Whether it’s King’s Field, Shadow Tower, Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, or Bloodborne, From Software know how to make hitting monsters with pointed sticks challenging but satisfying. However, I always felt that there was a kind of unfair generalisation going on amongst devoted From fans that didn’t really give each individual series enough credit. Me, I’ve played a fair amount of Dark Souls and multiple playthroughs of Bloodborne, so I might not be the best person to make comparisons. Even so, alterations in gameplay mechanics between the titles might seem insignificant to some and literally game-changing to others, and I think that’s something that doesn’t get enough recognition when From’s fan base is so protective over the developer’s games. Their most recent title Bloodborne is both a familiar retread of ideas and a radical departure from Souls sensibilities, and that departure – the Bloodborne difference, as it were – needs to be celebrated rather than ignored.
The Bloodborne difference is lost amongst some. You hear them protest “But Bloodborne is clearly a Souls game”, and at first blush that’s an easy observation to make. You’re a man or a woman who dresses up in armour and carries a pointed stick in one hand and a defensive tool in the other. You fight witches, wolves, transformed humans and various beasts, and doing so rewards you with experience. When you die you have to go back to where you died and reclaim lost experience. Weapons can be slow and strong, or fast and weak. Combat involves observing enemy move sets and exploiting the moments when they are vulnerable. You can play co-op with others and share advice with cryptic messages left on the floor. Many areas have traps, shortcuts, secret areas and a boss at the end with a big health bar. You collect various armour and weapons along the way and need to keep various status ailments in check. You have a light attack, a heavy attack, a parry, a roll, and so on.
The Bloodborne difference in experience
However, to simply stop there and call it Dark Souls 2.5 would be selling it short. It would undermine the efforts that have been made to create a brand new experience, it would be a generalisation that fails to recognise the Souls games’ own achievements, and it would harm the expectations of players who had different experiences of Souls. If someone didn’t like Dark Souls and you tell them that Bloodborne is basically another Souls game, you can guess what their reaction would be, but without knowing why they didn’t like Dark Souls you don’t know if you’re misleading them. Maybe they didn’t like the frequent invasions (limited to a few key locations in Bloodborne unless you’re playing co-operatively), maybe equip loads made inventory management a chore (here “equip load” only exists as a barely perceptible change in stamina regeneration based on armour), maybe the evasive manoeuvres in Souls were too clunky for some (hello sidesteps), maybe the initial parry timing is too ambiguous to even bother trying to figure out (a gun being fired is instantly clearer.) Maybe cosmic horror is just a more likeable backdrop compared to medieval fantasy, or maybe the streamlined stats of Bloodborne make it easier to decide where your levels will go.
The Bloodborne difference and its legacy
I could go on. Each of these issues might seem incredibly picky, but for some people the Bloodborne difference – those big and small changes to gameplay, setting, story and tone – is a cumulative difference that allows them to enjoy Bloodborne after struggling with Souls. If the rumours about Dark Souls 3 taking on ideas from Bloodborne are true, the protests will have some truth to them – Bloodborne may well be a “Souls game” – because the definition will have changed. Until then, people shouldn’t shy away from commending the Bloodborne difference, and praising one game’s attempts to forge its own path instead of following in the shadow of Souls.