Right now I’m sitting in my hotel room on the 10th floor of a little hotel in Shinjuku, looking out of the window at the twin towers of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government office, and my butt hurts.
I’m not talking about my physical buttocks, but about my ego. I’m not a pro Souls player, but I can handle myself. The alpha/demo level of Bloodborne ended up being pretty easy for me after a lot of practice.
Just a few hours ago (even if you will read this next week due to the preview embargo) I was at the From Software HQ, sitting in front of a large screen as my hunter was repeatedly murdered in the first (and supposedly easiest) Chalice Dungeon.
I’ve been killed so many times and in so many ways that I lost count. The Chalice Dungeon revealed itself much more challenging than the area we played before.
As I’m sitting here, I ask myself “I have been writing about this kind of stuff for seventeen years. I play games since the age of six, which means it’s been 31 years since my first adventures on the Spectrum 48K. Am I not supposed to be good at this?”
The answer is yes. The problem is that I’m not good enough, yet.
But let’s go with order. The game looks absolutely spectacular. While it’s not The Order: 1886 due to the obvious open nature of the title, it’s definitely the most visually fetching title From Software has ever made.
That’s not only due to resolution, shaders, lighting and assorted visual galore, but mostly due to an extremely consistent and charming art direction.
I know it sounds weird to define “charming” something that is supposed to be terrifying, but while the designs themselves nail horror quite perfectly, it’s hard not to be enthralled by the intricate decorations and by the crazy level of detail.
Animations are another very strong point of the game. Not only they are extremely well designed, but they have a direct effect on gameplay, on multiple levels.
First of all, they pace your attacks. Before attacking again, you have to wait for the previous animation to be completed. The work of the animators does a great job in giving just the perfect clue on when it’s time to attack next, or to retreat to avoid being smashed. They also convey very effectively the sense of heft of the various weapons.
The best part, though, is what was done with the enemies, and even more so with the bosses. Not only they look scary, but they move in a scary way. Every limb communicates a single, frighteningly clear idea: “I’m going to smash your face into the ground if you just dare to get too close.”
I can’t count the times in which I failed to take advantage of an opening because I was utterly intimidated by the way the enemy moved, and I saw that happen a lot to others as well.
Even after gauging a boss’ pace, I couldn’t shake off the disturbing sensation that he would just turn around and make mincemeat out of me every time I dared to press the attack button, and that influenced my performance massively.
On the downside, while the frame rate seems to be pretty stable across the board, I noticed a few dips here and there during crowded scenes. Keep in mind that this is just my naked-eye impression. I had no tools to measure frame rate, and honestly I was too busy trying (and failing) to stay alive to pay it overwhelming attention.
Music and sound design are also absolutely fantastic. Especially the orchestral soundtrack, for what I was given to hear, was really eerie and satisfying.
But let’s get back to gameplay. The Chalice Dungeon I was allowed to try is apparently the very first you can create with the first basic chalice you find. It was divided in three levels, each with a boss at the end. Each boss room required to be unlocked with a level, that had to be found through exploration.
The final boss was the Watch Dog of the Old Lords which was introduced at PlayStation Experience, and it proved absolutely unbeatable in the time we were given. Even the Undead Giant that served as the first boss was hard as nails, with powerful, sweeping attacks that can prove very difficult to avoid, unless you get the timing down almost perfectly.
Don’t get overconfident if you get behind him, because he will turn around extremely quickly and smash you into the floor.
Even the normal enemies proved quite deadly, especially combined with environmental traps that tend to be placed exactly in the places where they’ll cause you the most trouble as you try to traverse a small bridge while a grotesque being is throwing poisoned knives at you from the other end.
I even got to see the Chime Maiden, that would normally summon other players to come and wipe the floor with me, and she’s far from defenseless, as she will also summon AI controlled enemies to protect herself.
While most enemies were very difficult to overcome, make no mistake, this is pretty much a Souls game, and like in other Souls games, the enemies are fair. When they cut you to tiny stripes, you’ll know exactly what you did wrong, and if you’re better than I am (which is very possible), you might even correct your course faster than I did.
The good news are that the control scheme is relatively familiar if you’re a veteran Souls player, and that will make you feel right at home. The bad news (but maybe they’re actually good) are that everything is faster and at least apparently smarter, and this will force you to re-learn quite a few tricks.
Speed runs also don’t seem to be an option like they were in the alpha/demo, as the enemies simply won’t let you go. Once they smell you, they’ll want your blood, and trying to skip too much will cause you to be overwhelmed pretty quickly. You can avoid some, but most of the times you’ll have to stay and fight for your life.
The only new weapon I was given a chance to try compared to the alpha was the threaded cane, and boy, that was a fun one to use. It’s very fast when retracted and has an enormous reach when extended. Despite coming with the same basic concept, it felt definitely unique in its pacing and style compared to the saw-cleaver.
The aggressive regeneration mechanic implemented in the game is the real clincher for me. It’s a lot more rewarding and satisfying than the turtling encouraged by previous Souls games.
If you don’t learn to retaliate timely, and this will really test your skills, just relying on blood vials to heal-up will cause you to run out rather fast, resulting in a near-inevitable demise.
While I came home with my pride in tatters, don’t think I didn’t have fun. As a matter of fact I had a lot of fun. Not only while playing, but also while watching others play.
Just imagine a bunch of journalists cheering for those playing, sitting at the edge of their chairs and cursing at each death, or every time someone got way too close to success, but got mauled right at the end, and you’ll have a good idea of what I saw today.
I can definitely tell you that it’s not a scene I see often at this kind of preview event, and it could turn Bloodborne in quite the social attraction at gaming parties.
Ultimately, I’m butthurt. Very butthurt… in the most fun way possible. Japan is a lot of fun, and when I’m here I’d never want to go home…
Yet, this time around, my review copy will be waiting for me back in Italy, and I want my revenge, Bloodborne. I want it, and I shall have it.