|PSN ID:||Lord_Schroeder||BattleNET:||Schroeder 695|
I'm quite torn on deciding if this is indeed the shortest game in the series. As can be seen above, my first character (STR build, blind run, no Chalice Dungeons) was just short of 30 hours, which puts it quite on par with the other games in the series. However, the second one (SKL/BLD build, all Chalices) was ready for end game in just 14 hours, which definitively felt quite short. Chalice Dungeons added some solid 20 hours more, and that just counting the pre-made ones. I also wonder how much having beaten all the previous games affected playtime (I'm by no means a skilled player, but find myself having made quite an improvement since starting Dark Souls a few years ago), along with how the new combat system focuses on speedy kills rather than turtling.
Much has been talked about the lack of build diversity, and there is indeed some truth to this. Ranged combat has all but dissapeared from the game as a concious decision, as all gameplay changes seem deliberate to prevent players to cheese through encounters (in some way, to play the game as what may be Miyazaki's original vision). However, some depth was also gained in the transition. While it may seem that there are only 4 viable builds (Strenght, Skill, Bloodtinge and Arcane), I think is better to consider the use of each Trick Weapon as a different build, as their moveset is greatly expanded due to the transformation mechanics. A Chikage build plays very differently from a Blade Of Mercy or Burial Blade one, even if all of them rely on pumping up Skill. Fashion Souls is in full effect though, as defense bonuses are mostly limited to choosing which resistance do you want to add 5% reduction to.
Along with Trick Weapons, BloodBorne added two more mechanics to the Souls formula which I was more than happy with. While parrying did exist in the previous game, the addition of firearms makes them easier and more consistent to pull, as one needs only to pay attention to time, rather than having to calculate distance (though later enemies do enforce the need to pay attention to when to shoot so the bullet is not deflected by the foe`s weapon, instead of doing it as soon as the enemy starts to attack). The Regain system, however, goes in a total opposite direction of what players had learned from the previous games (when hit, forget about attacking and focus on steadying yourself again), and is one of the hardest habits to break for a dedicated Souls player. As can be seen, both mechanics introduce more risk vs. reward situations to combat decisions, which makes for some great moments (both of triumph and hilarious defeat).
To further elaborate on this, it is easy to see on a second run how much more important these mechanics are, and how the game is designed to enforce players to use them. The first boss (Cleric Beast) can be beaten easily by using typical Souls mentality, that is waiting for one of it's heavily telegraphed attacks and dodging. While it can be parried, it is not quite obvious due to it's size. However the next (and, indeed, obligatory) boss is Father Casgoine, which due to being a Hunter, plays very much like a PvP match with boss advantage. Trying to dodge his attacks is complicated due to the presence of tombs and other obstacles in the area, and staying a safe distance prompts him to make use of his Shotgun for hard to avoid damage. However, most of his attacks are easily parried due to him using an Axe, which give lots of open windows for a shot. I initially struggled with him for a good time on my first run, but utterly humilliated him on the second due to having knowledge of this. Another glimpse of great design is in how he teaches the players: what to expect from a PvP match, which moves are safe and which aren't agains parries, how Trick Weapons transformations affect moveset, and finally, that even big beasts can indeed be stunned. And all of that, without a single line of tutorial text (or you can use the Musical Box, a proper reward for those players who do take time to read item descriptions).
Before moving on to other aspects of the game, I'll like to point how the two last bosses in the main game are designed each one to test player dominance of these new mechanics. Gerhman, which is eseentially a beefed up Casgoicne, challenges players ability for parrying, and the Moon Presence the use of the Regain System under crushing pressure (it's signature attack is a wail which drops your health to a single digit, but makes it possible to regain all of it!). It is nice to finally see some final bosses which asses how much the player has mastered the games basic mechanics. Let's just not talk about Rom, though. Seriously, screw him and his flying spider circus.
Stepping from gameplay to artistic design, I was more than happy to find halfway trough the game that is, in a nice twist, essentially a Lovecraft game. Specifically, a love letter to his Dream Cycle stories, as denoted by the presence of Old Ones, cyclopean architecture, arcane studies and entities so abstract the mere sight of them takes a toll on sanity. I smiled at the cleverness of finding that the Madman's Knowledge is but the Great One's Wisdom. Mind blown! The whole second half of the game (after defeating Rom) is just delightful for fans of his work.
Along with this, it was surprising just how crepy and scary the atmosphere ended up being, getting real close to what one would expect from a Survival Horror game. Much of this is owned to the excellent sound design: the growls of wandering beasts, the screech of metal weapons being scrapped against the ground, the echoes of insane laughter and desperate sobbing truly end up setting a really disturbing ambience, with the epitome being the first (and unplanned) visit to the Hypoogean Gaol. Being captured by a lanky Sandman creature, put on a bag and tossed aside in an unknown prison, surrounded by extremely powerful creatures, and with no means of getting back aside from exploring and (hopefully) finding a lamp from which to warp back, all set to an unsettling soundtrack, makes for a truly unforgettable experience. That, and walking in fear of being startled by those damned fat crows.
In conclusion, I'm more than happy with this new entry in the franchise, and eagerly await the arrival of DLC for it. While the Chalice Dungeons were underwhelming (sans some great bosses) and the Covenants all but brushed aside, this has become easily of one my favorite games of all time, and a ray of hope for this new console generation. Praise the moon!