For all of Dark Souls developer From Software's talk about Bloodborne being opened up to a "wider audience" than its spiritual predecessors, and the gameplay concessions to less experienced players that would entail, it sure as hell doesn't look like this game is going to be easy. The perpetual twilight of Bloodborne's gothic-inspired world is as dark as they come, and its enemies as vicious and twisted as anything to have come out of Dark Souls. No, when From Software talks about bringing the game to a wider audience, decreasing the difficulty isn't what it has in mind. Instead, sensible and much needed tweaks are being brought in, which--even for veteran Dark Souls and Demon's Souls players--make a whole lot of sense.
Take your item selection, for example. Health items are given an extra, permanent slot alongside your other two item choices, which From Software says is a result of seeing most players use one of their slots for a health item in its previous games. Now, they're permanently bound to the triangle button for easy access. This ensures the other slots will be filled with more offensive items, a change that From Software is using to experiment with more effective item combinations. Want to give that molotov cocktail an extra kick? Check a vile of oil over your enemies first, and watch them go up in a seriously explosive set of flames.
Alongside your item selections and ammo count are your health and stamina bars, and it's here where From Software has made another tweak, in order to encourage a more aggressive, less defensive style of play. That tweak is called the regain system. As you receive damage from enemies, your health goes down. If you played defensively and backed off, that health would be lost forever. But in Bloodborne, you can actually claw that health back by launching a well-timed counter attack. A yellow bar that appears beside an enemy after the land a hit works as a timer: get in a counter attack before it disappears and your health is restored.
The system doesn't really make counterattacks any easier to perform, but simply gives you far more of an incentive to perform them. There is one concession to accessibility some players might not like, though, in that you don't necessarily have to attack the same enemy that hit you. Land an attack on any enemy before the yellow bar runs down and you regain your lost health. Still, From Software is adamant that despite encouraging a more aggressive playing style, the combat is "still about strategy" and not about transforming the game into an "exaggerated hack 'n' slash."
To demonstrate, I was shown another area of the game, this time set in a creepy graveyard. The enemies inside were fast and vicious, attacking with swift sword swipes and fast dashes. In a large group, I could easily seem them overwhelming a player. But they, like all enemies in Bloodborne, have a weakness; the challenge is to find it. In this case, the enemies were ghastly old ladies, and old ladies don't tend to have the strongest of bones. So, by rolling into them first, they would stumble, leaving an opening for attack.
It's a simple example, for sure, but From Software claimed that there would be other, more taxing weaknesses to find later in the game. Other combat reveals from the demo included two new transforming weapons, which sat alongside the already revealed Soul Cleaver: the anti-beast axe and a type of stake weapon. The axe had the ability to change from a long, two-handed operation form, to a shorter one-handed operation form, letting you wield it alongside another weapon. What's cool is that you're able to transform the axe mid attack, laying down some shorter, swifter attacks to stumble an enemy before unleashing a mighty two-handed swing to finish them off.
The stake weapon was a more complicated affair, something From Software claimed would only really be used by the "most experienced of players." It had the ability to unleash massively devastating explosive attacks, but needed a lot of time to charge up to do so. Getting the timing just right was key, and while the experienced players in the demo were able to use it, From Software weren't convinced the average player could. In fact, the developer didn't include it in the public build of the game at Gamescom for that very reason. It even knocked down the difficulty in that demo too, just so it could be certain people would reach the end.
But the final game should be as fiendishly difficult as From Software's others, at least if the developer's "pushed to very limits of difficulty" comments during the demo are to be believed. Certainly, the small tweaks shown in the demo were welcome ones, including the move to encourage more combat via the regain system. Oh, and did I mention the whole thing looks absolutely gorgeous? Bloodborne is up there as one of the most visually impressive upcoming games on the PS4, and certainly one of the bloodiest too.See more coverage of Gamescom 2014