Bloodborne: Debating Innovation and Franchise Building
How much should From Software change, if anything should change at all?
Like many individuals, I was curious about From Software’s Bloodborne. A long time ago, I wrote about how games like Demon’s Souls deserved to have sequels since they introduced an old-school style of gameplay wrapped up in an appealing – but none too forgiving – contemporary package. They allowed us to experience an age of gaming where everything wasn’t handed to us on a silver platter. There was no right way to do things. There was simply the way of the “newb” and the way of a master, the latter having played the game several times and refined his approach each time.
Bloodborne is exclusive to the PlayStation 4, like Demon’s Souls was to the PS3. It has no connection to the latter, as its set in a Victorian-esque landscape where mutants and monstrosities reign. It also introduces fire-arms. It plays a lot like Dark Souls. Honestly, there’s not a whole lot of information to go off but it’s safe to say that From Software is taking a decidedly rogue-lite dungeon-crawling approach to the game.
"While Demon's Souls was brand-new and offered something most players have never experienced before, Bloodborne will debut in a different age. We've experienced Dark Souls I and II, with the sequel doing its best to expand on the hit formula without changing too much."
While Demon’s Souls was brand-new and offered something most players have never experienced before, Bloodborne will debut in a different age. We’ve experienced Dark Souls I and II, with the sequel doing its best to expand on the hit formula without changing too much. Many other games like Capcom’s Deep Down are also incoming. There have been hundreds of difficult games that challenge you to master the experience and fail continuously. If nothing else, the success of Dark Souls has taught us that there is a market for masochistic gamers.
From Software was smart enough to realize that there was only so much you could change with the formula. That’s why Dark Souls introduced a new way for players to invade each other’s games, either helping or hindering each other in unique ways. Dark Souls II further expanded on the franchise by updating its visuals and streamlining all the gameplay aspects in an intuitive fashion. The gameplay never got easier – it was just delivered in a tighter, more coherent package.
So what’s left for Bloodborne? There’s undoubtedly more to the game than fire-arms and creepy villagers. We saw some brief flashes of blood being extracted – could it play a part in augmenting players or enabling some other gameplay aspects? At this point, it’s hard to say. It’s just hard to imagine how From Software could innovate on the formula any more without changing things completely.
Then again, there have been several franchises that only change a few aspects to the gameplay while focusing solely on new settings, stories, missions and visuals. The Assassin’s Creed franchise is a prime example. Even though we’ve had developments to the parkour system and different settings, the combat has primarily remained the same. There have been a few developments here and there – along with several new aspects like naval combat and managing your own brotherhood – but for the most part, any fan of Assassin’s Creed knows the drill. Synchronizations, stealth, skilled timing in counters and so on forms the basic tenets of an Assassin’s Creed.
"On the one hand, it's not a bad thing that From Software is sticking to what it does best but there's danger in that direction as well."
But when Ubisoft tried to take those aspects and craft a wholly new, modern-day version of the franchise with Watch Dogs, it failed miserably. It’s not the only franchise of course – Call of Duty tried to take the franchise into the near future with Ghosts, introducing space gun battles. That being said, there was plenty about the game that had been ripped from previous experiences. However, even a game like Black Ops 2, which tried nothing but new things, was still a relatively weak single-player experience overall.
On the one hand, it’s not a bad thing that From Software is sticking to what it does best but there’s danger in that direction as well. Assassin’s Creed III changed next to nothing about the franchise despite being a “true” sequel. Sure you could climb trees and experience naval combat for the first time and George Washington was a cool dude. But the entire game felt like Ubisoft had been playing it far too safe. Black Flag at least saw the franchise leave its comfort zone and implement several new gameplay elements and characters into a relatively worn-out formula. Assassin’s Creed III is a prime example of not doing enough to truly best your previous effort.
Bloodborne is fully capable of being a greater game than Dark Souls I or II. It’s exclusive to the PlayStation 4, which allows From Software to channel all of its resources in one place. It’s being developed in conjunction with Sony which allows for better optimization and visuals. The question remains whether Bloodborne will just stick to what From Software does best or try to think outside of the box. The correct thing to do would be to innovate inside the box. Given all the disappointing games this year, that shouldn’t be too hard, right?