Bloodborne 2 – I’m Interested. However…

 

Rumours gain traction that this E3, Sony alongside Studio Japan and FROM Software will be dropping a Bloodborne 2 announcement.

Now, no. It’s not outright confirmed but I wouldn’t exactly bet against this particular rumour being true – there are plenty of knowledgeable people talking about it in all walks of the industry and in those cases it tends to be a matter of when, not if. I’m also of the viewpoint that 2017/2018 is the sunset of the PlayStation 4, and Sony will need to pull out every ace it can get to put up a fight against a much stronger and much more laser-focused Nintendo in the coming years and give the PlayStation 5 – or whatever they end up calling it – a real sense of momentum, a celebration if you will of the last few years – be that vastly outselling the competition or just surviving several extremely difficult years for the console industry, it doesn’t really matter in the long run.

With The Last of Us 2, God of War and Days Gone already in the works, Bloodborne 2 would be a sensible and logical manoeuvre for Sony to take; with Dark Souls now officially over and done with, the Soulsborne sub-genre that largely started on Sony platforms has grown and there’s little doubt that Sony would rather like to keep that market on its platform. Bloodborne 2 would undoubtedly be a huge deal for that sub-genre.

Thing is, for me, Bloodborne has baggage.

I like Bloodborne. I like its setting, its story, its enemy design and its bleak, wistful tone. A landscape of hunters doomed to become the hunted, partaking of the old blood for additional strength to mete their foes only to eventually succumb to the poisonous effects of the very blood they take to face that challenge. A cycle, oft doomed to be repeated, unrelenting in its vicious nature. It’s one of the stronger takes on the whole Lovecraftian narrative; it’s a little more showy in some regards, but it adheres to the tenants of the Cthulu mythos in that the influence of ancient forces on mankind is powerful, dangerous and often obsessive… and the destination is madness. Never was a game more apt in the gaming sphere – adherence on old formulas and the toxic after-effects that linger and deform generations down the line.

Bloodborne was beautiful, bloody and bestial. It was, however, an absolute pig of a game to play.

This was more down to the game engine – which later went on to be used for Dark Souls 3 and largely import many of the same problems. It was beautiful, there’s no denying it, but it was a lumbering sloth of a game at times. Frame dropping and skipping, input lag and general slowdown when generating more open areas was rife within the game right the way through, and across its DLC offering. When Bloodborne was behaving, when the input was sharp and when the frames were holding up, Bloodborne was undeniably astounding. But it was perhaps five percent of the overall game – the rest was a challenging game built upon an engine that just wasn’t quite up to the task.

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Which is a shame, because the characters were brilliant.

I always believed this to be a shame – not least that less than a fortnight later, Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin hit the PS4. A 1080p, 60 frames a second port of the PS3/XBox 360 version, I have spent the years hence praising that port for being as outstanding as it was. A remix of the somewhat disappointing Dark Souls 2, it added in all the DLC, rebalanced weapons and armour, shifted around enemy placements to make more logical sense and provide more challenge and wove in a completely new story arc into the mix. But all of this was overshadowed by the sharp controls and effortless frame rate. Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin made the combat fun. It was crisp, clean, fluid and the faster pace that resulted meant that every fight, from the bosses to the invading players, was more engaging and required even more precision. Where we had often gotten accustomed to preempting attacks, now we had to actively wait and learn to avoid or dodge them in real-time.

Which is largely why Dark Souls 3 never sat well with me. It went backwards, rather than forwards, to an old way of doing things. I’m sure some people like it. I understand if people do. But after Scholar of the First Sin, it felt… oddly archaic. Starchy. A little old-fashioned. Hardly the celebration to end a trilogy on, to be sure, a series which birthed a sub-genre that every publisher and their grandmother is desperately trying to get their own slice of these days.

Bloodborne, however, can be forgiven its sins if only because it was released on March 24th, 2015. It was around this time we were waking up from the stupor and the frenzied haze of a certain media fallout, and realising that the promised land of True HD – 1080p 60 frames a second gaming – hadn’t actually arrived with this new hardware. I’m sure the arguments will continue for years to come, but I’m only interested in pointing out that largely, it didn’t turn up and many of us were feeling the disappointment. Bloodborne was an artefact of its time; promising, good in spots, but ultimately crushed under the weight of its own ambition, hoping to be held up by the balsa wood stool it was standing on that was the technical limitations of the hardware and the game engine it was running on.

That was then. The market in 2017 is a very, very different beast.

As I alluded to in my summation of the Mass Effect: Andromeda thing (which people are ripping off), it’s not that the games are any worse than we’ve seen the last few years. It’s just that we’re seeing some amazing games drop of late; Nioh, Nier: Automata, Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Horizon: Zero Dawn and others. Not all of them are completely perfect, to be sure, but they’re far more weighty and well thought out than anything we’ve seen for a while, utilising far better constructed game engines to deliver a far stronger video game experience to us. Mass Effect: Andromeda probably would have been universally praised had it dropped in September 2016, but it didn’t. It waited for April 2017, after better video games had radically altered expectations and standards, as Nintendo set the bar improbably high with Breath of the Wild.

Bloodborne 2, if it happens, will be launching into that very same market. It’s no longer good enough to have a nice idea, or a high-brow concept or even rest on the laurels of brand power – otherwise Resident Evil 7 and Mass Effect: Andromeda would have done far better than they did. No brand is big enough, strong enough or important enough these days to succumb to the excesses and missteps of those holding the developmental reins. After a rough few years, console gaming is back on the rise and people are expecting, if not outright demanding now, better content than we’ve been subjected to these last four or five years. Which is fair on out part – but it presents games like Bloodborne 2 with a problem.

If FROM Software plan to use the same engine… well, that to me is already a non-starter before it even gets out of the doors. The Bloodborne/Dark Souls 3 engine ship has sailed, hit an iceberg and been christened Titanic. It’s not the games are the worst, but they’re not as much fun as Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin. A game which was a last-gen port that just happened to utilise the increased hardware power to iron out the glaring flaws in the game itself. Making the game play smooth and clean is far more important to a gaming crowd that in recent years has fully embraced the budget and indie scenes. When some of the highest-rated games and best-selling games of the year are pixel-based and manned by teams as small as one person, it’s high time we embraced the prospect that a huge portion of your audience may not actually care about resolution, or graphical power. They just want a good, fun game to play.

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Have I said recently how good Salt & Sanctuary is?

Bloodborne 2 doesn’t need to change huge amounts of what it already has for me. The recipe that Sony and FROM have with Bloodborne is as intoxicating as the Old Blood itself; a heady, manic frenzy of combat in the death throes of a civilisation built upon the use of a tainted cure-all (not dissimilar to some Lovecraft themes, as it was a time when science still didn’t understand lead-based make-up wasn’t a good thing and arsenic and cocaine-based medicines you could buy over the counter were far more dangerous than assumed). The art style itself, a dystopian steampunk aesthetic, was great. The combat… eh, it needs some work and I’d point to Scholar of the First Sin, but it’s nothing a little elbow-grease couldn’t ultimately fix. More of the same isn’t often the order of the day, but Bloodborne has ingredients which are so good you shouldn’t tamper with the recipe too much.

What it needs is polish. It can’t have frame issues. It can’t slow down, or grind to a halt. It can’t have issues which break the game, or stall invaders. And it cannot have input lag again. These issues have made it hard for me to truly forgive and forget on the front of Bloodborne, but when I can play Zelda: Breath of the Wild and it works and is brilliant and seamless and enjoyable and rock-hard – I’m going to be far, far less tolerant of flaws on a second round. I can just about forgive for a first-time IP taking tentative steps out there onto the market stage, but when you’re coming back out after a few years for another shot at things, if you fall down drunk then – well, you’re probably an alcoholic, by which I mean, you have problems and I can’t ignore that.

There’s nothing worse for me as a gamer than lost potential. Perhaps that’s why Dark Souls 3 feels such a let down for me; expectations not met. It’s an occupational hazard for gamers and developers alike, but of late, we’re seeing games which are meeting expectations and in some cases, exceeding them. Bloodborne 2 must not become a victim of raising expectations only to cruelly dash them against the rocks. Sony, Studio Japan and FROM Software have a second chance here, to turn Bloodborne into a franchise that can live on and prove that they are the true masters of the Soulsborne sub-genre.

With how rapidly this sub-genre is evolving, and how quickly its base concepts are being woven into other games, I’d argue they’ve got one shot at nailing this. That’s a lot of pressure, no question about that, but I do believe it is in the realms of possibility. Failing that, they can always do a port to the PS5 and try and save face that way, but I’m not so sure they can afford to repeat the success of Scholar of the First Sin.

So good luck, if Bloodborne 2 is a thing.

Though with my belief that the PS5 may end up launching in 2018, call me odd or strange or just plain picky… but Bloodborne 2 sounds like a system-seller kind of game to me. And they keep on doing this… why? WHY?

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