I approach every unexplored corner in Bloodborne’s ruined, eldritch universe with an embarrassing level of caution. It feels unnatural to approach a game world like this, after the power fantasies of action games, MMOs, and shooters have taught me that in most cases I’m a lesser deity, if not a god. “Save your caution for the boss fights,” they say. “Even if you somehow die, you passed a checkpoint only 30 seconds ago.”
In Bloodborne, like the Souls games before it, even a plague-ridden, slow-moving villager with a pitchfork could spell my end, if I’m not careful. And any death can mean a serious loss of experience – the currency, not the knowledge.
That’s why I find myself plodding into new districts of Yarnham at a careful, walking pace, torch in one hand and an electrified mace in the other. To move like this enhances the sense of exploration. I’m easing into uncharted territory, the only guarantee being that, whatever I find in this tomb, or forest, or ancient academy, it will most definitely want to kill me.
And yet, for all the caution, the careful steps I take into each new potential bloodbath, the game transforms into a rapid-fire masterpiece of precision combat as soon as I encounter a threat. When they first announced Bloodborne wouldn’t have shields like the Souls games before it, I didn’t know what to think. I knew people had played through Dark Souls wielding massive 2-handers the whole game, never bothering to hide behind a shield, but I’d never been so brave. Shields, to me, were a quintessential part of the Souls experience. They let me control the pace of a fight, hiding behind a barrier until I’d learned an enemy’s move set, waiting for their strikes to bounce harmlessly off my gleaming shield before I countered. With shields absent (minus one shitty exception) Bloodborne offers another form of control: speed.
My hunter’s swift sidestepping is so much more satisfying, and powerful, than the clumsy rolling of Souls. Instead of holding up my shield to withstand a mighty blow, it’s a simple matter of timing for my hunter to dodge right past it and get in a few strikes from the side.
This change in combat lends itself to a constant pendulum swing between creeping dread and brutal, fast-paced combat, more similar to a traditional horror game than I’d say the Souls games are. It’s a weird feeling I get when I think about playing Bloodborne: I feel a hesitation, a pit of dread sitting heavy in the stomach, but at the same time I’m so, so curious to explore and see what horrifying thing I’ll find next.