The Chalice Dungeon spawns fresh horrors for Souls fans
Some fans have called FromSoftware president Hidetaka Miyazaki’s latest a spiritual successor to Demon’s Souls, the progenitor of the Souls bloodline. Granted,
Bloodborne boasts a visual repertoire more akin to the Gothic climes of Boletaria than Drangleic or Lordran, but the truth is that Yharnam is further removed from any of these lands than is first apparent.
Take the procedurally generated Chalice Dungeon, which augments the very nature of
Souls. Deep beneath the ten areas of the main game’s location lies a sprawling, three-tiered lair of tricks and traps. But each hunter that completes a ritual and enters it will come across an entirely different dungeon, one individually created for them, from the layout of rooms to enemy placement. You will be able to attempt a single generated dungeon again and again until it is mastered, but with dungeons shareable between friends, there’s a potentially vast number of unknown scenarios to contend with.
Souls up until now has been all about observation dispelling obfuscation. There’s no keener edge to take into a fight with a giant spider than the accrued knowledge of several failures. But where the collective mass of explorers once nibbled away at the series’ secrets, the Chalice Dungeon returns the emphasis to empirical discovery. There will be no step-by-step walkthroughs online to ease your path here, but rather an ongoing conversation between groups about how to best their own personal challenges.
Still, combat is the most momentous difference inherent in Bloodborne’s lifeblood. Playing through the alpha build of the game, we come across a crowd of milling enemy townspeople, standing around a crucified personage upon a street-filling pyre. Our
Souls instinct tells us to back off, pull a few of them over, and then steadily thin them out while backpedalling. We fail. Of course we do. Multiple times. Our eventual success comes from diving in blade first.
Combat here is much more about reacting in the moment, and the gun you carry around in your left hand is a prime reminder of this. There are no shields in Bloodborne, but wait until an enemy is in the middle of an attack before you blast them with buckshot and a well-timed blow will trigger a familiar sound effect, creating a moment of opportunity. It’s a shield that only lets you parry, and only as often as you have bullets in the chamber.
The Regain system only amplifies the need to get stuck in. It’s expected that you’ll take damage while exploring Yharnam, but as a game Bloodborne is more concerned with how you react when the situation goes south than the inevitability of it doing so. Take a hit and the Souls veteran must battle the instinct to withdraw, since you can win some of your health bar back by getting a strike in on the offending enemy within a certain amount of time. It’s immensely satisfying to do so, and imbues every confrontation with a do or die – mainly die –sensibility.
All that said, a spot of preemptive loadout tinkering appears to still be an important part of Bloodborne, especially in multiplayer. And Chalice Dungeons can be played through together, too. At times during our live demo of the latter, it even appears as though designs of some enemies and areas are geared explicitly towards co-op. One particular enemy, a lurking giant, meanders through a swamp and is most potently affected by larger stunning weapons. Head into the dungeon with a Dexterity build and he’ll smash you into charred bits with his fiery sword (especially brutal since the sludge you’re standing in is flammable). The solution we see is a white-clad Hunter with a stupendously sized hammer breaking the giant’s swings while a slighter partner gets a few critical hits in around the back.
So while undoubtedly tapping into the gene pool of its previous titles, FromSoftware is clearly looking to create a new strain in
Bloodborne, refreshing a formula that has supported countless hours of play. The Chalice Dungeons, and how easy it is to discern the procedurally drawn blueprints at work to construct them, may well be key. Well, that and your ability to stay alive long enough to savour them. Regardless, the promise inherent in all this – that there will forever be a corner of this world you haven’t yet picked clean – is tantalising.
BELOW Even in the timegated space of the demo we were able to play through, the variety in the enemies was considerable. Not only in an aesthetic way, but in that recognisably Souls ‘How do I solve the puzzle of this one?” fashion
LEFT Get up close to enemies – something that combat regularly forces you to do – and you’ll be able to admire the artistry that threads through their design
Multiplayer proves just as mystifying an aspect of
Bloodborne as it was in the Souls games. We do know that a pair of bells in your inventory will allow you to join or host a co-op session
The narrative setup is a familiar one: your player hunter enters Yharnam on a quest for a cure for a mysterious plague