I saw a super-rough demo of From Soft's Bloodborne back at E3 - almost more of a proof of concept than a proper game demo, really. Now, a few months later, it's playable to the public at Tokyo Game Show... and wow, what a difference a few months make.
Roughly speaking, the game remains much the same. It's super grim, a rotting Victorian world inhabited by gangly men who attack you on sight with a variety of makeshift weapons, no less deadly for their improvisational nature. You're hard-pressed to find any color in the game that isn't a dreary shade of grey... besides of course the blood that soaks your character's trenchcoat in ever-greater volume as you succumb to enemy attacks.
Since E3, though, the game has become a much prettier version of its miserable worldview. Fine detail fills out the gothic architecture, and both character animation and the overall frame rate have grown considerably smoother. More than that, though, the player's options have grown considerably. Where the E3 version showed off a single character type, the build we saw in June was only one of four available for play at TGS. Turns out the E3 character was a sort of middle-of-the-road class; also available was a heavy class wielding a massive concrete hammer and a nimble class with a bizarre, bird-like appearance.
Naturally, I went for the weird bird-man, dressed in a ragged cloak whose tattered nature resembled feathers and sporting a beak-like mask similar to the Renaissance-era medical doctors that popped up in the Ezio Assassin's Creed games. While he proved to be far weaker than the class I saw at E3 (in terms of damage output, range, and his ability to take a hit), he more than made up for these shortcomings with his nimbleness. He seemed much quicker to evade foes, and his stiletto-like blades minimized recovery time versus the more powerful weapons. The "bird" class excels at darting in to deliver a swift strike, then rolling out of the enemy's range. Even shambling madmen wielding huge pitchforks couldn't reach me as I rolled to safety.
One thing the birdman had in common with all the other playable classes was the dual-weapon system he employed. As with the E3 warrior, all the characters available at TGS carry both a melee weapon and a blunderbuss. The latter comes with limited ammo, but its ability to strike enemies - often preemptively - can be tremendously helpful in difficult situations. It can also help thin the herd, so to speak, given that enemies like to attack you en masse.
While the Dark Souls vibe everyone likes to mention definitely remains in effect for Bloodborne, it would be incorrect to think of the game as some kind of reskin or reworking of the series that gave From Soft its first true breakout hit. Bloodborne feels quite different to Dark Souls; the main connection has more to do with a spiritual similarity. You face tremendous odds, and each action you take has consequences. Cautious, smart, informed play is the key to success. But this is a much faster, more action-oriented kind of game than the methodical role-playing style of Dark Souls. With its emphasis on mixing guns and melee combat, it's almost tempting to compare it to Devil May Cry. It doesn't go quite that far, though; unlike DmC, Bloodborne is not about making you look cool but rather pushing you to the ragged edge of desperation. "Dark Souls May Cry," if you will.
Enemies in Bloodborne seem fond of mobbing you, and the environments Sony has shown to date have been fairly confined and restrictive. This combination makes for some tense battles - though it's much easier to deal with a trio of deranged villagers using planks of wood as repurposed shields than the massive bruiser I saw one of my colleagues face off against. A hulking, armored brute, high-powered attacks from one of the more durable melee classes were like paper cuts to this particular foe, whereas he managed to kill the other player in about three blows. He wasn't a boss, mind you, just a ludicrously powerful standard encounter.
There's much ado about the difficulty level of From's Souls games, but really it's not so much that the games set out to be hard as it is they demand high-level play: Caution, observation, and high performance. In this sense, Bloodborne looks to much more of the same. But the speed, setting, and style of the action appear very different from the Souls titles; something to scratch the itch, but in a different way.