As someone who plays RPGs more than just about any other genre, I'm not really sure why to date I've always struggled to enjoy the Dark and Demon Souls games. I admire the precision of the gameplay, and the reduction of combat down to its purest forms, but there's something about the sheer weight of the games that I find stifling - I just can't bear to live in their worlds long enough to push much beyond the opening hour.
Even to a relative outsider like myself, it's obvious that From Software's upcoming Bloodborne is a very different beast from its development ancestors, and yet the lineage is unmistakeable. The game feels - dare I say it - like a more immediately inviting and accessible addition to the studio's canon, while staking claim to a different sort of combat depth that's entirely its own.
Bloodborne's setting, Yharnam, looks and feels like the tobacco-chewing, gunslinging sort of place where Van Helsing might take a safari holiday. Gothic towers rise up from cobblestone covered floors, while gleaming black and silver stagecoaches lie in ruins at the side of the road. The cold, wind-whistling dread of a Dark Souls vista is nowhere to be seen. Instead, there's a bright glimmer to everything, and a sense of silver-plated treasure wherever you look.
If the city shines a little more brightly than you might expect, its inhabitants are suitably grim and intimidating. Diseased, lumbering lost souls shamble about the place, some literally wielding pitchforks, others waving flaming torches that threaten to set your whiskers alight. Individually, none of these creatures present a particularly formidable threat, but in swarms it's a very different proposition.
The combat itself feels simultaneously reminiscent of Dark Souls and yet nothing like it. The basic roster of melee swipes are far more fluid and forgiving, for example, and while careful timing of a heftier weapon swing is still critical to staying alive, there's a little more time to pause, gather yourself, and recover from a disaster - even during the most calamitous of close-range encounters.
That is, until you face down more than four or five of these enemies. Complacency here, combined with complete ignorance of the finer elements of the combat controls, led to a swift death as the gentle errors rapidly combined to catastrophic effect. The demo reset itself, and I slank away rather sheepishly so that the person behind me could make a better fist of things.
From Software has been at pains to stress that Bloodborne isn't a Dark Souls sequel, and in many ways it's right to make that distinction. But while it's a more inviting experience, and one that's quicker to give you some sense of mastery over it, punishment for such complacency is never far behind. Some things don't change.
Take a look through our Bloodborne walkthrough if you've come unstuck in Miyazaki's latest adventure.
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