Bloodborne is the first Souls game I’ve played, and it represents a wholly different experience from other games I’ve played the past few years. Below I’ll summarize some quick thoughts I have after my first playthrough.
Much has been said about the game’s high difficulty, but to be honest I don’t think that’s why Bloodborne is unique. Diablo 3‘s randomly-generated elite mobs sometimes created extremely difficult ability combinations that created a lot of player frustration – these mobs were certainly hard, but the frustration came from not their random-difficulty but rather the lack of tools to deal with them. In contrast, Bloodborne is difficult because it ruthlessly punishes reckless play and mistakes, but it is also “easy” when you pick the right strategy and have honed your execution to a certain level of competency. Most of the times when I died, I only had myself to blame (“yep, got too greedy / cocky there”), but there was a minority of cases where I felt the game to be unfair (the design of certain enemies that I felt were too punishing, or when I felt I actually executed a parry but the game thinks otherwise).
The other unique thing about this game IMO is how it gives players a sense of progression. The industry convention nowadays is to track progression with leveling – again, Diablo 3 is a prime example (and executed quite well – as you level up you gained stats but also unlocked new abilities, which overall offered a “smooth” learning curve, spiced up gameplay, and provided things to look forward to), and certainly the dime-a-dozen mobile card battle games are entirely based on stats growth. Bloodborne does something very different – while there are certainly progression mechanics such as leveling up your weapons and your stats (and they matter a lot still), the real progression I felt (especially in the first 5-10 hours) was mastery of my character / weapons as well as combat tactics against specific enemies. It felt incredibly rewarding to be able to consistently clear an area where a few hours ago I was struggling to even deal with a couple of enemies – leveling up stats and weapons certainly makes this easier (and is a legitimate route to reduce the difficulty if I felt stuck on something), but the bulk of the progression came through learning and mastery. What I also liked is how the different weapons really had different personalities and facilitated a wide range of playstyles – I could cruise through a lot of the game on my trusted hunter-axe, but on another weapon (even at the same powerlevel) I felt like a completely noob.
Thirdly, I did develop a deep appreciation for Bloodborne‘s level design. It is incredibly well thought-out, and complements the gameplay well – finding and unlocking the many “shortcuts” designed in the world serves as great points to “base” (and hence helps with pacing) and gives another way of measuring progression. And the sense of connected-ness made the immersion deeper – it felt like a real world I was exploring, not a series of levels I was fighting through.
If I had any gripes about the game, I’d say that the final act of the game is not as interesting / strong as the earlier sections. I wasn’t particularly impressed with the latter stage boss fights (I thought some of the optional areas and bosses were truly spectacular, and got stuck on a few). The other annoyance is camera control – I felt it was subpar especially in tight areas (say a narrow corridor), and contributed to a lot of frustration in particular areas of the world.