When it comes to my little guilty pleasure of gaming, there’s easier guys out there to please. But I wanted to say a few things about Bloodborne (BB) because this game definitely leaves a mark. At first I thought it was a 10 but then, when the thrill of having completed it passed and I felt like some of the pieces were missing, I decided to look more carefully.
Since I am no expert in deep role-playing games, BB hit me with the most organic combination of deep storytelling, world design, and gameplay I’d ever seen. You put yourself in the game, look at its world and you are astounded and terrified and you think Wow, this is one special game and I need to brace myself for it. And it is. And you do.
BB is incredibly immersive. With no pause button available and an atmosphere of danger and dread it keeps you on your toes and has you approach it seriously. No half-measures here and no hand holding. Either you give it the respect it deserves or you die endlessly, get discouraged and quit. You have to figure out a lot in the game by yourself and it puts your patience and determination to the test time after time. I quickly found that when I wasn’t sufficiently rested and focused, there was no point even sitting down to play it.
BB is not only a hard game to beat but also very rewarding in how it makes you feel when you do manage to progress. This is helped by how the game gradually lets you in on its secrets, luring you in further. Bb promises much and raises the bar of player expectations high for itself.
This makes it a very ambitious project but at the same time it creates big problems for it. BB is a flawed game, even though at first it may not be obvious why. It actually took me days to translate the general feeling of disappointment into a list of clear reasons behind that feeling. The reasons why BB is seriously flawed involve both gameplay and story, and I’ll mention just the major concerns here.
As for the gameplay, while moment-to-moment it is crisp and sharp, over the span of the entire game it suffers badly from lopsided difficulty. BB starts very hard,with the first mandatory boss, Gascoigne, giving you great trouble and making many people quit the game. Beating him made for the single most exciting moment of gaming I’ve ever experienced, with shaking hands and heaving breathing.
But I was right to think there was nothing to surpass it in the rest of BB. Unfortunately, in time the game lets you become overpowered and if you develop enough skill you’ll be beating bosses on first try before they can even spread their wings and show you what they got. This is really bad for the feel of BB since it takes much away from the sense of gratification you were hoping for. When I finally beat it, I was surprised it was over, and with no real hurdle in the endgame.
The inclusion of Chalice Dungeons in BB was a bad idea as well, compounded by dumping important lore elements and an exclusive weapon in them. All too Diabloesque, they get very repetitive quickly and make you feel like game assets are getting recycled uncreatively before your eyes.
As for the story, here come minor spoilers so skip two paragraphs to avoid them. While I love the steampunk feel of BB, the inclusion of Lovecraftian themes like the Great Ones felt unfortunate. Lovecraft’s stuff feels like a bad B movie, and the combination of beast scourge and Great Ones makes for a veritable mish-mash of bad writing. You need the beasts as something for your dick of a hunter to kill off wholesale. And then you need an explanation for why the beasts are there and also more things to kill so, what, you go for the Great Ones? No, no. And you mount multiple time planes and dream settings on top? Finally, you call the waking world a nightmare and also put a hunter’s dream in there? And tell me to stop the beast scourge? Or the nightmare? Or both? Geez. That’s pretend depth and it’s intentionally misleading.
You get great atmosphere and multiple little gems of storytelling at the outset but not much sense in the long haul. The game ends up feeling like a major clean-up operation with your character as some sort of “necessary Nazi.” I haven’t seen BB’s story meaningfully explained anywhere, and I’ve looked for days. We know nothing of the motivations of Moon Presence, and wasn’t it the singular force driving you into the killing spree? What is the relation between Mergo’s attempted birth and the scourge? As questions multiply, I see the game’s director, Miyazaki, laughing in the background as we idiots try to make a whole out of what was never meant to be a whole. Environmental storytelling is a potent way to immerse you in a story but it leaves the story vulnerable to writer laziness and indecision. BB is a good example.
None of the above is to suggest that Bloodborne is a bad game, just one that falls short of it’s huge full potential. Here’s to hoping Dark Souls 3 fares better in this regard.