E3 2014: The Similarities and Differences Between Bloodborne and Dark Souls

Yes, PS4 exclusive Bloodborne looks like a Souls game. But in what way is it different?

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If you saw the announcement of From Software’s upcoming PS4 exclusive Bloodborne at the Sony E3 2014 press conference yesterday, then you probably thought the same thing I did: that this was a Souls game in everything but name. And after seeing the game in action today, I’m still of the same opinion, although it seems that Bloodborne won’t merely be a simple transposition of the successful Demon's/Dark Souls formula to a different environment. Bloodborne looks like it may be changing up the sometimes defensive-focused action of its progenitors, forcing you to become more offensive against its dangerous enemies.

First up, Bloodborne has no storyline ties to the Souls games, and has no link to those worlds apart from the fact that it’s being developed by From Software and directed by Hidetaka Miyazaki, who also oversaw both Demon's Souls and Dark Souls. Bloodborne takes place in a Victorian-era town called Yharnam, which, according to a post on the PlayStation blog from Sony Computer Entertainment Japan Studio producer Masaaki Yamagiwa, is a "terror-filled gothic world, a world full of deranged beings and nightmarish creatures."

The setting may be different to the medieval Souls series, but there are plenty of things that are highly reminiscent of both Demon's and Dark Souls. Everything from the way enemies hide around corners in ambush, or play dead until you walk right past them, to the way "souls" seem to flow out of a slain enemy into your body, or how your character hops backwards to avoid attacks, all looks very Souls. The game's structure also has shades of Dark Souls. In the demo I saw, the main character made his way around the narrow streets and bridges of Yharnam, taking on enemies in small groups and avoiding large gatherings. Eventually, the character was able to open up a shortcut that allowed him to access the area where he first began. While this is certainly more reminiscent of Dark Souls, game director Miyazaki did say that the overall layout of the game would be more akin to that of Demon's Souls.

What did look different, however, was combat. The character in Bloodborne wields both a melee weapon and a gun at the same time. In this demo I saw, he had a mean-looking weapon called a saw cleaver in one hand, and a blunderbuss in the other. The saw cleaver could transform on the fly--its compact form seemed to allow for quicker swings, but when extended, it seemed to swing slower but deal more damage.

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This translated to a faster combat feel in this Bloodborne demo, or certainly faster than most shield-wielding characters in a Souls game can muster. The character in Bloodborne often had to get in close to enemies, blasting them with the blunderbuss before following up with a swing from the saw cleaver. In fact, game director Miyazaki says making players more proactive in combat is one of the key things the team wants to introduce in Bloodborne, a deliberate move away from the defensive engagement he saw many players who played with sword and shield in previous Souls games relied on. In fact, Miyazaki said players who play passively in Bloodborne would be "overwhelmed", and that they needed to be aggressive at most times.

With aggression comes more death, however, but there may be some relief in that regard (or at the very least some changes). Miyazaki said that while the penalties for dying in Bloodborne had not been finalised yet, he did want the death penalty to be "not too severe this time".

The Bloodborne demo ended with a large boss fight against a towering, emaciated creature with long straggly fur and an exposed chest cavity. It looked tough to beat, which for any Souls fans, is great to hear. How the game's greater focus on aggression and its changes to death penalties will affect the crushing, oppressive, and demanding feel of a Souls game remains to be seen, but there's one thing that's clear about Bloodborne even at this early stage: it's building off a solid base, and I'm excited to see more.

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