It's appropriate that the first game I got to see at my very first E3 was the newly announced Bloodborne. After numerous leaks, teasers, and an amazing CG trailer at Sony's press conference Monday night, I was shocked to see a booth dedicated to a ten minute hands-off demo. Right away, Hidetaka Miyazaki's influence permeates the environment and tone. The Demon's and Dark Souls director chose to take his vision into a new era inspired by 19th century London. Top hats, fancy trousers and intricate carriages are all the rage, but this still feels like a dark fantasy straight out of the twisted director's nightmare.
The main character during our demonstration wore a striking leather trench coat and hat, obfuscating any sense of whether or not players will be able to fully customize their avatar. Our presenter commented on the desire to show off new weapons, and it's hard to argue with a shotgun and extending butcher knife. The curved knife starts as a short range armament capable of quick slashes, but the extended variant allows for stronger sweeping attacks. This proved necessary, as there are far more enemies present than any of the previous Souls titles. Torch-wielding villagers quickly swarmed our dapper hero, forcing him to dodge and evade the onslaught. Combat appears faster-paced than the previous Miyazaki games. The player can rapidly dodge backwards and swoop around the world without having to rely on rolls. It remains to be seen whether or not players can use a shield in their off hand, but watching a shotgun blast stun an enemy for a devastating riposte animation (complete with that oh-so-important Dark Souls audio cue) left me more than satisfied. The fact that combat is faster shouldn't worry fans too much, as our presenter commented that the demo driver would have been long dead without his console enabled invincibility to keep him alive.
The From Software penchant for nightmarish worlds and creepy monster design addresses some gamers' complaints that Dark Souls II went with a greater emphasis on high fantasy. Dingy streets, twisted trees, intricate statues and an overall dark emphasis make Bloodborne almost feel like a horror game. Enemies quickly pounced and ambushed our less than methodical hero, planting swords and knives in his backside. And, dear God, there is so much blood! Given the title of From Software's latest and the emphasis of the trailer, it would appear that the life-giving fuel is front and center in the mind of Miyazaki. Blood ran down the protagonist's clothes, coated the ground, and gushed violently with each and every attack. It certainly fits the style of this creepy world, but it remains to be seen if it serves any unique gameplay purpose.
With no heads-up display to tell exactly what was going on during the demo, it was kind of hard to fully describe all of the actions available to the player. The hero can, apparently, heal themselves by sticking a syringe-like object into their thigh. Running seemed to drain an invisible stamina meter, as the character stopped in a very Dark Souls-like fashion that fans know well. Several corpses emitted a light glow, allowing the player to pick up something (maybe bullets or herbs). And, yes, it appears that the player earns souls or... something each and every time they kill an enemy. The signature "whoosh" of collected souls had me nodding my head in knowing approval. The player swapped the shotgun for a torch in one darkly lit area, showing off a very impressive lighting system that never fully materialized in Dark Souls II.
Two monster encounters stand out in my mind amidst the grime and almost palpable sense of dread in Bloodborne. A group of crows feasting on a collection of corpses swarmed the player, but only after he/she chose to engage them. Earlier in the demo, a collection of defiled villagers processed down the street in a deadly mob, and the player could choose to engage them directly or circumnavigate the situation. Giving the player multiple pathways is a Souls hallmark, but perhaps enemies aren't necessarily stapled to the same starting area each and every time. The possibilities for new and exciting encounters has me devilishly curious.
The gameplay demo concluded with a boss that can't really be described in words so much as emotions. Yes, it had a bull-like skull for a head and monstrous body covered in fur, but the screams and quick movements reminded me of Manus from the expansion for Dark Souls. It leapt and clawed at the player in an antagonistic fashion reminiscent of a terrifying fever dream.
It would be easy to describe Bloodborne as another Souls game, and it does appear to have more than a little in common with Miyazaki's previous work. Yet there seem to be a great number of new ideas and advancements to the proven formula. Questions, of course, remain. Just how varied are the rest of the areas? How is multiplayer integrated into the experience (if at all)? Our presenter promised there were additional weapons to be found and played with, leaving me hopeful that a high level of replayability and player agency will be present. With a release date, amazingly, scheduled for spring 2015, I expect we'll see a lot more of Bloodborne's particularly brand of nightmarish action very soon. Sleep tight...