Bloodborne (Or: Reminding Myself That I’m Bad At Video Games)

Thanks to a gift card, I picked up a copy of Bloodborne and loaded it up with Kodra this weekend. We put in about two hours and got to the first save point. Long story short, the game wrecked us solidly and unremittingly.

bloodborne cover

We did eventually admit defeat before reaching the next save point, but even so, the game was a lot of fun, just draining. Kodra and I traded off at every death, so roughly once every sixty seconds to ten minutes or so. We died a lot, maybe I mentioned. What keeps it fun, though, is that the game, while unrelentingly difficult, is entirely fair. The rules don’t change on you, and when new rules are introduced, it’s very clear. When I saw a random huge monster guy wandering through a place that I had to break a bunch of boxes to even access, it wasn’t precisely a surprise when it ignored my heavy attack and just grabbed me and squished me.

I think what makes the series of From Software’s games (Souls games, Bloodborne) really compelling is that it changes the philosophy on you. In a lot of games, especially narrative games, the story is the reward– get through this segment to get another bit of story, and keep on going to get more story. You beat a boss because you want to see what happens next, and as a result the game has a vested interest in keeping you on a forward trajectory, seeing more story so you don’t get bored. Victory is the default, and the narrative of the game is predicated on you winning and continuing on. It can safely be assumed that you’re going to win a given encounter.

Not so in Bloodborne. Story is incidental; it’s something you piece together, if at all. The reward is power, and the game makes you want power immediately by making sure you know how much it sucks not to have any. It’s a trope that you die more or less immediately in Souls games, to one of the first enemies you fight, but as above– the game is very fair. You CAN beat that first enemy, if you’re exceptionally skilled, and in general the game rewards you very well for doing so. You want to beat bosses because you shouldn’t be able to; success in the game is an act of defiance, one that the game respects.

It’s that respect that really seals the deal. If you find a cheap, easy way to bypass a nasty fight or exploit some terrain to beat a boss, the game won’t punish you for it. You owe the game nothing, and in return, it owes you nothing. If you swing at an enemy and miss, there’s no aim correction; you forgot to lock on (or didn’t lock onto the right enemy) and the consequences are on you. Play better next time. You found a ledge that the boss can’t reach and can shoot at it, and have enough ammo to take it down without reprisal? Good on you, you beat the boss, you were cleverer than it was. Grind an area until you’re stupidly overpowered before moving on? That’s your choice, do what you need to in order to win.

I really appreciate that in Bloodborne, especially given that there are generally multiple ways to approach each encounter. It took Kodra and I a solid hour to realize that we were playing the game like Bel, methodically fighting and defeating every single enemy in an area before moving on. It was taxing on our resources and took up a lot of time for little return. We quickly discovered abject cowardice and used it to flee further than we’d gotten with overt aggression.

The amount of game space we played in over the course of the day was about half of a Warframe level, or less. Maybe half of one of the smaller starting levels. However, that tiny amount of space was incredibly rich and nuanced, with lots of approaches and lots of things to see and learn. I never felt like we were punished unduly for experimenting, and resources were plentiful enough that we could use them regularly without feeling like they were being wasted. Sure, we died a lot, but we made a lot of progress as far as developing our actual skill at the game.

By the end, we’d graduated from getting murdered by a guy with a rake to dying to some kind of massive tree beast. Progression!

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