Five Reasons Why Bloodborne Probably Isn’t a Perfect Game.
Not that this is any big secret, but I’m mostly on board with the Souls series From Software has been pumping out over the last few years. While, upon revisiting it, Demon’s Souls probably would have been better off staying a King’s Field game and really isn’t as good as it could have been structurally, Dark Souls is a testament to everything From Software is really capable of when they’re firing on all cylinders. Dark Souls II wasn’t a great follow-up, sadly, as the changes made to the game were universally laterally acceptable at best (Estus Flask Generation) and actively terrible at worst (literally everything else they changed), but it was still fine in the way we wanted it to be. Hell, the games are doing so well, and are generally so well received, that we’re getting a next-gen version of Dark Souls II, dubbed Scholar of the First Sin, with all the DLC added in and (presumably) other stuff, and that’ll almost certainly sell like crazy even though we already bought it once.
The big story, of course, has nothing to do with Dark Souls, but rather its most recent Sony-backed offshoot, Bloodborne, which is basically the child of a drunken one-night-stand between the Souls series and Ninja Gaiden. The game has sold like gangbusters on launch, and so far holds a 93 on Metacritic out of seventy four reviews, at this point, eleven of which are perfect ten scores. Jesus Christ, Jim Sterling gave the game a perfect score. We love Bloodborne! Well, what’s not to love, right? It’s a big winner for Sony, one that combines the oppressive difficulty of the Souls franchise with a whole new intellectual property set in a quasi-old timey Steampunk London sort of setting, featuring all of the crazy stuff Dark Souls II wasn’t able to give us instead of dudes in armor. Not only that, the game looks absolutely amazing, and the IP is a stellar one, that has a lot more room to grow into something truly horrifying in comparison to the Souls franchise it’s technically a part of. Hell, by the time we get a second one (because given how well this one seems to be selling you can almost bet Sony will throw all the money at From for another one) they might actually even make a game that feels like it’s supposed to be Bloodborne, and not a hacked off Souls game, like the aforementioned Demon’s Souls felt too much like King’s Field.
As it stands though, speaking as someone who loves the franchise, Bloodborne isn’t even close to perfect. Here’s why.
The Game: Bloodborne.
Release Year:: This one; a couple of weeks ago in fact.
Metacritic Score:: It holds, as mentioned above, a 93% on Metacritic as of this writing, and holds a whopping eleven “perfect” scores out of seventy four reviews. The lowest score is an eighty, of which there are a couple, but so far there are less scores below 90% (eight) than there are “perfect” scores, so clearly, everyone loves the hell out of the game.
1.) Here’s your brand new game, now with less ways to play!
Generally speaking, the Souls franchise has been awesome up to this point because of several key reasons, but one of the more obvious ones is because it allows you to use the tools at your disposal however you want. Do you want to play as a hardy, tough-as-nails warrior with heavy armor, a ring to offset your equip load somewhat and a two-handed sword wielded in one hand? Go for it. Want to be a fast rogue who rolls like crazy and backstabs dudes while tearing them apart with quick weaponry? Knock yourself out. Want to be a spellcaster, raining down homing missiles or pyromantic bolts from afar? Please, help yourself. It’s that sheer variety that lets players really get into the game, and if I tell you my equipload from Dark Souls it’s almost certainly different from yours because we probably prioritized different things while we were playing that make our experiences unique. You can summon in all kinds of crazy players with weird gear and they generally get shit done regardless because they made their build a specific way on purpose, and it’s awesome.
Well, the good news is that you can totally do that in Bloodborne, so long as you want your play style to be “Dante,” anyway.
I mean, I’m perfectly fine with how Bloodborne plays because I like Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden, but what if you don’t? Well, sayeth From Software, fuck you, because you’re going to play our game our way, and if you don’t like it we don’t care. This is fine, speaking as someone who’s used to that thing, but speaking as someone who also stopped buying Armored Core games for that same reason, guess what? I don’t care how well the game sold or how well it scored, I honestly have not met a single person who thinks that “one style of play” is an improvement over “many styles of play,” and I know a good amount of Souls players. You’re entirely welcome to like this specific style of play if you want, but if you think this is in some way an improvement over Dark Souls you’re a crazy person.
2.) $60 gets you a prettier world, and less of everything else.
I absolutely love the world of Bloodborne, don’t get me wrong; it’s a horribly beautiful world full of steampunk horror that’s rendered in amazing detail, and it deserves to live on beyond this game. However, and this is a key point, I wish there was more of it. Sure, the game offers you “Chalice Dungeons,” which are essentially instanced dungeons akin to Diablo III’s end-game gimmick where they pasted together parts of other worlds to make places where you could grind for loot, but that’s not more content, that’s just more combat, which isn’t the same thing. Even then, Chalice Dungeons only offer so much to the player; if you want to take on challenging monsters and play PVP to the exclusion of all else, this might be fine, but by all indications the dungeons don’t scale to your NG+ level, and what do you really even get from them? Some more powerful weapon gems, though the best ones are in the most painful dungeons, a couple tools that are only marginally useful, and the same weapons you’d find normally, but with different gem slot arrangements, if… that’s a thing that matters to you.
The actual core game experience can be blown through in around forty hours if you’re skilled enough, frankly, and even if you aren’t, it’s not Dark Souls lengthy, or content-filled. That’s not an assertion I make blindly, either; if you look online at speed runs, the current Dark Souls record (sans kiln glitch) comes in from Kahmul78 at around 48 minutes after the game’s been available for multiple years, while Oginam’s current Bloodborne speed run as of this writing (without the item dup glitch) was also done in forty eight minutes two weeks after release, so the times can only go down from here. Even the all-boss speedruns are being done within comparable times, with Dark Souls at seventy eight minutes, and Bloodborne at eighty minutes, again, two weeks into release, so lord knows how much worse they’ll get once people really get the systems down pat (AKA they don’t spend ten minutes on Rom or Mikolash). As mentioned, there are far less combat options, but even counting the options you are presented there aren’t a huge amount either. Even with the Trick Weapon novelty, there are only a small handful of weapons to acquire throughout the game, which are easily dwarfed by the selection in prior Souls games, and while the customization options are novel, they don’t really fill in the gap. The same goes for attire, this game’s answer to armor, though the gap here is arguably worse, and don’t even get me started on accessories, because THERE ARE NONE (there ARE Caryll Runes, which are similar, but can’t be changed on the fly, are FAR less plentiful, and can’t even be USED until nearly halfway through the game). It’s fine when a game attempts to streamline the experience and eliminate clutter, especially if you have a hundred items where thirty will do, but the game doesn’t really fill that in with anything; there’s just a lot of missing content with nothing in its place. It doesn’t matter how pretty and interesting a game is, if you can point to its predecessor and say, “But for the same price we got all of this,” then it’s not really an improvement, and it doesn’t really justify the same price for less.
3.) Sticking Ninja Gaiden into Dark Souls doesn’t always work.
As I mentioned above, From Software generally tends to do better with the second game they make when they convert one of their concepts into another one. Shadow Tower, for example, was fine, but Shadow Tower: Abyss made the experience more than just “King’s Field underground”… assuming you had a translation guide. Demon’s Souls was good for what it was, but it was clearly a King’s Field game in new, ill-fitting clothes, and much of the oppressive difficulty in that game comes from that uncertainty of how to make everything fit. Dark Souls does a much better job of tying those concepts together, and while it’s absolutely not a perfect game (basically everything wrong with that game can be summed up as “Blighttown”), it is (arguably) the best game in the Souls series to date. Bloodborne suffers from the same basic problem as Demon’s Souls, though to a different degree, as it’s essentially trying to turn a game that requires specific combat systems and mechanics into a totally different one, and there are several instances where you can see the developers using the same tools they used in Dark Souls, only this time they make the game annoying instead of challenging.
The reality is that, when this game works, it really works, but there are a lot of instances where the challenge in the game comes from its mechanics not working as intended as much as anything else. Late-game bosses with wide-open spaces to maneuver around them or easily exploited patterns generally seem to get where the game is trying to go, but human bosses are often a gigantic bitch to face down, and the first two bosses of the game are oppressive due to a combination of factors. It’s not even that they’re hard bosses specifically (though I would argue that Father Gascoigne is probably a bit much) so much as it is that they either exist in areas that punish players for using the tools they have or expect players to utilize tools that aren’t at all explained by the game. Consider, again, Dark Souls, whose first two bosses can be defeated by “falling on him and smashing his head open” (which the game explains) and “stabbing him in the junk a lot OR goading him into jumping off the edge,” respectively. Compare that to your first two bosses in Bloodborne, which can effectively be beaten through “a lot of Molotovs OR learning a stun system more or less on the spot,” and a boss that I’ve seen fifteen different tactics for, all of which the authors admit aren’t great. Meanwhile, the next four bosses you’ll likely face are essentially a cakewalk in comparison (and yes, the boss that heals herself is easier in this case) because you’ll have more room to maneuver and more chances to learn the nuances of the counter system.
The reality is, Demon’s Souls didn’t do a great job of integrating its mechanics into the actual game, but Dark Souls absolutely did, giving players full access to all their tools and taking away pieces each time to teach them how to adapt. Dark Souls 2, for all its flaws, did an even better job, by easing the player into the experience slowly (though it rarely ramped itself up to the extent its predecessors did). Bloodborne, on the other hand, starts the player off by stripping away the tactics they’d commonly use to force them to learn parrying and stunlocks, which would be fine if they worked in the same way as most of the normal Souls techniques. They don’t, though, and the whole experience ends up feeling needlessly underdeveloped, showcasing great ideas with minimal forethought to their execution. When everything works, it’s great, but when it doesn’t, look out below.
4.) We brought back the stuff from Demon’s Souls that literally nobody wanted.
I went back to Demon’s Souls recently to see how it held up in comparison to the three progeny it has spawned, and the short answer is “not great.” It’s still easily played if you’ve played Dark Souls to the point of absurdity within a recent span of time, but it’s also heavily focused on making the level up process lengthy as all get-out and forcing grinding upon the player in a lot of cases. One of the most annoying things the game does, though, is it focuses exclusively on renewable consumables, Grasses, which aren’t great for either school of thought. Diehard fans don’t care for the concept because you can basically carry as many as you can find and hold, so if you’re dedicated enough you can have healing items for days. Poor players don’t care for the concept because they can be used up by unskilled players quite quickly, leaving them to grind for more curatives before they can attempt to progress onward. It’s honestly a terrible system when the developer wants to encourage bashing your head against the wall until you get past something, and it’s something they rectified with the Dark Souls games via Estus Flasks, which replenish each time you visit a bonfire, at the cost of respawning the enemies around you. The message there is simple: get better, try again.
Guess which system Bloodborne went with.
Look, this is absolutely not a good mechanic, and the fact that if you search the associated Gamefaqs board for the word “farm,” several topics on how to farm for blood flasks come up kind of underscores that point. No one wants to farm for items unless they choose to, and having to farm for them after an especially tough boss battle isn’t fucking fun, it’s work. If I paid you $60 to work, at that point, I might as well just be actually working, since at least I get paid to do that. To put it another way, it’s one thing to make your game challenging, but when you put another level of annoyance between me and learning the mechanics of the game, that’s not challenging, that’s annoying, and more accurately, it’s boring as hell. A Souls game should never be boring, especially not one that’s getting high marks for its ambience, but here we are and there it is.
Oh, and memo to anyone who’s going to scroll down to the comments and annoyingly tell me “GIT GUD,” nobody cares dude; first, I did, and I still think it sucks, and second, if you have a constructive point, have at it, but otherwise you’re a troll.
5.) Oh yeah, and all of the bad tech stuff too.
Obviously Bloodborne is broken out of the box. Obviously. There has never been a Souls game that didn’t come in that condition, so assuming that this one would be any different would be silly at the best of times. They’ve already patched the game twice, one of which was almost certainly because there was an item duplication hack in the game, and another patch is almost certainly forthcoming to patch the Blood Echo generation hack people discovered recently. This really isn’t anything new or exciting, frankly. However, it does mean a lot considering that, y’know, people are handing out perfect scores to a game that is objectively flawed, especially when the fans knew it was going to be broken from day one. Here’s a list of my personal favorites that aren’t game-breaking hacks:
– Heavy loading when moving between the Hunter’s Dream and the real world, often taking as much as two minutes.
– Blood Echoes simply disappearing, or, alternately, moving to an enemy or a location that’s not even remotely near where the player died, which has happened to me a few times, including a sequence near the Chapel where my Echoes were attached to a giant statue monster when I’d died two areas away from it, or one where I died falling down a tower (on purpose, long story) and my Echoes were simply gone. (Aside: yes, I killed every enemy in the upper part of the tower, and none of them had them, and I dropped to the bottom and checked the enemies down there, and none of them had them either. No, I didn’t quit the game beforehand, and I didn’t even visit the Hunter’s Dream beforehand. They were just gone. It happens.)
– Blood Echoes being present, but taking several minutes to visibly load in the zone of death, meaning you basically have to leave the room and re-enter two or three times before they finally show up, which has happened at least three times.
– Backstabbing an active enemy from the front, somehow, which has happened five times so far,
– At least two NPC’s suiciding for no obvious reason, thus terminating their questlines early.
– At least three NPC’s glitching their questlines so they either complete an event far earlier than they should, disappear early and leave themselves inaccessible, or never move onto the next prompt, and
– At least two boss glitches, one of which involves kicking a boss out of the game world to beat it more or less instantly, and another that involves entering a boss zone by an alternate path and quitting the game to break the boss AI entirely.
Even with those, however, there are other issues that pop up that were either concentrated design choices/flaws, or simply glitches no one has thought to claim as such, that also pop up, such as:
– The inability to interact with the lantern to reset the world and your status without moving to the Hunter’s Dream.
– Further, the fact that you have to move to the Hunter’s Dream to do anything, meaning that everything from leveling to teleportation to basic functions like, again, replenishing consumables and health while renewing the game world requires a two minute process when in both Dark Souls games this was instant.
– Being able to beat on a dead enemy for a few seconds in its death animation to replenish lost health.
– Being able to stunlock some bosses with heavy weapons (Ludwig in particular) to kill them unmolested.
– Blood Echoes being lost forever if you quit to the title screen; if you lose Echoes because of your own failings that’s on you as a player, but if you lose your Echoes because you need to quit without retrieving them or, worse, because the game kicked you to the title screen (which does happen), that’s bad design, not the fault of the player.
– A boss AI glitch that basically renders bosses bone stupid if the game is left running for about half a day that’s attributed to a memory leak, which is such a specific and involved thing to patch that it might not even be worth it, and
– The exact same collision detection and hitbox issues we’ve been seeing since Demon’s Souls.
I mean, the game’s been out, what, two weeks? In two weeks we have a full page of known issues, and while I don’t expect reviewers to really acknowledge every single flaw (they don’t play like speedrunners do, who actively try to exploit things like this for faster times), the point is that there are almost certainly still another two pages of flaws to go if past history is any indication. If you can forgive the game those flaws, or you’re a speedrunner who appreciates them, that’s good, but one thing you can’t say about a game with a full page of technical glitches is that it’s a perfect game.
Look, I like Bloodborne as much as the next guy or gal, assuming they don’t like it more than I do, which is totally possible, but if we’re being honest, it’s at best the second-best game in the Souls series, and that’s only if you discount Demon’s Souls as a historical piece and analyze it only on its current mechanics. It’s fine if you love the game, but it’s astonishing to me how many people feel the need to shout down the fact that people are raising criticisms against the game by pointing out the fact that:
The game has an insane Metacritic score – because Dark Souls II is universally understood to be better than Dark Souls, since it has a higher score, right?
Quality is better than quantity – because people aren’t heavily leaning on the Chikage or Ludwig’s Holy Blade, or more or less ignoring things like the Tonitrus or Logarius’ Wheel, right?
The game isn’t a Souls game and shouldn’t be compared to them – because we should analyze all games in a vacuum and never compare things to other things they might be like, right?
The atmosphere is amazing – which cancels out everything else right?
Well, it’s… understood, but it doesn’t make the game better for it.
At the end of the day, if you love the game, you should, but you should also probably accept that the game is flawed as hell, will almost certainly be patched three more times in the next month, and probably shouldn’t live and die based on semi-randomized content that rewards you with more combat and marginally different weaponry, as opposed to actual content. If you’re okay with loving a game for its post-game content, or you’re a speedrunner who loves the challenge, or you’re just plain fine with the aesthetic of the game and don’t care about anything else, that’s good! You’re a fan, and you should love the things you love regardless of what anyone says. That said, when someone (like me) points out that the game is flawed and broken and probably not better than whatever their favorite Souls game happens to be (Dark Souls), your response should probably either be acceptance or debate, not putting your fingers in your ears and humming loudly, telling them they need to “git gud” or calling them a troll.
Bloodborne is fine, just flawed, and it’s absolutely not a perfect game. If you like it more than I do, you’re welcome to do this thing. If you think it’s good in spite of its flaws, that’s good on you. If you’re of the mindset that it’s the best exclusive game for the Playstation 4, you’re honestly probably right on the money in that assertion. If you think it’s the best game in the Souls series, the best game ever made, or basically perfect, though, well, you’re entitled to that opinion, but honestly, you’re probably giving it too much credit, and if you don’t agree, bully, but those of us who don’t agree aren’t any more “right” than you, and the sooner you accept that, the sooner you can get back to your Chalice runs or… whatever.