We’re only a month away from the endless onslaught of Game of the Year awards. In a month, me and plenty of my friends and colleagues will be drafting up lists of our favourite games of the year, while also thinking ever so slightly less of the many people who don’t agree with us.
Before that happens though, I wanted to take a look back at some of the games I didn’t get the chance to talk about at the time for whatever reason.
These are not reviews, some of the games I haven’t played for months. They’re also not necessarily my Game of the Year™. They’re simply the games I found interesting (for better or for worse), but never really discussed when they came out.
My least favourite videogame of all time is Dark Souls. I hate almost everything about it, from the massive lack of checkpoints and the clunky as all hell combat, to the obtuse stats system and the often unfairly punishing level design; everything came together and resulted in the game being an experience I can’t describe in any other way than complete and total loathing. I utterly, utterly detest Dark Souls.
Going into Bloodborne, I expected to feel much the same way about it that I do Dark Souls. I was totally prepared to hate the lack of a pause function, and find an endless stream of numbers that make no sense, or wind up being killed simply because Bloodborne is still fundamentally a Souls game. What I found turned out to be the most fun I’ve had with a From Software game ever, and one of the biggest surprises I had this year in gaming.
Bloodborne differed from its Souls cousin in a few slight yet important ways. It was a much, much faster game than Souls, letting you dart all over the place more readily and get your attacks in more frequently. Weirdly, this speed made Bloodborne feel like a more forgiving game. Panicking, flailing, and thinking on the fly (often unsuccessfully) were a part of every encounter and the game expected you to make some input errors every now and then.
Where Souls needed laser-precise tactical thinking, Bloodborne was much more of a ‘go with your gut’ sort of game, and that alone made it a more enjoyable experience for me.
Another problem I had with Souls was the ridiculous distances you often had to go between a checkpoint and a boss encounter. Having to trek for minutes through hordes of difficult enemies, only to be killed by a boss a few seconds into the encounter and have to start that segment all over again, felt like an obnoxious and almost disrespectful waste of my time.
While Bloodborne did sometimes run into those same problems (the lead-up to the Cleric Beast early on in the game being a particularly annoying example that I remember), I noticed it was also more liberal with giving you interesting shortcuts that weren’t hidden in the arse end of nowhere.
This tighter level design compared to Souls meant having to fight your way back to a boss felt like it had a purpose, with exploration between point A and point B being more readily rewarded. Regaining ground lost in Dark Souls felt like being repeatedly kicked in the teeth, whereas in Bloodborne it felt like being encouraged to look at things from a different perspective.
One of the few things Souls did well was teasing the player with a deep, often hidden lore through character designs and the setting’s architecture, rather than through any of the game’s immediate events.
Bloodborne was a bit more direct in its storytelling, but that doesn’t mean the fantastic visual and enemy designs that tell their own story weren’t still present. Just stopping a moment to take a look around, or studying how the various bosses link into each other’s stories was incredibly rewarding to me.
Bloodborne’s Gothic Lovecraftian setting was used to great effect. Yharnam felt like a real place, with bands of hunters marching down the streets with torches and pitchforks, and terrified citizens cowering in their houses. This was a massive improvement over Dark Souls’ Lordran, which while great at telling a story did also sometimes feel a bit game-y, with enemies placed into the world like pieces on a chess board, just waiting for me to be killed repeatedly by them.
Ultimately, what I took away from Bloodborne was a realisation that the template From Software has used for their games since Demon Souls can work in a way that’s fun, challenging and rewarding, without being unfair or frustrating to play. Dark Souls was a bad game, but Bloodborne proved to me that it didn’t have to be a bad game. That’s a really reassuring thought with the “Soulsborne” series seemingly becoming an annual occurrence.
I could still do with a basic pause feature though. Playing for more than 20 minutes is murder on my wonky hands.