transformed my cleaver for additional range and disposed of both of them the old fashioned way. From where I stood, I was able to look down onto yet an even lower roof, with yet another pair of enemies, which I could access by jumping down; as well as an alley at the very bottom, led to by a set of stairs to my right. There was an entire mob carrying torches down on the street, though luckily they were patrolling away from my position. I decided to use that to my advantage and slip past them (I reportedly tend to prefer this approach) by descending the stairs and then running straight into the opposite direction as soon as they had passed me. At the end of the alley, there was an opulent golden metal gate. It was closed still, but next to it was classic, huge ground lever. Fewer animations are more satisfying in Souls games than your character pulling those, especially when that metal gate turns out to lead to my initial starting point – I had just opened my very first shortcut. Relief. The world is once more intricate and interconnected, and we will be able to find quick hidden paths to get around it.
I went back where I came from, feeling slightly more confident now, prepared for my inevitable encounter with the mob I avoided with so much improvised elegance – they were awaiting me now. Making my way back up the street, I didn’t think of how they’d changed direction and were now coming straight at me, all five of them. Panicking, I pressed L2 hard enough to hear the gamepad’s plastic protest. This time, I could really see the pellets flying, and the arc they formed: I hit all of the mobs for low damage, but curiously, they were all immediately poise broken. One of them shook loose and charged at me – I dodged his initial swing and countered his attacks often enough to keep him on the ground in a more permanent fashion. When the rest of them began to close in again, I fired a second time and repeated the process. So this is what rifles do! Took me only a frantic fight for my life to figure that one out.
I wondered for a moment if I could have executed the new “Regain” mechanic. This nifty trick allows you to recover health after a hit by executing a timely counter on any enemy while your health bar is still yellowish. Alas my quick reactions had allowed me to escape unscathed and without a chance to test this.
As I was breathing heavily and looked at the mess I barely managed to make, the poor individual who will surely award me an A for enthusiasm in my psychiatry report, tapped me on the shoulder. I hastily removed my headset and looked around as if I just awoke from an intense dream. The lights had gone back on in the meantime. Play time was over.
As I walked away trying to recall every detail in my mind, thinking of the new Recovery mechanic, the guns and their poisebreak, the cleavers, transformations, pebbles and build options, the dodge and stamina changes… the aspect that has jumped out the most is the fact that there is true loneliness in the game. Demon’s Souls aside, Dark Souls had you walk into idle landscapes and “awaken” them. Death was all around you but it had already come to pass. Bloodborne changes this. You are invading an active, frenzied city. You can hear voices and noise. The enemies walk, talk and seek for intruders. You are now not just alone, you are also against an entire city who is vividly and actively out to kill you.
This time, they are hunting you.
Fextralife will be hearing more about Bloodborne soon! Let us know what intrigues you or apply to write for us to be the next one to get to play!