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Bloodborne / 25th of September 2014

With the advent of every new console generation the majority of us are tasked with facing that fateful decision once again, namely which of the two major platforms will we align ourselves with for the next five to ten years? It’s a decision partly based on direct comparisons such as performance, price or online infrastructure, and partly on gut feeling and our own personal preference. But more recently - relatively speaking - it’s a decision that can often be made for us when platform holders reveal their respective exclusives. Games that will, either for a number of weeks or indefinitely, be available on only one of the two major consoles. Last time out it was Gears of War that swung my vote and convinced me to pick up an Xbox 360, and now From Software’s latest game, Bloodborne has performed that very same feat. Convincing me, not only of my need for a next-gen console, but more importantly, which next-gen console.  

Shortly after the release of Dark Souls II earlier this year, very low quality gameplay snippets were leaked of a game supposedly in development at From Software under the title Project Beast. It was a well-known fact that before Dark Souls was revealed it had held the working title Project Dark, this along with those brief shots of gameplay were enough to convince most that what they had seen was genuine. At the time it had fans positively buzzing with excitement, and wild speculation about the soon to be revealed game began.

A few weeks later at E3 the game was officially announced, Bloodborne was in development at From Software’s studios, with Hidetaka Miyazaki (creator of both Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls) heading the development team. Not only that but it’s set to be a PlayStation 4 exclusive, Bloodborne it seems, will be published by Sony Computer Entertainment Japan, and not Namco Bandai (the publisher of From’s two previous titles). This revelation was a surprise to many, considering both Dark Souls and Dark Souls II, had been available on Xbox 360 and PS3. And although it may have frustrated Souls’ fans whom had already purchased Xbox Ones, it has to be considered something of a coup for Sony in securing exclusivity to the next Miyazaki game. After all, both Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls were two of the most critically acclaimed games of the last generation. 

So after E3, the next major gaming expo to arrive was this year’s Gamescom in Cologne, Germany. And should you have happen to have glanced at our coverage of this year’s event you’ll know I picked Bloodborne out as the highlight of Sony’s conference. Not only was there a more extensive gameplay reveal on show, there was also a six minute demo available for those in attendance to play. However that’s not really an option for most, and with that in mind From Software released a walkthrough video days after the event, showcasing what those at Gamescom had been able to try for themselves.

At the conference Sony also announced that the game is scheduled for release within the next six months, news that may have caught many by surprise. The game it seems has been in development for some time and not, as many first assumed, merely a post Dark Souls II project. Which brings me neatly onto my first point, Bloodborne is currently being developed primarily by those who worked on Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. It seems that although Dark Souls II was a direct sequel, its development was handled by different personnel within From Software. Fans of the series were well aware that directorial duties had been handed over to Yui Tanimura, but it wasn’t until Dark Souls II’s release, and then Bloodborne’s reveal that it became clear that the majority of the development team had been changed as well. It may not appear all that significant at first, but it will surely help reassure Souls’ fans who may have been a tad disappointed by Dark Souls II. 

The second piece of concrete information we have regarding Bloodborne is that it follows the same trend as previous Miyazaki games. Bloodborne setting is an all new, original world, one players will be exploring for the very first time. Rather than the sprawling fractured kingdoms such as Boletaria or Lordran, the likes of which we’ve seen in previous Souls games, gameplay this time will be primarily based within a single city by the name of Yharnam. Although it’s not been explicitly stated, what we’ve seen so far suggests an interconnected landscape, similar in layout to Dark Souls, that looks to give player the freedom - or more likely the need - to backtrack and reconnect distant areas via secret pathways and ingenious shortcuts. 

This feature adds a lot to the experience and is something I’ll be glad to see making a return. Also making a comeback is correlation between tone and setting. Yharnam appears to be a Victorian style city whose inhabitants are infected with some form of plague-like pestilence. Its gothic architecture and dark streets serve to enhance this perception, making the world feel alive and give players a sense of the storyline without ever being explicitly told what has taken place.

Besides these features, many smaller similarities can be gleaned from what little we’ve seen so far, and with what has been confirmed by From Software. For example although it wasn’t shown in game, we’ve been told the soul recovery mechanic will be making a return, as will a bonfire-like checkpoint system and a persistent online mechanic. But although the game can be seen as a successor to the Souls series, there are still several key components that shows Bloodborne will differ vastly from its predecessors. 

The most obvious of these is the introduction of guns, which feel like the direct replacement to the sword and shield style gameplay Souls games have been synonymous with. No longer will players be able to creep forward methodically, shield raised, waiting for openings to attack. Instead wielding a shotgun, or similar in your off-hand will now be the games central premise. It’s a design choice intended to increase the pace and intensity of combat according to the developers, as without the security of a shield players are forced to go on the offensive and be bolder in their approach. This coupled with the second major change in the series, the ability to regain health by being doused in an enemy’s blood, has the combined effect of making combat far more aggressive than it’s ever been. The basic premise being that after taking a hit the player character will have a brief window in which they can regain lost health. The key phrase there is the term “brief window”, meaning that players will have to push their luck in order to survive. If you stubbornly attempt to be as slow and cautious as you were in previous Souls games, then you’ll be in for a bit of a shock.

If you have watched any of the gameplay footage revealed so far then you will have also noted the iconic moment the player character switches their weapon from being a close range machete-like blade, into a much larger variant with improved range and a different set of attacks. It’s something not to be taken lightly in a Souls game, considering how integral melee weapons are to the series. From the handful of different weapons we’ve seen so far it appears that most, if not all, have this ability to unfold giving the player more options depending on the situation. Not only that, but now these weapons can be charged in order to perform heavier attacks, which have the potential to stagger enemies. This again appears to be a more aggressive solution to the previous Souls combat. With a sword and shield gameplay often revolved around waiting for an enemy attack in order to parry its blow, thus making said enemy susceptible to a critical hit. This new mechanic provides the same concept, but its execution is far less conservative and will hopefully encourage this far more offensive style of gameplay From Software are aiming to create.

It’s these subtle changes to the, now well worn, Souls gameplay that should hopefully combine to make Bloodborne one of Sony’s most exciting exclusive titles. The game holds enough in common with its predecessors to entice veteran fans of the series in, but it’s the evolution of the gameplay mechanics - changed enough to make them feel fresh and exciting, whilst still being familiar - that should appeal to newcomers to Miyazaki’s work. As I mentioned earlier, Sony’s ability to secure exclusivity on Bloodborne has managed to convince me of the merits of buying a PS4, and with the way it’s shaping up I’m sure I won’t be the only one.       

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