I have been dying to discuss some of the intricacies of this game ever since I started it last night. Bloodborne is very much in the spirit of the past 3 Souls games, but some critical elements of the gameplay seem to have changed for the worse. I've been skimming comments and forums, and I can't find much if any criticism, and everyone seems to be really enjoying the game so far. Why is my experience with this game so far not in line with what everyone else seems to be experiencing? Am I missing some critical elements of the strategy? I'm hoping that this is the case, and I can learn how to play more effectively; because right now my experience has not been very enjoyable.
Just a quick disclaimer: I have beaten the first 3 Souls games when they came out, and I love the series. I have been looking forward to this game ever since it was announced, and it's one of the only PS4 titles I've been excited about coming out before September.
I'm going to focus on gameplay elements that I think severely impact the game design. But since I've read virtually unanimous praise for this game, I'll throw in a few other brief observations about the aesthics as well that I found a little lacking. I'm also still on the first level of the game, so whatever spoilers are included are extremely minimal.
1) Backstab is worthless now:
They removed the ability to backstab enemies and get that satisfying finishing animation. Now, you can only get the damage boost if you do a charged strong attack on someone's back, which is extremely slow, but also doesn't seem to trigger any kind of finishing animation. It barely seems worth it to even attempt this after messing around with it briefly. Circling enemies and getting into a flanked position is something that happens quickly. Trying to immediately land a slow charge attack after that is not something you're likely to do, and that's just on the easiest enemies I'm facing in level 1.
2) Jump has been removed:
Unless I'm missing how to do it now, there's no jump after you run. The jump was so small anyway, that I don't know why they felt the need to remove it.
3) Forward + R1 has been removed:
There is still a lunging strong attack that is Forward + R2, but the guard break (Forward + R1) is no longer there as far as I can tell. It just does a normal attack.
4) Losing the ability to block is crippling the game for me:
I was open to trying a new system, but so far I'm simply hating what they have come up with. Instead of blocking, they added two new gameplay systems. First, you now carry a pistol that can be used to interrupt enemy attacks instead of having a riposte. This leaves enemies vulnerable so you can do what was a backstab finishing move in past games. Second, now when you take damage, you have a small window of time where you can attack the enemy back and regain some of your life.
Losing the ability to block results in several changes to gameplay balance that are not exactly positive changes. Any enemy with a projectile weapon is now 100x more threatening. Your gun does so little damage, and ammunition is so limited, that it's literally only useful as a counter to interrupt enemies at near point blank range. So you don't really have the option of using the gun to combat other projetile enemies with any kind of high success rate. You have to close the distance without any ability to defend yourself. This goes from mildly annoying to crippling when you face multiple enemies, because you often do not really have the option of closing the distance on a projectile enemy in a good shooting spot until you dispatch 3-5 other enemies first. This usually results in the enemy repeatedly pelting you with annoying pot shots until you have the chance to mount an effective counter attack.
Losing the ability to block means that all sneak attacks that the series throws at you usually now result in you getting hit in the face with little options for defense. Let's say you're playing Dark Souls and you're walking into a threatening area that you suspect has hidden enemies lying in wait for you just around the corner ... somewhere. What you usually do in that situation is walk forward slowly with your shield up, tip-toeing forward until you see the tiniest hint of movement anywhere. Even when doing this, the Souls games would often throw enemies at you that were entirely hidden and the first time you would see them is when they hit your shield. Now, all of those moments result in you taking a hit to the face.
Losing the ability to block means that all those cheap hits the enemies have always done in this series are now actually cheap because you don't have a way to reliably defend yourself. A brief example of what I mean is the zombie enemies you would face in the beginning of both Demon's and Dark Souls, armed with swords usually. These enemies are largely slow and easy, but every once in a while they would rush forth with an unusually quick flurry and just get the drop on you unexpectedly. Those moments, you have the ability to riposte, or block with the shield. Now, you usually take a hit to the face. Here's one example I encountered in Bloodborne so far that was particularly frustrating. I saw one of these slow enemies facing a wall in the distance, and I slowly walked up to him so that I didn't make any noise. I did my slow charged strong attack to hit back, which gives you the damage boost but no longer results in a finishing animation as I mentioned earlier. Literally instantly after being hit in the back when he didn't even know I was there, he spins around before the recovery for my attack animation is even done, and does 3 super fast jabs with his torch resulting in all my life being gone. And this was an enemy I got the drop on completely?
Losing the ability to block feels particularly stupid when you constantly face enemies that carry shields and can block with their two handed weapons. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to launch a "regain" attack after being hit so that you can recover some health only to have the enemies sit there and block it. Not to mention, now you don't have your guard break attack (Forward + R1), so there isn't really an effective strategy for breaking the defense of anyone with a shield. You basically have to just hit them with jabs until they do an attack and then hit them when they're open. If they don't drop their guard, you're not really going to have a way to gracefully get past their shield.
Now onto the pistol. Just think about the balance issues involved when assigning your only defensive maneuver to a limited resource (ammunition). In past games, block is not tied to any kind of limited resource aside from fatigue. Riposte is not tied to any kind of limited resource. In this game, you not only lose block and riposte, but your only substitue is tied to limited ammunition. You start with 20 shots, and you find ammo lying around on the ground as you play. I haven't actually run out of ammo yet, but I got down to 8 shots left once when only attempting to do a counter shot once on every 5th enemy or so. That means that the overwhelming majority of the time, you won't even attempt a counter shot because if you tried to counter shot at every available opportunity, you would surely run out of ammo. This means that most of the time, you have basically no defensive options aside from the dodge.
Setting that aside, let's talk about the times you do decide to use the countershot. I'm still pretty damn early in the game, but it's been my experience so far that the gun basically does almost no damage and is useless at any kind of range. If you use it while an enemy is attempting an attack, with precise timing you can interrupt their attack and leave them prone, open to a strong melee finisher. This means that you have to basically be shooting at point blank range for the gun to have any kind of real value, because enemies won't be swinging to attack you until they're in melee range. That just seems like extremely odd design to me.
In addition to that, the gun is not as fast as a riposte in past games. I've been hit more than once waiting for an enemy to initiate a counterattack, but simply eating the attack to the face before my shot can even go off. That happens, and I'm still learning the timing for everything. But even in early levels, enemies have melee weapons that provide them with quite a bit of range, and almost every enemy is able to quickly run at you. This is especially true of the beasts and even the small dogs I've run into. Remember how nice it was to have a shield when a fast dog is running at you, and does their fast bites and claw attacks? I know what you're thinking, just dodge then. Fair enough. But what about if you face 3 fast dogs? That takes me to my next point.
5) There are a lot more enemies on screen at once:
This isn't actually a negative for me, as it shows that the PS4 can put more enemies on screen at once probably, and I like combat in games and facing tough odds. But what about in this game makes it feel like a negative?
Well, you can't block obviously, and your only means of defense is a limited ammunition counter shot that can only hit one enemy at a time (unless you use the bigger gun, which I didn't start with). This leads to a lot of enemies constantly running directly at you to gang up on you when you have nothing to do besides dodge or literally run away. Even dodging is problematic, because it's not like this is DMC or Ninja Gaiden. Dodging is tied to fatigue still. I honestly have to ask myself ... why? This seems like something they just decided to carry over from Souls without really thinking it through. In Souls, fatigue was a constant reminder of the slow, measured pace you were supposed to take. It was intimately tied to your ability to block. In this game, you can't even block and you're supposedly supposed to play more aggressively, and dodging is literally your only defensive option when facing multiple opponents, and is your only defensive option the rest of the time when you want to conserve ammo. So why tie it to a small fatigue meter? You can do 2-3 dodges before you are tired. You're even encouraged to dodge forward to close the distance for attacks now, or when closing the distance to do your finisher move after a countershot. If they deleted fatigue entirely in Bloodborne, what element of the gameplay would players be losing? I don't see the downside in letting people dash more in a game that forces you to dash as much as this game does. Especially when enemies have no fatigue, and you'll often face multiple fast enemies that consistently dash and run after you.
6) Regain (health restore) counter hits are not satisfying, and they don't look cool:
The other main gameplay element they added is the ability to attack an enemy right after getting hit and regain some of your health. I haven't heard an explanation of what is going on with this storywise, but the effect is not very satisfying. You take a hit from an enemy and it has a pretty crushing sound effect. You hit them back and all you really see is your character glowing a light, pale red. Are you absorbing blood? Well ... I don't know, and I can't even tell. You just glow. There isn't a cool effect with blood coming from their wounds, flowing into you. You just glow, and it's dumb looking. This seems like your primary advantage as the player character over your enemies, and it doesn't even look cool, it doesn't feel satisfying, and it's not really explained in any way so far.
You know what else doesn't look cool? Your one finishing move. I believe it's the same for all weapons, unlike past games. A lot of blood shoots out, and it's probably the neatest looking move,b it doesn't feel particularly tied to your character, or your playstyle since I don't think you're even using a weapon but instead punching inside an enemy's chest with your fist.
7) All 3 of the starting weapons have been a disappointment:
You arrive at the game's lobby area (more on that in a second) and find random ghost kids bubbling up from the floor that offer you weapons. It feels cheap honestly in how its presented. No explanation of any kind. So, you pick a weapon and a pistol from 3 weapon type options and 2 pistols. You have the sword, axe or cane, and they can all transform into something else.
I restarted several times and tried all 3, and I found them all to be lacking. The sword's original form is similar to a dagger, but not as fast or as satisfying, and with no stab move available. It can transform into a one handed sword that has extremely slow start times when you launch your attack, often leaving me wide open. And the increase in range you get doesn't feel that substantial so it barely felt worth it to me. The axe is faster than I expected, does the most damage, and can transform into a two handed axe / halberd type weapon with no stab options available. You gain some range, and some wide, sweeping circular attacks that aren't bad. The cane is basically the new substitute for the rapier, so naturally I tried to master this one since I tend to like the DEX melee weapons from past games in the series. The cane form feels weak and underwhelming. You don't have much range, don't have any real stopping power, and only have access to one stabbing move. When you charge up your stab move, it sparkles blue for no reason, and it looks pretty stupid. Your biggest damage melee strike doesn't feel heavy or intimidating, it sparkles like something from Twilight. The cane can transform into a whip sword which has greatly increased range, and a strong attack with wider range. It's slightly slower than the cane form, but not by much, making it more useful to stay in whip form in almost all situations. The range in this game seems a bit off as well, as enemies still can instantly close the distance on you even when attacking at the very edge of your whip's range. You barely have time to fire a shot off for a countershot in time if an enemy decides to rush you for an attack from mid-range.
8) This looks like the worst nexus area yet:
I wasn't very impressed with "Hunter's Dream" as a level, with gravestone warp spots and a house with locked doors. It's the same gothic architecture as the rest of the city, and doesn't really feel like a distinct place. You have white flowers that sprouted up from the grass, and some fences also. That's about it. It doesn't feel like a rest area, or a reprieve from the horrors of the world, like past nexus areas in this series. The music theme in that area is the weakest yet. It's not a terrible theme, but doesn't live up to the past 3 (especially Demon's Souls). I don't like the vocals, and the song doesn't have that feeling of exhaustion and sorrow that all 3 past themes did.
9) Is there really no substitute for sitting by the fire?
That was one of the most iconic elements of the Souls series, and as far I can tell it wasn't replaced by anything. I'm literally so early in the game that I might not have even seen it yet. I hope that's the case!
So far I touched a "demon lamp" and a bunch of little ghost kids scramble up to show you a lamp. That's it. You don't really sit down or rest. I hope I'm missing it somewhere. I'd often leave my game on for several minutes in the past to just see my character sit by the fire, especially in the nexus area. After a particularly stressful level or boss, it was soothing to sit by the fire and meditate on the horrors you just overcame. Where is that soothing, meditative feeling now? Ghost kids?
10) My game seems glitched when checking messages:
I always try to check the ghost kid tombstones to see the ghost images of other players, and 9/10 times the tombstone rises up, and I hit X, and nothing happens.
11) Worst loading screens in the series:
I don't mind the loading time as much as I mind the lack of music while it's loading, or the lack of any text, and lore to read while it's loading. You literally learned most of the story in past games from reading item and character bios while the game loads. Now? You read "Bloodborne." That's it, just the game's logo. Over and over and over again.
The game does look gorgeous most of the time (aside from the atrocious and glitchy, stuttering character creation section). It has a gorgeous art style that I love, and very neat looking, dark designs for most of the enemies. I'm going to stick with it and make it until the end. Given how great the past 3 games were, I'm positive the game is going to get better and have lots of bosses and levels worth seeing.
But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't extremely disappointed with the gameplay so far. I haven't even encountered a boss yet and I'm utterly frustrated with the decisions they've made. I am scared to see how frustrating it is to face an aggressive boss without any compelling options to defend yourself.