Ah, salt... Or some say, sodium... Do you hear our bitching? As you once did for the vapid horde... Grant us fries, Grant us fries! Plant fries on our eyes to cleanse us of our unsightly fanboyism!
The previous two parts would normally have been enough for me to tell you about the horrible shit in Bloodborne. But From Soft wanted to try their hand at a randomized dungeon system, so here we are. You knoweth what need'st be doneth.
The Chalice Dungeons, or CDs, as they'll be referred to from this moment onwards, are a series of either set or randomized dungeons. There are four chalice types to be found, each representing a tile-set and a set of possible enemies to encounter. Three are guarded by bosses in the main game and one is found in the dungeons themselves.
In order to create a dungeon with a ritual, you need the chalice, a small amount of blood echoes, an empty tombstone and the appropriate material. The material is either specific or Arcane Haze, which is basically random material recycled with a tool. A CD can be a normal set one or a random Root one. The random ones can also be modified with extra material to make them harder and spawn better loot.
After that, the CD is created and you get free access to other CDs in that exact sort, if you are online. More on this later. You are then free to enter and the exploring begins. The CDs house unique enemies, mostly Pthumerians in many shapes and sizes. There are also a bunch of extra bosses, with some being more unique than the others.
All CDs have the same structure. There is at least 3 floors per dungeon, with 1-3 possible parts per floor. The bonus parts, as I call them, can be found before or after the main part. They usually house treasure chests and sometimes connect to the main part. I don't know if they do that for Root Chalices too.
In every main part of a floor, the modus operandi is the same. You'll see a blue gate that leads to the boss and possibly a bonus part. In order to open the gate, you need to find a switch somewhere in the floor, guarded by a miniboss. Much easier than finding a Nintendo Switch, thankfully.
Then it's a question whether you need to loot the floor completely or not. This majestic progress chart preserved my sanity in spite of this great ordeal. In order to get to the good chalices and their dungeons, you need to get the proper material. The majority of CD loot is comprised of various body parts needed to for rituals. With that chart, it's not as bad to unlock the last ones, even offline.
It's tedious yes, but it could be worse. Like if you were foolish enough to try it without a guide. It's very easy to miss material then and have to either go back, or pray that a Root dungeon will have what you need. You can of course buy it, but often after you don't need it anymore. But who wants to play a Souls-game without a guide and still have fun anyway?
Every floor is built with premade rooms, with a few distinct to a particular tileset. At first, they provide decent variety, but after like 4-5 dungeons, they grow stale, at least to me. The sense of exploration kinda dies when it's so predictable. There are some somewhat interesting things to be found, like rare enemies, but I don't think it's enough. Some fun armor or runes would be great for loot here, but I don't think they could justify that.
The limited equipment and items of BB severely hampers what could be found down here. That's why so much treasure is just ritual material. Chalice for the sake of Chalice. That's some Nietzsche crap right there, except there is actually good loot. Randomized. At the bottom. When you don't need it anymore. And loot that's not even cool enough as a Bragging Rights Reward. Just numbeeeeeeeers!
The boss is just that, a boss. Many are unique, some are even lazier than the worst of DS2 and others are just torture. It's a mixed bag and I'll offer my specific grievences further down. There are many I could forgive if the difficulty scaling was better.
After dying, the boss will often leave behind a pitiful reward, unless you get lucky. For me, only the fire gem gotten from the Watchdog in the very first CD is any good, until you get all the way down. It's horribly spaced out. You can also get Blood Stones, but again, only the absolutely deepest ones give you chunks or rock, which if you recall, are the only ones you want. You can also use the CDs to grind insight and just buy upgrades, but that is rather tedious. Running through all required dungeons might earn you enough for about 1 rock.
That's about all there is to them, except for some specifics and the fact that the last boss drops the next chalice. Earlier ones drop the Root chalice. If you look at the chart, you'll see that it's a very linear progression through them. You can't even chose which tileset to do first properly!
On paper, this doesn't sound so bad, it's just extra content. I think they realised how short the game would be and dedicated resources from say 2 hidden extra areas and turned them into random dungeons that would extend the length of the game. And that's exactly what happened, except it made a good deal of the game as a whole a borefest and put a divide between players who explored the dungeons and those that didn't. This is much worse than it sounds. But before we get into that, let's go over all the horrible enemies and bosses that haunt these grounds.
The slimes hidden on the ceilings are real pissbuckets. They are tanky and can do surprisingly high damage. But their biggest claim to fame is instakilling you with their grab attack as they fall down on you. It wouldn't be so bad if the hurtbox of the grab wasn't 50% larger than it should be. Literal pieces of shit are lethal down here!
You know what I love? Bullshit spellcasters who can lob fire faster than I can dodge them and burns me to death with one hit! No wait... I FUCKING HATE IT! Like, a lot.
I has to be a joke on From Soft's part to make the nude hammer-wielding Watcher such a powerhouse. I think their fastrolling asses are the fastest enemy in the game. As soon as they see you, they're next to you, ready to share their sensual oils and make you one with the floor. I haven't found a strategy beyond screaming, praying and mashing an attack button of choice.
After being ridiculed in the main game, the witches return with a revengeance to drown you in Mad Ones until you die. It wouldn't be much of an issue if the bastards weren't so beefy. They just. Won't. Die. And as soon as one falls, another takes its place. It's like the circle of life and pain.
But those hags are nothing when compared to the complete fuckness of the bellmaidens. Normally they only summon invaders, but in the CD's, they are Legion. First they can summon Pthumerian dudes en masse, who swarm you and have aggro on you from everywhere in the dungeon. But once you get deep enough, the spiders start appearing. And let me tell you, black phantom spiders do not fuck around. They fuck you.
Every maiden has a set number of enemies they can summon. I think a maiden can have 7-10 active spiders at a time. That's nuts! Once you start the floor, she starts summoning and won't stop until you violate her tentacled visage with a trick weapon. All her minions run at high speed and hunt you down like heat-seeking missiles. If you don't kill her first, you'll be haunted by her minions and probably drown in spiders. I hope you realise just how horrific such a concept is.
But just to really drive the stake further into your navel, two, or perhaps even more bellmaidens can spawn on the same floor(!!)! It's like if God had drowned the world in arachnids instead of water. Lets not forget that they love to inhabit Defiled dungeons as well, where you're health is halved and the spiders can kill you in 1-2 hits!
Yeah, that's a thing. For some required dungeons and some random ones, you're health get's cut in half. In some places, it's not that big of a deal, since the physical damage dealt gets scaled down. But often, you just get instagibbed. Especially if there's some elemental damage involved. Souls-games are tough, but I still like to have a somewhat decent buffer for mistakes. You know, let me enjoy the benefits of all that health and defence I have on my stat screen. Can't I get that much?
Fishmen go great with salt, or so I hear.
Let's ramp up the NaCl levels and talk about the bosses. You can run by enemies all you want, but bosses must die if you want to continue. And let me tell you, some of these are proper mongrel-faced fucknuggets devoid of any fun.
Your first boss is the Undead Giant, soon followed by his two other incarnations. They all have different armaments, but share the same design idea: Tanky buggers who deal unreal amounts of damage with a single hit! The AoE slam they have is the worst. One of them is even programmed to jump and crush you as soon as you enter the arena! Which reminds me of the Capra Demon. And anything that reminds me Goat McFuckface deserves to get its sorry self slapped to death with its own appendages!
Then there's the Watchdog of the Old Lords. Jesus wept. Your first encounter with this hell doggo isn't the worst, he's pretty tough, but can be dealt with. But then you find the defiled version. Suddenly, 80% of its attacks oneshots you, AoE attacks included! If only I could transfer the complete and utter contempt I have for this battle to you and the asshole at From Soft who decided on the numbers.
Like, did no one bother to balance test this without a master character with maxed stats? That has to be the answer, they couldn't have gone through that on a < BL100 character and think it was fine. I won't believe it.
I won't deny that the only reason I cleared the CDs was because I spammed arcane spells even harder than Dark Souls has ever pushed me to do. It felt like the only way, melée would have been suicide. And I like most of the melèe fighting in this game! It's just that I like being able to survive more than two hits. DMC4 on DMD isn't this assholish! (Agnus with Vergil excluded.)
But that's not the end of the defiled fun. Rom and Amygdala return worse than ever. Since their damage gets jacked up so high, and your health is so low, normally moderate attacks turn deadly. Amygdalas jump and random laser is such a shitshow. And you have to refight it for arcane gems!
Rom in particular is awful. Her babies will most likely oneshot you and get more health as well. That's bad, but the worst part is her increased health and the smaller arena. You're supposed to be able to take off one third of her health in one go, forcing her to warp away and birth more babies. But the defiled form is so tanky that you'll be stuck with her uninterruptable casts and probably get nuked. It sucks!
Say what you will about DS2, but as lame as some bosses get in that game, they at least didn't make a single Heide knight into a boss. BB's ”A-Team” though? Let's make the Brainsuckers, pigs and Silverbeasts into bosses! You know, the high-tier normal enemies who barely count as mini-minibosses. Especially not when fought alone in a plain arena. The rematch with the Beast-Possessed Soul is pretty nice though, since he doesn't set himself up for a backstab when you find him, unlike the poor sod in the main game.
Overall, the Pthumerian Descendant isn't that bad of a boss. He's not overly aggressive, nor is he piss easy to parry. It's just his fucking boomerang that grinds my gulasch. When he enters phase two and splits his sword, he gets a horrible throw attack. It's hurtbox is huge and it tracks well beyond what I consider fair for an attack that can get behind you. If it grazes you, it'll readjust its trajectory and turn you into chunky salsa. Of all the things to steal from God Hand, it had to be the homing boomerang of bullshit! Oh how I long for the ability to dragonkick that cockgobbler into the Milky Way. People of the future, mod that shit!
Both versions of the Bloodletting Beast are generally awful. I can't recall exactly why, but It has something to do with this GIF.
The Loran Darkbeast. Shitting hell, I hate that bony bastard. He may look like a rematch with Paarl, and that's true. But Paarl can be overpowered by a prepared Hunter. The nameless darkbeast cannot. Since he is so much stronger, you actually have to suffer through his particular quirks. First of all, he is as thinn as a small tree and extremely mobile. This makes it a great struggle to land a hit, never mind a combo. This is the one boss in the game who I find this hard to hit.
But that's his defense, let's not forget offense. He specializes in quick slashes and an enourmous AoE blast. Both of these are of course boosted to extreme levels thanks to the wonderful multipliers of the CDs. It took me ages to beat him with arcane cheese. Melée is nothing but everlasting pain. And to top it off, he was personally designed by Hidetaka Miyazaki. It would be poetic, if it wasn't so awful.
Lesser men not worth their salt would leave things here, but now comes what I've alluded up to this point. My biggest gripe with Bloodborne as a whole. I don't have a proper name for this thing sadly. I guess you could think of it as how the bloodgem system connects with the Chalice Dungeons and what repercussions they have on the play experience. (Hint: It's atrocious!)
I think the keyword here is potential power. Potential power is what power the player could theoretically have at a certain point in a game. Barring madmen who levelgrind to max in the starting zone, this is usually predictable to a certain extent. In the case of the Souls-games, this is measured mostly by Soul level and upgrades, not accounting for skill, weapons or build advantages in certain areas. In general , a SL 20 PC with a +1 Claymore is weaker than a SL50 PC with a +6 Claymore.
The majority of the player's power is dependant on upgrades tied to progression in the game world. Stats matter less, but still have impact on the players power. Come the end of the game and and the start of NG+, a normal player sits at around 80-95% of maximum potential power. My assumption is that the player has maxed a weapon. The last few points come from leveling past the hardcap of your damage stat.
But Bloodborne introduced a third power source, bloodgems (Let's ignore the runes, they barely matter.). These gems dictate a big part of the player's damage and disrupt the balance of the other games. They're sort of a mix of infusions and upgrades, meaning we have two upgrade systems. One could argue that they provide extra abilities and not just extra AR. But that would be foolish. The only thing anyone cares about are the gems that boost damage the most and have the weakest curses. All the ones with interesting effects are too weak to consider using. I mean, 5.8% less stamina cost, or 18% extra damage. What would you take? It's not even a choice!
Since weapons need gems of different elements, the potential power of a hunter is highly variable. The rarity of gems play into this too. If you only play the main game and use the guaranteed gems, anything beyond pure physical damage is thoroughly shafted. The provided elemental gems are nowhere near as powerful as the physical ones. The weaknesses of enemies are supposed to make up for this, but thanks to how little difference there is between ”normal” defense and ”weakness” defense for many enemies during lategame, this doesn't work.
This is the reason why enemies in NG+ have so much health. From Soft doesn't know how good your gems are, so they balanced NG+ for people who have top-tier gems. Not considering that gems are nowhere near as easy to get as levels or blood stones.
The first divide we have is between physical and elemental builds in the main game. But a bigger one exists between players who have and haven't grinded the lower CDs multiple times. I hate that they spaced out the gems so poorly, only the lower dungeons have anything of worth. Since BB doesn't have many items, there isn't anything they can reward you with except for stupid alternate weapons, consumables, gems and chalice ritual material. But the gems in the first few CDs are pathetic. And even when you get down far enough to the good ones, you still have to surrender your precious time to RNGesus and hope for a good gem of the correct shape.
And being able to rerun a dungeon for free is dependant on PS+. That's horseshit! If you aren't online, you have to redo the full ritual and spend rare material. This increases the time taken to get good gems severly.
And if you want to engage in PVP (Why!?), you need those strong gems so that you can kill someone before they land a hit on you and shred you with their gems. The difference in damage is ridiculous. If you've ever checked out a boss video and they seem to be doing obscene damage, that's the gems' work. It just so dumb that they would make the experience this variable depending on if you want to suffer through the lower CDs or not. And you have to grind through the pathetic upper levels first too, for every character.
I think I've covered everything now, I hope my points have come through.
First of all, let me put on my backseat gaemdesigner hat.
First of all, we purge all the ritual materials and get rid of arcane ooze. Only echoes are required to make a dungeon. Next, we divide all static dungeons between the four tilesets evenly and place all the chalices in the main game. That way, the Pthumerian dungeons won't be overrepresented and you can complete them in any order. Every static dungeon gives you the choice of what depth to play and is locked to 1-3 floors.
When making a random dungeon, you decide what depth it'll have, how many floors there'll be and what modifiers will make it harder. Every depth of a static dungeon you clear gives you access to that depth in a random dungeon. Once you clear all static dungeons in a tileset, you get access to another modifier, like halved health, enemy amount, extra traps, change elemental damage or something else in that direction. Every modifier boosts echoes gained and chances of getting gems from enemies.
It doesn't increase the quality of gems, only heightens the drop rate. Treasures in chests and drops from bosses are static and independant of the modifier, only depth and tileset changes that. Dungeons of depth 1 give normal and twin bloodstone shards, depth 2-3 give twin shards and semi-rarely chunks, depth 4-5 give chunks and rarely whole stones. The valuable upgrade material should only exist if you've found a chalice housed in a late area of the main game, like the Isz chalice. Otherwise we would get the DS2 problem again where it's too easy to max a weapon early.
We then rebalance the game so that the power granted by the gems get put back into upgrades and stats. That leaves us with gems with special effects used to customize the weapon without just increasing damage. Stuff like rally boost, stamina regen, stamina cost reduction, poison and elemental gems to change the damage type and scaling. Every gem shape gets unified, which makes the alternate weapons worthless. Every tileset should specialize in certain gems, kinda like the worlds in DeS. Also, no required defiled dungeons!
I think this would be within the realms of possibility and would make for a better product. You get an advantage for exploring, but nothing as direct as more damage. And if you want a nice gem, you just get the chalice and explore the depth you can handle. That would leave most of the reason for exploring to do it for fun, which might take more effort than they could spend. But that's not a bad thing to expect, dungeon crawling should be fun.
Do you agree with my issues and do you like my hypothetical system? I don't think I have thought about everything, it's very possible that there is something I've forgotten about.
And if you haven't had enough, there's always the other instalments to read. Praise the good salt! Awooooooo!