Our series of Most Anticipated articles has returned for 2015. This series will chronicle all of our most anticipated upcoming games through March of this year. The next in our series of previews is the PS4 exclusive Bloodborne.
The Souls franchise, created by developers From Software, has become a mainstay of the hardcore and speedrun gaming communities. The series is renown for its old-school difficulty; it’s dark and unforgiving which creates an overwhelming feeling of confidence with each victory over foes both big and small. Well… forget all that. We’re told that Bloodborne is not a Souls game, though it sees the return of Hidetaka Miyazaki (Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls I) to the director’s chair, and features core mechanics and gameplay concepts consistent with the Souls series. Let’s take a look at this Not-a-Souls-game, Not-a-sequel, that is a set to be a PS4 exclusive and one of our Most Anticipated of 2015.
Bloodborne was first leaked as Project Beast through a series of screenshots and a trailer ahead of E3 2014. Speculation and rumor from the leak suggested that this game was a “spirtual successor” to the Souls series, but would be released by Sony Japan, thus returning the franchise to its Playstation roots. More rumors suggested that, due to the Sony connection, Project Beast would be a direct sequel to the original Demon’s Souls. The speculation was laid to rest at E3, when Project Beast was formally announced as Bloodborne, a PS4 exclusive, and confirmed as being directed by Miyazaki.
Development began immediately following the release of Artorias of the Abyss, the final DLC for Dark Souls. This explains why Miyazaki’s role on Dark Souls II was simply as a supervisor – he was directing and developing Bloodborne concurrently. The director related a desire to create a game in the Victorian Era, but had previously felt that consoles lacked the horsepower to deliver on the intricacy and detail befitting the time period. As the PS4 approached and their exclusive partnership was renewed, following the multiplatform release of Dark Souls I & II, Sony had a strong desire for a new IP. Miyazaki saw this as the opportunity to capitalize on his Victorian vision, one that is dark and terrifying.
Call it a sequel in everything but name, or call it a spiritual successor, it’s clear that the core of Bloodborne is decidedly Soulsian. It’s a third person action game, with an emphasis on melee combat, and a high difficulty level. Yet there are compelling differences and divergent gameplay mechanics that seek to meld with a new setting, in order to set this game apart from its gaming ancestors.
Gameplay videos and alpha test feedback exhibits a combat this is definitely accelerated. Enemies are quicker and more aggressive than ever before, requiring players to, at times, strike first rather than always playing in a careful, reactive, slower-paced style. Foes will no longer spawn in set places and remain mostly static in their movements. Instead, they will scout and survey areas of the city according to their individual logic, occasionally even traveling in groups or converging on set points in large crowds. This will create some difficult situations for the player, encouraging them to draw individuals away from the crowds or attempt to avoid combat altogether.
There will be ways for your character to be active on defense, however shields are not one of them. Appropriate to the Victorian-style setting, this game is not filled with medieval-style armors and weaponry. In place of your shield, through the dual-wielding feature, you will have firearms. So far, only the pistol and blunderbuss have have been revealed. Firearms can be used to help manage crowds or stun enemies that get up close, but are considered secondary weapons, and produce less damage than primary melee weapons.
The core of combat is mostly familiar here for Souls players. Melee weapons will have a standard and charged attack and dodging is crucial to avoiding damage. Significantly missing, and admittedly scary to average players, are not only shield, but also the classic mechanics of blocking and parrying. This includes the traditional form of backstabbing. Replacing these are Backstrike and Counter Shot. Backstrike requires hitting an enemy with a fully-charged strike from behind and then following up with a secondary hit as the enemy begins to collapse. Counter Shot involves stunning the enemy with a firearm prior to their attack, and again, following it with secondary melee strike. Each of these attacks will do intensive damage, but will be more difficult to carry out than the old parry attacks of previous games, particularly when crowds of enemies are involved.
Distressing to some, weapon choices and play-style are implied as being tied to the character you select. Notice I say character here and not class. A character select screen for Bloodborne displays four choices: Standard, Heavy, Sword & Heavy Attack, and Agile. Their layours are: Saw Cleaver/Blunderbuss, Hunter’s Axe/Pistol, Kirkhammer/Blunderbuss and Warped Twinblades/Pistol respectively. This suggest a distinct lack of customization that may turn off veteran players. A certain level of tweaking will be allowed via Transformable Weapons. It remains to be seen what exactly this means, but it is suggested that you can adapt the weapons to suit your gameplay style.
Item usage and gathering will be familiar to Souls regulars. Items will be found on bodies, in crates, both out in the open and hidden, and of course dropped by enemies. Bloodborne restores health in two ways: blood vials, which are permanently mapped to the triangle button, and the Regain system, which is actually part of combat. Regain works by taking the risk of immediately striking an opponent that has just struck you – in previous games most players would immediately back off combat and heal, but here an immediate and successful counterstrike allows the player to regain at least a portion of the health lost in the previous attack.
Bloodborne takes place is the city of Y’harnam. It’s a place of High Victorian Gothic architecture and rumored home to a medicinal cure of some sort. Those afflicted by disease begin pilgrimages to the city in search of medicine, but are instead met by a decaying and diseased place filled with horror and madness. Our character is one such pilgrim. The full story is being kept under wraps, but the key to both the origin of the disease and its cure is most certainly in the title of the game. It is bloodborne, and it infests the city, its visitors and its inhabitants, driving them mad and possibly twisting them into beasts. Or are the beasts the origins of the disease itself? From has done a great job of keeping their story under wraps so far.
Another surprising difference from the Souls games is the departure of composer Motoi Sakuraba. Sakuraba created the music for both of the Dark Souls games following the work of Shunsuke Kida, who composed for Demon’s Souls. There was some trepidation when the composer was announced as Michael Wandmacher, an American composer with a resume full of unmistakably B-movie entries and television work. The quality of the films, and very few games, on his work history gave many people pause.
Nonetheless, it’s obvious that Wandmacher has done his homework, as what little we have been able to hear of the game’s music matches the tone and style of both the dark Victorian setting, and the previous works of Sakuraba and Kida. As with the Souls games, the trend appears to be to let the sound designers have full reign in representing the mood when outside of combat and letting the music do the work inside. The music depicts gloom and desolation, graduating into frenzied madness as the action picks up; everything is punctuated by choral jabs that bring terror to the pieces. We look forward to hearing more.
Of course by now you’ve noticed how often we’ve mentioned the Souls series, though this is a meant to be a stand-alone IP. How could we not? The Souls DNA is found in nearly every facet of what we’ve seen of this game. However, from what we’ve seen of it, Bloodborne has shown how it stands on its own. We haven’t even mentioned the co-op features (summoning much like Dark Souls II, which will allow for three players) or the procedurally-generated, shareable dungeons know as Chalice Dungeons (randomly generated, difficult dungeons that you can challenge your friends with). From Software has developed a specific style of game that dates back to the Playstation era with the Kingsfield series.
That series was the foundation for what became Demon’s Souls, and so to Demon’s Souls was the jumping off point for the creation of Dark Souls I & II. Bloodborne feels like the next evolution of From’s style. It is their, dare we use the seemingly dirty word, “accessible” new IP, ready for new players and old alike. It may lose a few diehards due to combat changes, a feeling of some linearity or loss of customization options. It may lose some new players due to a locked framerate (30fps). Regardless, we really like what we’re seeing from Bloodborne, making it one of our Most Anticipated of 2015. We’ll find out just how good or bad the game is in short order.
Bloodborne is developed by From Software and published by SCE Japan Studio, SCEA and SCEE, with a scheduled released date of March 24, 2015 in North America. It is available in both Standard and Collector’s Editions.