Am I "good" at games? I don't know.
I'm 30 years old: I've been playing video games for 25 of those years, give or take, and covering games professionally for just over six years. I spent two weeks this year completing Mega Man 1 through 4. I've sunk hundreds of hours into Spelunky. Whether I'm "good" at games is up for debate; I love challenging games. Despite this, I've never loved the divisive, feverishly adored/hated Souls games (Demon's Souls, Dark Souls 1 and 2). Their challenges felt too great to overcome, their systems too inscrutable, their technical issues too great in number. They felt frustrating instead of challenging.
Bloodborne -- the latest entry in the series and the first without a "Souls" moniker attached -- changes that. This is a game I love to hate. But I mostly just love it.
Really quickly, for those of you who don't know what kind of game Bloodborne is:
- It's a third-person action game.
- You play as an avatar of your creation made at the start of the game.
- The game's narrative is largely unimportant; its setting is not. Bloodborne is set in a monster-filled version of Victorian England (a fictitious town named Yharnam).
- Each enemy, however weak, can easily kill you. Bloodborne (and the rest of the Souls games) demand careful planning and strategy with every single fight.
- It's a game of exploration; specifically, it's a game of exploring one massive, interconnected world.
So, what makes Bloodborne different from previous series entries? It's not nearly as much of a dick as previous games. Yeah. Really.
I'm not trying to be flip -- that's a totally serious statement. While previous games punished players incessantly with compounding measures, Bloodborne encourages you to keep trying. That is a crucial difference in game design, and one that should make the PlayStation 4 exclusive appealing to a much larger audience than other Souls games.
Death in previous Souls games imbued status effects on your character -- namely, lower overall health. That's to say, "Each time you died, you started your next life with slightly less health than before." Oh, and all the (terribly hard) enemies reappear after each death. If you got frustrated in your last attempt at an area and tried rushing through it on subsequent attempts, you were likely to die again. And quickly. That actually remains the case in Bloodborne -- no rushing! But if you do rush, the worst that happens is you have to start the area over from your last save point (that is a punishment unto itself: Save points are represented by in-game lamps placed throughout the world).
I used the word "inscrutable" earlier in reference to the systems of previous games. Bloodborne is, by contrast, concise and easily understood.
Your character wields a large sawblade melee weapon that transforms into a longer version of itself (which takes a bit more time to swing). He or She has a firearm in their other hand, and you use weapons by pushing the shoulder buttons and triggers. Simple!
There are a handful of "origins" to choose from at the start of the game. These are tied to your character's stats (seen below) -- just six boxes to dump points into (stuff like strength and vitality). Again, simple! I've been pushing mine into strength, vitality and stamina. Bloodborne demands offense far more often than defense, so I've spec'd up my character to be the stone-cold killer he needs to be.
There is only one currency in Bloodborne, which is used both for items (new weapons, armor, ammo, etc.) and for leveling up your character. Hilariously, the currency is called "Blood Echoes" (the replacement for "souls" in previous series entries). Everything in Bloodborne has the word "blood" in it. It's charming and gross and silly, like so much of Bloodborne's themes. It's the Uglydolls of video games.
You get these "blood echoes" from killing enemies. Should you die in battle, a bloodstain remains on the ground, holding your precious money until you return to that spot. In a messed-up twist, sometimes the very enemies you were fighting gank your money. Revenge is a must; not just because it feels good, but also because that's the only way to get your money back. Messed up! But, again, thankfully simple!
Maybe don't fight the electric beast first thing.
Every game in this series, from Demon's Souls through to Bloodborne, is about understanding and mastery. Mastery isn't just about knowing the levels and the enemies, but knowing your own character's strengths and weaknesses. Knowing when to fight and when to run. Knowing when not to go into a certain part of the world just as much as knowing when you should.
In the first part of Bloodborne, you've got two main pathways to go: toward two different bosses. One is hard, but beatable. The other is nigh impossible in the early stages of character development.
Again, maybe I'm not very good at games.
This is "the hunt." Bloodborne says you're a hunter, destroying the beasts that plague Yharnam. A hunter who should know better than to shoot a grizzly with a Derringer.
Instead of pushing me down, Bloodborne forces me to play smarter. And it doesn't make me feel like a jerk when I don't. I don't know if I'm good enough for Bloodborne, but I'm trying to be.