Incremental Progress

I’m playing Bloodborne with Kodra, which is a kind of self-flagellation that I generally reserve for your more serious sort of monastery rather than my living room. Still, losing this badly to a video game is an experience best shared, and to our credit we’re making slow but steady progress.

Incremental Progress

Like its Souls predecessors, Bloodborne is brutal, unrelenting, and utterly fair. It’s satisfying in a way that few games are, because you genuinely feel like some of the things you fight are impossible until you beat them and realize they’re beatable. I rarely feel like I’m fighting the controls in the game, and the enemies are numerous and varied but all message pretty well. It makes me pay attention to things I normally leave to the UI– watching the angle of attacks, watching enemy animations, watching the game, rather than a hotbar or an addon or a warning message or what have you. You run into these big, hulking person-shaped monsters pretty early on, and while the first time we ran into them we died horribly, the second time I was able to pay attention to their movements and figure out how to simply not be where they were striking.

It genuinely feels like I’m developing skill as I play the game, and part of it is perception, which I like a lot. I can get better at the game just by watching how enemies fight, so even if I lose, I learn– and I lose a lot. It’s worth noting that we’ve played for probably ten or twelve hours at this point and we haven’t beaten any bosses. We’re not great at this game, and neither of us have played much of the previous ones.

It’s still a great couch co-op game, in the sense that we trade off each time we die, or (more recently) sometimes when we’re looking at an enemy that one of us is better at fighting than the other. With our powers combined, we’re almost a single competent player, it’s awesome. One thing I’ve noticed is that the game rewards boldness a lot more than the previous ones. My previous experience with Demon’s Souls was hiding behind a shield and moving through the world in fear, very defensively. Bloodborne rewards me for acting boldly, dashing through that group of enemies and going back into the fight when I take a hit rather than hiding in a corner to lick my wounds and heal.

I also really like the little notes that are left around. Seeing other players try to string together warnings with the limited word/phrase selection is fantastic, and we’ve gotten quite a number of handy hints from them. It makes the whole game feel like a shared experience, and the blend of pre-emptively helpful (“reeks of trap!” and “remember hidden path”) and post-tragedy frustration (“vile crows” and “alas, ambush”) messages are often really funny. I think my favorite so far is, at the edge of a fatal-looking drop, simply “time for common sense”.

There’s something I love about people getting creative with heavily constrained communication. The ‘helpful’ messages littered throughout Bloodborne and the Souls games would be nowhere near as fun if players could simply type things out. Instead, the strict, limited word selection and short length makes for some delightful moments, especially when you run into a note that you know is trying to tell you something important, but you have no idea what it’s trying to say. Sometimes messages are just trolling you, but you’re not sure how until later.

The best note I’ve seen isn’t actually in Bloodborne– it was in Demon’s Souls. At the center of a bridge, filled with enemies and that a dragon would continually fly over and breathe fire on, there was a note. It wasn’t reachable for ages– you had to kill the dragon or otherwise be rid of it before you could stand on the part of the bridge where the note was, and I remember running past it but not being able to stop and read it maybe twenty times before finally getting a chance. I finally defeated the dragon, made the long trip back to that one bridge, fought all the enemies on it, and, curiosity burning, went to check the note that it had taken me nearly a week to reach and reveal.

It read, bright and cheerfully, “Hi!”

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