I am coming at this game, officially “Souls-averse”. Meaning that as much as I want to exude love for the Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls games, their mechanics are positively abrasive to my flippant adventurous nature. It seems, I’m all about the heroic super-powered nature of playing through console RPG’s. When any deliberate mechanism gets in the way of this vanity soaked adrenalin rush and spoils the heroic feel of it all, I begin to lose interest, fast.
The thing is, my inquisitive taste for something new ALWAYS wants to taste it. I can’t help myself. The FROM Software lot, who I seem to remember had a fondness for Mechs years ago, package a good hype. They create worlds and games within where I want to be. Beautifully crafted fantasy landscapes, castles and dungeons. Places I was borne to be.
They create a mythical cast of characters, with subtle storylines that you have to uncover, with no obvious signposts. They have shiny armour and medieval weapons of torture. And grotesques, stalking the shadows around you. Essentially an ideal canvas upon which to paint an epic heroic tale for a eager adventurer such as myself to play in.
Not only do they craft this world, but they also add mulitplayer nuances that are really unique and creative. With mechanisms to pull in helpers and even be invaded by wrong-doers, the ones to chastise strongly and get a whiff of the feel-good factor for your hero.
However, all is not well in this labyrinth of pain. This experience is set out to teach you a valuable lesson or two. To punish you badly for your casual mistakes. To coax you into rethinking your path and your strategy at every turn. This is no place for wanton heroics, and liberal use of the attack buttons on your controller. This is no potion chugging lounge where you can out-drink your damage, and carry on. This is a place of pain and torment. REAL torment.
Bloodborne takes the Souls Mythos and adds a touch of Van Helsing and Cthulhu. They’ve taken away your shield. They don’t want you to be slow and defensive, and all mechanics are geared towards you dominating the attack vector, swift and certain. A blunderbuss or pistol firearm replaces your defensive mechanism, for one of staggering, distracting and allowing a visceral attack to poke into the enemies shambling maw.
You are teased with the ability to be a Victorian Steampunk Vampire hunting pirate. In a gloriously (or gore-iously) realised nightmare.
But the participation in this world comes at a price. A heavy one.One which many, many players are only too happy to pay. I am one of those who resent to toll. My adventuring psyche is not built on “trial and error” based punishment.
So I struggle to make any headway. I clamour at the uphill struggle presented in the opening moments of the game. Where you have to accept death, to be borne again into a school of death and loss. Discovery doesn’t seem to be a moment of wonder, but more a tainted moment of terror. Every noise another instance of loss, and set-back. Every new turn of the corner is another surprise ambush, by something out of your experience.
Mechanics for obtaining obtuse game information online from kind souls, writing cryptic clues on notes presented in boiling skull piles and blood pools on the floor. Unearthing multiplayer aspects that require investment to setup, and (usually) promote grouping with utter anonymous strangers over more considerate friends just baffles me as a western action RPG player. Desperately hoping the non-negotiable difficulty curve can be overcome by co-operative intervention.
All of the above eats away at my Soul as I try to play. I try to enjoy the beatdowns. I try to fumble with the specific unforgiving controls. I simply try to feel heroic and to live up to a character that I build in this high definition world of fantasy based punishment.
However, I have enough online friends to ask for a perspective change. I need to bend my western RPG expectations over and onto their head. The goal here is to learn the lessons the game is designed to teach you. To accept the story as is, raw and beaten into you. Every single action you make is laced with consequence. Every step into new territory a threat. You are not the super hero you fantasize about automatically, but you can be, if you take tutelage from the games subtle mechanics.
Meanwhile, I take solace in the support of my peers, who seem to just “grok” the whole system from the first game in the series to this one. These titles are revered world-wide, and there is something to be learned from them. Something exquisite and well designed, without being overly obvious. Your emotions are being played with. Your skills are being tested. But it is also a lesson. In the future of gaming. No longer a simple button mashing ride of exhiliaration. Now, accomplishment means something.
I am in peril.