The game formerly known as Project Beast may not be a direct successor to the Souls titles, but it will no doubt appeal to that series’ fans. The similarities are undeniable: Bloodborne is a melee-focussed third-person action-RPG with a dark tone, high difficulty level, dodge rolls, and monstrous enemies. It also looks like it has a soul mechanic of some sort, and of course it's being co-developed by Souls studio From Software and directed by Demon's Souls and Dark Souls director Hidetaka Miyazaki.
It’s also looking pretty good so far.
Bloodborne is set in the ancient city of Yharnam, a dark and claustrophobic municipality whose wrought iron fences, spires, statues, gas lamps, smoking chimneys, and Gothic architecture evoke a darker Victorian-era London. It comes as no surprise, then, that the development team are big fans of H.P. Lovecraft. The game follows a nameless traveller who is seeking a cure for an affliction he has suffered – a curse of some sort, judging by the game’s debut trailer. Unfortunately for our protagonist, a mysterious illness is turning locals both human and animal into freakish creatures, and even those that remain are paranoid and violent.
The good news is that the player character is proficient with a saw cleaver – a one-handed bladed weapon whose length can be lengthened by folding out a saw-tooth extension, much in the same way one folds out a cutthroat razor. The selected mode impacts the weapon’s speed and range, as well the combos that are available to the player. In his off-hand, the nameless one holds a blunderbuss, but the developers are quick to assure us that ammo will be extremely limited, and that its fire rate will be extremely slow, so it is strictly a support weapon whose use must be rationed out.
Our demo takes place on a smoggy night in Yharnam, with a gang of surviving locals crucifying a werewolf-type creature before setting it alight. It quietly burns as the mob makes its way down the cobbled streets, but the city’s completely open nature and the lack of objective markers mean we can go any way we choose, from main routes, to cramped alleyways, or into buildings.
The first combat encounter we see betrays the game’s horror leanings. Blood sprays liberally with every successful hit, and our oversized zombie-style foes are quickly defeated, their pitchforks, hooks, and swords clattering to the ground. Further along, a large wooden door contorts as it is being struck with frightening force by an unseen creature on its other side. We pass up the opportunity to open it in favour of taking an alley to catch sight of what exactly is trying to break through: a towering hunchback whose head is level with the surrounding buildings’ second floors. What follows is a challenging fight made simple, as the developers admit the game’s difficulty has been turned down several notches so they can at get through the demo without dying too frequently. Again, the Souls games spring to mind as the hunchback – brick in hand – employs a series of charge attacks, the avoidance of which requires decent reflexes.
When the Goliath finally falls we head indoors, holstering the blunderbuss in favour of a torch to see our way in the darkness. A bit of tense exploration follows, before we head up a staircase and emerge outside in the middle of a large bridge wide enough for several horses and carriages to pass one another. At one end an NPC fights off a pair of giant hounds, and we’re told if we help him he might show up again later. However, we forsake him and instead head the other way, where three crows the size of small cars provide another challenging combat encounter. Then a shrieking has us spin around just in time to be charged by a 30 foot tall goat/human monstrosity, all antlers, bones, ribcage, and long, claw-like fingers. The demo ends before what seems like inevitable player death.
Bloodborne is a familiar-feeling title, although our excitement is elevated by its creepy setting, the promise of a day/night cycle, and its horror leanings. Several Souls-style games were on display at E3 this year, but for obvious reasons this one comes closest to capturing that series’ signature atmosphere and style. We won’t have to wait long to find out how successful it is either: Bloodborne has been in development for three years already, and is due out in early 2015 exclusively on PlayStation 4.