Bloodborne Has One Foot in Dark Souls, the Other in Hell

FromSoftware's PS4 exclusive might look and feel awfully familiar, but don't expect to rely on your old bag of tricks.

Preview by Bob Mackey, .

Even though I've put way too much time into Demon's Souls, Dark Souls, and Dark Souls 2, there's one item my characters never leave home without: a shield. Despite my experience with the series, it's always nice to have a safety net, frayed though it may be. So when I stepped up to play Bloodborne at Sony's preview event and noticed my character held no broad, metallic plank to hide behind, I thought, "This is going to be interesting."

In case you missed its slightly convoluted backstory, Bloodborne exists as a PS4 exclusive because Sony failed to capitalize on its distant ancestor: the PS3's 2009 sleeper hit, Demon's Souls. When the company neglected to give the game an American release, Atlus stepped in, then Bandai-Namco took over publishing duties for the two Souls games to follow. Essentially, Bloodborne can be considered the spiritual sequel to Demon's Souls: It features all the elements you'd expect to see in FromSoftware's beloved series, but with a hopeless atmosphere that hasn't been this oppressive since its PS3 debut. Don't be mistaken, though—this isn't "just another" Souls game. And if you walk into Bloodborne with that attitude, you're going to get your ass handed to you. (As I did.)

Though I only had about 45 minutes with the game, Bloodborne addressed some of the more common complaints about Dark Souls 2 in the sliver-thin vertical slice served to me. The city/graveyard level at the preview session felt somewhat straightforward at first, but after a bit of exploration, I began to notice it had the same dense, clustered design seen in many areas of the original Dark Souls. The square footage I fought my way through didn't amount to more than what you'd find between bonfires in Dark Souls 1 and 2, but even in this small amount of real estate, I opened up a few shortcuts I didn't realize were shortcuts until my brain made the visual connection.

FromSoftware doesn't only use visuals to reinforce continuity. One of the level's city streets features a hefty set of doors with a loud banging on the opposite side coming from someone—or something—trying to get in. Further in the level, I eventually discovered a terrible humanoid enemy pounding away at the same set of double-doors, this time from the other side—another "a-ha" moment that assisted me in understanding my exact location within the level. It's a small touch, but Bloodborne's use of landmarks, enemy placement, and visual and audio cues exist to help you construct a map of the area in your brain. True to the Souls series' tradition, you'll find no other assistance in navigating your way through an area's countless dangers.

Combat is where Bloodborne diverges most from previous games in the series, though it still operates with the same very familiar set of controls. But while your character carries the same sort of weight to all of his attacks, combat feels much snappier—mostly because you can't hide behind a shield until an opening presents itself. The "circle around an enemy, backstab, repeat" strategies of Dark and Demon's Souls won't serve you well here, though, as this powerful combat move has been replaced with a new technique utilizing Bloodborne's most misunderstood addition: guns.

Unlike the T-rated Dark Souls 2, Bloodborne features plenty of that sticky red stuff—it's even used as your primary means of healing in the game.

The addition of firearms to a FromSoftware RPG might seem like a desperate ploy to appeal to a Western audience, but Bloodborne's take on these weapons doesn't play out like Gears of War. Instead, guns feel more like a tool, one used to deliver a powerful riposte to attacking enemies. Somewhat similar to the parrying system found within past Souls games, firing a round into an enemy within a certain window of its attack allows you to follow up with a powerful plunging technique, which usually kills in a single hit. Combat with your primary weapon works a bit differently, too: While you still have weak and strong attacks at your disposal, your weapon can extend at the push of a button. If you're fighting one enemy and see another one coming at you from the side, giving your weapon an extra bit of range in an instant can help with crowd control.

After playing so much of the Souls series, it admittedly took me a while to come to terms with the demands of Bloodborne. Enemies in this game feel a lot more aggressive than they did in Dark Souls 2, and FromSoftware has a brilliant way of camouflaging them against the dense environments—I was taken by surprise way more than I'd like to admit. And, thanks to the PS4's high-powered architecture, Bloodborne populates its levels with more enemies than you've ever seen at once in past Souls games. One of my biggest challenges presented itself when Bloodborne tasked me with working my way through a cluster of about a dozen angry villagers surrounding a fire on a narrow street: Each time I tackled this objective, I tried a different approach, and each one worked, to some degree: I used the elevated walkways to avoid the crowd altogether, lured them out a few at a time, and ran past them while taking a few potshots. Even in the small chunk available to me, the game welcomed several ways to overcome its many challenges.

It's refreshing to see Bloodborne keep what made Souls so great, while adding some elements to push veterans out of their comfort zones, but I still have so many questions this demo couldn't answer. I have no idea how character builds work, the variety of weapons and items available and how they're upgraded, and if Bloodborne features the standard Souls system that makes repeated death an essential element of the game—kicking the bucket in the demo just shoved me back to the title screen. That said, even in this small slice, I felt the same hooks that made me such a huge fan of the Souls series: Each death presented an opportunity to ponder my mistakes, and generate strategies to avoid repeating them on my next attempt. If FromSoftware can manage to keep up the momentum seen in this early stage of the game, Bloodborne could be one of the greatest console-exclusive games of this generation.

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Comments 21

  • Avatar for renatocosta90 #1 renatocosta90 3 years ago
    This is probably the game that will justify my PS4 purchase next year.
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  • Avatar for SigurdVolsung #2 SigurdVolsung 3 years ago
    The wait for this game will feel truly long. Trying not to think about it... too late.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #3 brionfoulke91 3 years ago
    This game is the #1 reason for getting a PS4 for me, by far!! Nothing is even close to being as anticipated as this game! The more I hear, the better it's sounding!
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  • Avatar for docexe #4 docexe 3 years ago
    It’s not the only reason why I would buy a PS4, but it’s definitely among the most pressing in the list.
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  • Avatar for Lork #5 Lork 3 years ago
    Great article; I have a question though. When you say " The "circle around an enemy, backstab, repeat" strategies of Dark and Demon's Souls won't serve you well here, though, as this powerful combat move has been replaced...", do you mean that backstabs have been removed altogether, or simply that the "Hide behind a shield and circle around" strategy doesn't work anymore?
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  • Avatar for Vinheimer #6 Vinheimer 3 years ago
    Looks like Miyazaki is revisiting some of the mechanics of the Shadow Tower games with a Souls twist. I hope this doesn't turn out to just be "Souls with Guns." I want to see new story arcs, new character building mechanics, and better level design (DS2 and parts of DS were disappointing in this regard). In other words, I hope they don't rush it.
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  • Avatar for bobservo #7 bobservo 3 years ago
    @Lork Good question: I asked the PR rep about backstabbing, and she informed me about the new gun parry thing—every time I tried to backstab even the easiest, slowest enemy, it didn't work. The weapons on display (in the demo, at least) were an axe and a switchblade-style saw, so they don't really seem appropriate for that kind of a technique. I assume we'll learn more about the weapons' capabilities once we see more than two.
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  • Avatar for Lork #8 Lork 3 years ago
    @bobservo Thanks for your quick answer! We can't know for sure, but that sounds very encouraging to me.

    Backstabs were fun and satisfying to pull off at first, but I've come to really dislike the way they tend to monopolize the gameplay of all three Souls games. You can't ignore them because they're much too powerful, but they're so finicky and unreliable that they're a constant source of frustration, and that's before you get into the issues with latency. It makes me happy to hear that in Bloodborne they've de-emphasized them at the very least, and possibly excised them completely.

    Also, great job on being on the ball with your questions! This is a detail that could be very important for people who actually play the game, but it's something that most writers would probably skip in favor of asking how many Ps the game runs at and other such things.
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  • Avatar for USDanny #9 USDanny 3 years ago
    So if you wanted to recreate the Bloodborne combat experience in a Souls game, would you equip a crossbow in the left hand and scythe on the right? Or is there more to it than that? This is a serious question, as I take all Souls games discussions very seriously!
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #10 VotesForCows 3 years ago
    Looks very interesting now, though I'm not fully sold on the setting as yet. I have no doubt it'll be good though. As others have said, probably the best reason to buy a PS4 (alongside No Mans Sky!).
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  • Avatar for Blackcompany #11 Blackcompany 3 years ago
    Looks very cool. Too bad I will never play it. Locking it to a single console means you have lost two sales I know of. Mine, and one of my friends. We both have perfectly capable PC's and are willing to buy the game on that platform.

    What we wont do is spend hundreds on a console we dont need, for one game.

    Hopefully this decision will lead to a fiscal loss on this game and force a release on other platforms. Which I find quite likely.

    Souls games - and this is a Souls game, at least mechanically - are a niche product. Very niche. Having just now sold $10 million consoles world wide, how many of those boxes will purchase Blood Bourne? 500k? 1 Million - if you're lucky? Will this even recoup the cost of the game?

    With decisions like this its no wonder investors of both Sony and especially Microsoft are clamoring for an end to the money-guzzling Console nonsense. The sooner this ridiculousness ends the better it will be for all of gaming.
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  • Avatar for Blackcompany #12 Blackcompany 3 years ago
    @Anjaneya No Man's Sky will have a PC release as well as PS4. As will Destiny. And once Sony sees that you cannot make your money back on a niche game with AAA quality by selling it only on a platform with only 10 million boxes world wide, Blood Borne will likely see a PC release as well.
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  • Avatar for Vinheimer #13 Vinheimer 3 years ago
    @Blackcompany Sony will likely experience a high attach rate with this product because there are so few quality titles to choose from on the platform. The Souls series is not a niche franchise at all. Demon's Souls was ATLUS' best selling game of all time. Both Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2 have sold millions of copies.Edited August 2014 by Vinheimer
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  • Avatar for Vinheimer #14 Vinheimer 3 years ago
    Deleted August 2014 by Vinheimer
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  • Avatar for bobservo #15 bobservo 3 years ago
    @USDanny There's a lot more to it than that, because your projectile weapon in Bloodborne is now used to deliver Dark/Demon's Souls version of a parry and riposte. At best, you could run through a Souls game without a shield if you want to get yourself ready for Bloodborne.
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  • Avatar for bobservo #16 bobservo 3 years ago
    @Blackcompany I wish there would be a PC version, but Sony didn't even allow Demon's Souls to reach any other platform after its unexpected success—they could have easily made money licensing it to other platforms.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #17 VotesForCows 3 years ago

    Its all very well to tout the PC, but most people can't afford to keep up with the PC arms race. I know because I did it for 12 years. Whatever anyone says, its more expensive and more time-consuming, and those are two resources I don't have a lot of now that I have other responsibilities.

    That said, I agree that exclusives are generally irritating. They obviously pay though - they've persisted for decades, coming and going over time. A shame as they are fairly anti-consumer.

    Final point - you could hardly say that Souls is a niche series. Dark Souls sold well over 2 million copies. There'll be a lot more than 10 million PS4s in the wild by the time BB gets released anyway, and this early in the cycle they'll still be starved of decent games.
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  • Avatar for jjmahoney3 #18 jjmahoney3 3 years ago
    I'm super excited for this. I saw a quote from the developer that it's going to be a bit more forgiving (there were no details about that though). I don't think that's a bad thing. For me personally, the Souls games keep me in a constant "edge of my seat" state. I love that, but with both Dark Souls games I played about 40 hours then had to take a break, play a few less intense games for a few months, then come back to them.

    I know some fans will be upset if it's more forgiving, even just a little bit. But I'm excited at the possibilities.
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  • Avatar for docexe #19 docexe 3 years ago
    Ok, a couple of things:

    The Souls series is certainly niche, but that also means it is produced more cheaply than many other AAA games and I doubt Bloodborne will be different in that respect.

    Dark Souls and Dark Souls II have been considered successful games for Namco as well as for From Software despite neither of them breaking the 3 million units threshold. Demon’s Souls, a PS3 exclusive, was also considered a massive success for Atlus despite selling less than a million of units. Also, as far as I know, the PC versions of the Souls games have sold well but not at the million of units level. Compare with other AAA games that didn’t become profitable even after selling 4 or 5 million units. That means Bloodborne won’t likely need massive sales in order to recoup the inversion on the game, and given how clever Sony has been marketing their console, it’s possible it will be financially successful despite appearing in a single platform. Edit: There is also the possibility of Sony either funding or subsidizing (by absorbing marketing costs, offering premium licensing fees, etc.) the development, which diminishes the financial risk for From.

    And well, I understand the frustration of the game being exclusive. I also understand people refusing to buy a console for a single game (in that sense, I’m glad that the PS4 has more exclusive games that I want to play, not only this one). But I always find it incredibly petty to wish financial ruin on a game in the hopes of it becoming multiplatform, especially in the current climate with so many studios sinking due to the failure of a single game. It’s the same frustration I have with people who salivate with glee at the fact that Bayonetta 2 will likely fail because of its status as a Wii U exclusive.Edited August 2014 by docexe
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  • Avatar for SigurdVolsung #20 SigurdVolsung 3 years ago
    Sony isn't just paying for a timed exclusive with this. Read interviews on other sites. Sony of Japan studio is actively involved in the development and funding of the game. And they won't make the mistake they did with Demon Souls this time and sell the publishing rights to Atlus. Also, they did actually go into how the game is more accessible via the regain system. It's not necessarily easier to play, it's just less punishing to fail. That will help with some frustrations of the spiritual prequels, but was also somewhat necessary through the increased pace of combat in this game. It also ties to the theme of the game which is blood, instead of souls. Your blood vial is permanently mapped to triangle this time and then you have two item slots separately. The blood vial is limited use health, it's the number you see on the UI next to the health/stamina. But what assists with the whole limited use thing is that after you get hit, you have a short window of time to hit the enemy in return and regain some of the health you lost via spilling their blood. Also, with accessibility, stages wrap much more back on themselves for a lot of shortcuts, more like the first two Soul games.
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  • Avatar for docexe #21 docexe 3 years ago
    @SigurdVolsung I was aware they were publishing it, it wasn't clear to me if Japan's studio was also involved in the development like with the original Demon's Souls. Thanks for the info.
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  • This game looks so incredibly good.
    By far the best looking game of the current generation of video games.
    Really looking forward to it.

    Dear Friend, take heed
    The blood is foul
    And when night falls
    The hunters return.
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