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As I watched the credits roll after completing FromSoftware's latest journey, I was overwhelmed with emotion. On one hand I was thrilled to have completed a game as mercilessly unforgiving as Bloodborne, experiencing one of the most visceral virtual settings of our time along the way. On the other hand, I felt it didn't measure up to its spiritual predecessors, the Souls games.
FromSoftware deviated from its formula with Bloodborne more than at any time during the past five years. After all, it was intended to be a new IP for the company that serves as a basis for trying new ideas. In some ways its ambition proved to be successful, but not in every case.
Bloodborne falters on several fronts when compared to the Souls games, six of which I'll discuss below.
1. Blood Vials
I can see where FromSoftware was coming from when it designed the Blood Vials system. It wanted the game to reward you for playing aggressively, and keep you pressing forward through packs of enemies without downtime. While it's possible for you to do so, you need virtually perfect execution to avoid having to farm Blood Vials on a regular basis despite them being in abundance.
Farming Blood Vials is a large part of the Bloodborne experience, and that's not a good thing. Failed boss attempts are usually followed by a trip back to Central Yharnam where you clear waves of low level enemies to re-supply.
Frankly, the system makes boss attempts unnecessarily frustrating. I was fortunate enough to kill half the bosses on my first try, but those that required multiple attempts were made far less entertaining by the farming and loading screens involved in the process.
The Souls Estus Flask system is, put simply, better. You're allowed a set amount of potion uses, and must arrive at a bonfire to refill them. To supplement this precious, low-quantity resource are items similar to Blood Vials within the game world. The system allowed you to keep pushing boss attempts without having to break your progression up for farming sessions.
2. Build Variety
Like its predecessors, Bloodborne has six stats for you to place points into. Unfortunately, two of them are far less useful than the others: Bloodtinge and Arcane.
Bloodtinge's problems stem from firearms being unspectacular. The game's ranged weaponry was supposed to be a major new element for the game, and when it comes to ranged parry they can be potent—though I'd argue that dodging is more reliable in virtually every circumstance. Bloodtinge is all about increasing your ranged damage, though. With ammunition being as scarce as it is, and these ranged weapons hitting for as little damage as they do, you're better off investing in your dependable melee weapon damage.
Arcane is more of a supplemental stat. Several weapons can benefit greatly from investing in Strength or Skill with some points placed in Arcane, but you're not going to reap benefits from Arcane until the later portions of the game.
This leaves two damage-oriented stats for you to choose from: Strength and Skill. The quantity of choices when it comes to builds is heavily impacted, coming down to whether you'd rather use Strength or Skill oriented weapons. You're only hurting yourself if you choose otherwise.
This is a harmful shortcoming of Bloodborne that gives it less depth, results in leveling up being less exciting, and makes PvP far less varied when compared to the Souls games.
3. Equipment Variety
Bloodborne has a shockingly short list of weapons, many of which are nearly identical to one another. FromSoftware wanted to simplify the process of choosing a weapon and upgrading it throughout your journey, and it achieved just that. Sadly, it was at the expense of diversity.
It is common to complete the game with a single weapon. I happened to run through the game equipped with only a starter weapon, the Threaded Cane. The couple of options—such as the Kirkhammer—that I spent large sums of Blood Echoes on didn't seem to be substantial enough for me to upgrade.
The worst part is you are required to purchase just about every new weapon in the game. Instead of finding some as hidden treasure, you find badges which unlock the option for you to purchase them from the Hunter's Dream Messenger. They're expensive, too.
In contrast, the Souls games had dozens upon dozens of weapons. If you wanted to try one out, all you had to do was find them in the game world and then give them a go. Apart from occasional stat requirement, there was no investment necessary.
Bloodborne's Insight system is fantastic, but its multiplayer is not, especially when it comes to PvP.
Players can only be invaded when co-operating, an interesting system that sounds much better on paper than in practice. The low quantity of invasion-susceptible lobbies has led to astoundingly long wait times that test the patience of PvP-oriented players. Everyone I know who is interested in PvP has already given up.
A 30% Invaded HP penalty makes matters worse, and Blood Vials make engagements lengthy to a point of boredom. This, coupled with the peer-to-peer lag that has cursed FromSoftware's games for years now, makes this the worst PvP that FromSoftware has ever designed.
The sad thing is that multiplayer was a huge part of the Souls games. PvP could take up hundreds of hours of time alone, including the preparation for building a PvP-oriented character, and the time spent invading others. I have a feeling that PvP won't get better any time soon, especially with the low quantity of effective builds in Bloodborne. It's dead on arrival.
The problem with Bloodborne's difficulty isn't that it's challenging. No, it has plenty of challenge in store for players. The problem is that its difficulty is poorly tuned.
There are huge difficulty spikes in Bloodborne that are followed by underwhelming sections. The second boss, Father Gascoigne, is one of the game's three most difficult encounters—in relation to his placement in the progression. This difficulty spike for this particular boss makes some of the following sections boring in comparison.
Bloodborne doesn't do a good job of equipping players for success. There are several mechanics that make bosses like Father Gascoigne much easier, but they aren't taught to players in an effective manner. So, a lot of the subsequent controller throwing and screaming could be avoided if the game ramped up the difficulty in a more fluid manner like the Souls games, introducing mechanics in the early portions of the game.
Several of the bosses in Bloodborne are designed too simply, allowing many players to knock them out in a single try. I didn't walk away feeling like I had just conquered a cast of amazing bosses when the credits began rolling. I sure did with the Souls games, though.
Bloodborne is a beautiful game, there's no doubt about it. Sadly, its technical presentation could have used a lot more polish.
Frame rate drops are common in Bloodborne, and I'd wager a bet that it happens more frequently than in either of the Dark Souls games. The shocking part is that the game is locked at 30 frames per second. This PS4 exclusive could have been a better showcase.
Truthfully, the frame rate drops don't bother me that much, though. It's the loading times that frustrate me more than anything. Dying in Bloodborne wouldn't be so bad if you didn't have to spend an average of 40 seconds loading back into a zone. The loading screen is just a black screen with off-center letters, too. (Hopefully, the upcoming patch will help this greatly.)
Ultimately, I feel like Bloodborne would benefit greatly from a PC port that takes advantage of SSDs and modern processing power, but that'll never happen.