Blood­borne

The Chal­ice Dun­geon spawns fresh hor­rors for Souls fans

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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

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