In today’s era of gaming, it seems incredibly difficult for a developer to navigate the many pitfalls that plague so many other titles, never mind actually releasing a game to almost universal critical acclaim. The fact that Bloodborne seemed to achieve this so effortlessly, even with the stepping stones of the Dark Souls series serving as the perfect footing, is therefore somewhat impressive. Tight controls, challenging gameplay, stunning visuals, and no stupid DLC or half finished content that bogged it all down – it became the game everyone said you should play. So I did, and I was somewhat surprised to find I didn’t end up loving it at all.
Bloodborne is hard. No-one ever denies or tries to hide that fact. Yet to a newcomer to the genre like myself, even the expectancy of knowing you’re heading into something extremely difficult pales in comparison to how hard it really is. It’s crushing. I died countless times to the first few enemies. I got hopefully lost, feeling there was no guidance on what to do or where to go. From an objective viewpoint, that’s part of the point – you’re meant to forget the normal gaming rules, take note of your mistakes and learn everything through endless practice. And learn I did, but I was mere minutes away from giving up on the game completely before things even started to click. Even when things came together – and I had adapted to survive, so to speak – those first two or three hours seemed to continue to sit with me like a bad taste in the mouth. Difficulty is fine, sure, but the way that difficulty had been managed just seemed… Wrong.
It was increasingly strange to me when I considered that I loved games like Spelunky and Faster than Light, other titles that thrive on punishing difficulty, and titles I have acclaimed before. I remember the first few hours with them also – stupid clumsy deaths, endless errors of judgement, yet I could freely laugh them off and start again without feeling sour. I can only put this down to two things – one being that these two games took death with a lighter tone. Comically tumbling into spikes because of a mistimed jump or watching everything catch suddenly fire was fun, because the games were breezy and chaotic, and designed in a sense to highlight how stupid things were. Compare this to Bloodborne, where you just stagger over in bloody defeat with the words “YOU DIED” filling the screen. Cold and clinical, and matching the tone of the game, sure; but it just made me feel lousy, like being blamed for something always does, even (and especially) when it is your fault.
The second factor I think determined why I liked those games and not Bloodborne harks back to the aforementioned chaos that they can create – in short, things are random. You can be cruising along, only to encounter a weird scenario or super powerful enemy that suddenly cuts your seemingly certain victory into ribbons. This way, death leads to stories – “Oh man, you should have seen it! An arrow knocked me right into a caveman, who flung me 50 foot on to the spikes below!”, and many others besides. Deaths in Bloodborne are far from uninteresting, but even the stories you get from them always stem back into one core concept – your own mistakes. Nothing else. It’s cold and unwavering, and I didn’t like it.
I’ll probably still return to Bloodborne in the future, mind you. It’s clearly objectively not a bad game; it’s just not one that strikes to my personal taste most of the time. After finishing a day at work, where things have been me kicking me down and wearing me out, going to a game where its entire purpose is continuing to try and do that probably isn’t the most logical course of action anyway. But given the right state of mind and that burning will to win, and I can potentially see myself battling through Bloodborne and finding some enjoyment within it. It’s just not something I’ll be acclaiming as my game of the year any time soon.