Yes, I am late to the party. But I just finished Bloodborne. And I am in the mood for a well-deserved rant. And no, this is not about the difficulty.
Just to be clear – Bloodborne is an outstanding game. The atmosphere, the bosses, the weapons, the level design, the smaller enemies, the character arcs, the armor sets. All of these are unbelievably good, like 11 out of 10 stars. But looking at the whole game, I just refuse to give Bloodborne a full star rating – and it’s not because of the difficulty.
Despite what the whole Internet wants to tell you, I don’t consider Bloodborne that hard. It’s no walk in the park either, that’s for sure. But everything is quite manageable, even if you are not a pro gamer.
Well, I might make an exception for the Bastard of Kos, the final boss of the DLC. This one will test your patience. But all in all, the difficulty is all right. Personally, I had more problems with Cuphead – as in: I finished Dark Souls & Bloodborne, but I did not finish Cuphead (so far).
Anyway, Bloodborne has two major problems.
So, I just finished the main story. Plus DLC. Why do I still not know what the hell was going on? Or how to interpret the ending(s)? If you play the game you get a faint idea of something something, Hunters, Paleblood, Old Blood, Vileblood, Beasts, Old Ones, Cthulu vibe, something something. But the main game does shit to tell a coherent story.
You don’t even have a motivation for your own character to do anything. And you don’t start as an amnesiac. You must know something about the world. You had your reason to come to Yarnham. You must have heard rumors.
Well, your character must know a few things, but you, the player, surely don’t.
If you want a story you have to read all the item descriptions, do a few playthroughs to try different paths, different interactions with some NPCs, and then fumble it all together to get some idea. Or you watch half a dozen explanation videos on YouTube. What the fuck?!
Why would a game developer hide the story from the players? It’s the same shit they pulled in Dark Souls. Apparently, there is a story. A good one. But you only get it with either loads of detective work or via sources outside of the game.
I don’t understand it. It makes zero sense to hide the story. What you do is give the casual players a plausible story to follow. And for the players who really want to dig into the lore, you hide some hundred extra bits of information in item descriptions and random chatter from NPCs. So that everyone knows the basic stuff. But if you want to invest more time you can find out more about the world.
With more knowledge, your encounters with the bosses and NPCs would be so much better. If you don’t know what is going on you just stumble into a new area, explore it, meet the boss, have a few fights with said boss to find his weakness, finally kill him, just to move into the next area. Along the way you marvel at the world, the enemies, the boss. But you are not really invested in anything, because you have no clue about anything.
If you have build a world like this, with a rich history, characters and motivations – why hide all this from the player? Play our game! Then wait some time till other players put together a video to tell you what just happened to you! I can’t believe how annoyingly stupid this decision is. This is an action game. I don’t want to spend half the game combing through item descriptions to find out what is going on. There are other games for that.
The early Gameplay
The other major problem in Bloodborne is the early gameplay. Cause once again, Bloodborne only gives you some hints about what is going on.
You start the game with a contract, the character creation. Your origin sets up a few character stats, but the game does not explain what any of the stats mean. If you have played your share of role-playing games a few stats are obvious. The level is a given. Vitality will most likely influence your health. If you have played Dark Souls you will guess what Endurance is for. Strength and Skill are usual stats as well. But what are Blood Echoes? What exactly is Arcane? What the hell is Bloodtinge? Why show the stats in the character creation without explanation? Will this be important at the start? Should I invest in Arcane or Bloodtinge? Who knows?
As soon as the game begins you can examine your status and get a few more infos, but you still don’t really know what Blood Echoes, Bloodtinge, and Arcane are for. If this is your second playthrough this is all quite obvious. But why not make these things clearer for new players?
The main screen shows a few stats and equipment. Among them is Insight in the upper right corner. What is Insight? You don’t know. And even after you have finished the game you don’t necessarily know what it is or used for. I expect a game to explain all the stuff that is important enough to display all the time.
In the first few minutes, you will get a weapon. You open the inventory, go to the weapons tab and try to equip the weapon. But that will not work. You can’t use the weapon that way. I died two times against the first enemy just because I couldn’t equip the frickin’ weapon. Even though I had played Dark Souls last year and the mechanic was probably the same. Thirty plus years of videogames and I am too stupid to use a weapon. In the end, I had to google to find out how to equip the weapon.
Is this my fault? Maybe. I guess most people can figure this out on their own. But since other people have asked this question in forums at least I am not the only idiot.
There are creatures called messengers who give you some tips about the gameplay. For example: »R1 when next to staggered enemy: Visceral attack«. Well, how do I stagger enemies? What is a visceral attack?
I don’t mind that there a few things you have to try out or figure out on your own. Just explain the basics better. Why do the messengers leave tips? There are two characters, Gehrman and the doll, who could tell you these things.
I really hated those first few hours of Bloodborne. They were the worst part of the game. And this is really stupid considering you want people to play your game. Why not make the start easy for new players? Just explain what is going on. Use Gehrman to do this, he is already sitting there. Gehrman could be watching your actions from the dream and comment on them. If you don’t transform your weapon let Gehrman explain it to you. If you don’t use the firearm let Gehrman tell you about the advantages. If you play too passive let Gehrman explain how to get health back from the enemies.
By the way, why do you get health back from enemies anyhow? After an enemy strikes you there is a short window of time. If you hit the enemy within this window you can earn some of the lost health back. That’s a neat concept. But it makes no sense. You are not a vampire.
There’s the story that director Hidetaka Miyazaki sees this health bar not as health but rather as your mental state. Your confidence. Your will to go on. Now, this is something you can regain. This makes perfect sense. But if that is the idea simply call it willpower instead of health.
Anyway, the gameplay. Yes, after a few hours you know what is what. But there is simply no reason to give new players such a rough start by explaining basics mechanics so poorly or not at all.
There are also a few mechanics I did not like but made my peace with.
Hidden areas: I am still a bit torn about the optional bosses. Bosses are one of the main appeals of the game. I want to fight all of them. But I had to use the Web to find a certain key. Without that key I would have missed two bosses. I actually did miss one boss at the end, because I didn’t meet certain criteria at that point in the game.
But fine, I get it, there should be some content for people who invest more time and find paths other people miss.
The missing map: Just like the Dark Souls games Bloodborne doesn’t offer you a map. Now, is a map really necessary? It is quite nice to explore on your own. And it is satisfying when you find certain connections between the areas. But I have seen too many people with no sense of orientation running in circles.
What I would have liked: Maybe not a map that is present on the screen all the time. But at least an item to show the areas on a world map. Just to get a better feeling for the world.
DLC and the order of things: You have to play the DLC content before you finish the main game. Because after the main game you just start again in Game Plus Mode, and you can’t access the DLC directly from the start.
The problem is that the DLC bosses are tougher, way tougher. After you finish the DLC and go back, the bosses of the main game are just pushovers. I managed to beat my last two main story bosses in the first attempt. That was a really anticlimactic ending. Surely there has to be a better way to integrate the DLC content.
As I said in the beginning. There is a lot Bloodborne does right. It is not just the design of the world and the bosses. There are a lot of details. Like the various ways the different weapons work. Or when you realize that a certain shark attack has a different animation when the shark manages to kill you. All the praise for the general atmosphere and all the ideas is well deserved.
But I will not forgive FromSoftware for developing a story and then hiding it from the players. The player would be a lot more invested if he knew what is going on. The fights would be a lot different, not regarding the gameplay, but emotionally. Bloodborne just limits the way players experience the game. With no reason at all.
In my world, the hidden story and the shitty start are reasons enough to punish the game by giving Bloodborne only 6 out of 10 stars.
(Still, if Bloodborne 2 ever comes out, I will preorder it.)
My first playthrough ended with an Ingame time of 69:44:06 (Main Story, DLC & a few Chalice Dungeons) at Level 117.
Easiest Bosses: The Witch of Hemwick; Celestial Emissary; Mergo’s Wet Nurse; G, the First Hunter; The One Reborn; Micolash, Host of the Nightmare
Most annoying Bosses: The Bastard of Kos (yes, I know he is the Orphan of Kos, but I prefer to call him Bastard; cause he is a Bastard; also, it is very likely that his parents were not married); Lady Maria of the Astral Clocktower; Ludwig, the Accursed; Martyr Logarius; Rom The Vacuous Spider