Bloodborne & Me

I’m still playing Bloodborne every night. This is only of any interest because I’ve spent the last few years telling everyone who would listen about how much I hate really difficult games and “Souls-Like” games in particular. Apparently I have no idea WHAT I like.

So, I was pondering that, in the way that we reclusive individuals ponder with only ourselves to talk to. Why am I enjoying Bloodborne now?

The reason boils down to a simple one: prior to this attempt at the game, I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about!

What makes this all even more amusing (to me anyway) and embarrassing is that I used to know better. Look at this post about Demon’s Souls from 2009: Demon’s Souls & its brutal(?) difficulty (PS3)

Mind you, I never finished Demon’s Souls on the PS3 but at least at the time I understood how Souls games worked. Sometime between then and now, I forgot.

Yes, Bloodborne is often challenging but you have tools to help you manage the challenge. Key things to keep in mind are that bosses do not scale to your level, and there is no hard level cap. You level your character via killing enemies and collecting the Echoes they drop. Since enemies respawn there’s an infinite supply of Echoes. Additionally you can upgrade weapons to make them more powerful, though there seems to be ‘hard stops’ where you no longer get the upgrade materials you need until you advance into a more difficult section of the game. (Early in the game you get materials that can take a weapon to +3, then the next area gives you different materials that can take weapons to +6, etc, etc.)

When you die, the only thing you lose are Echoes, which drop on the ground or are picked up by a monster. You can go back and recover those, though if you die a 2nd time before you’ve picked up your first batch of dropped Echoes, that first dropped batch poofs for good.

This can be frustrating for sure, but again there are infinite Echoes in the game. If you do lose a big wad of Echoes (and I definitely have, a few times) it’s a setback, but not a roadblock.

What I had to learn to do is mitigate risk. As you level up it costs more and more Echoes to ‘purchase’ the next level. If I’m getting close to being able to level up, I’ll start playing conservatively for a bit. I’ll often revisit an earlier area where enemies are now relatively easy to kill. This is a good way to get your Echo pool high enough to be able to spend them on a new level while also farming consumable items from enemies. And honestly it kind of feels good to go back and just burn through these baddies that used to give you so much trouble.

So after I spend my Echoes and have an inconsequential number left over, now it’s time to get really bold with exploring because if I encounter an enemy that I can’t handle, I’m risking almost nothing.

So that’s the way I’ve been playing and I’m still making slow but steady progress. And it would be unfair not to acknowledge I’m also following a guide, which helps a great deal.

I’m still really amped for some new games coming very soon and I still don’t think I’ll finish Bloodborne any time soon. Maybe I’ll come back to it, who knows? I did add Elden Ring to my “Playing Soon” list and I’m looking forward to having to figure stuff out at the same time the rest of the community is learning the game, too.

Point being, though, that I now think that I COULD finish Bloodborne if I was willing to devote the time. That realization opens up a whole genre of titles I now feel like I can play. Maybe not beat, but at least play enough to make them worth trying.

I had a point I was trying to make when I started this post but I’ve kind of lost it now. 🙂

I guess the take-away is that yes, Bloodborne can be difficult, but with some patience you can tame it and beat it, even if you do that by leveling up to the point where you’re super powerful.

Back to Bloodborne

It all started shortly after Christmas when I was looking for something mindless to watch on YouTube and happened on Playstation Access’s “Christmas Maze” series. In this series one of the team members acts the villain, forcing the other 3 to try to beat various video game challenges. It’s pretty silly stuff, and clearly something they did before the holiday so the team could take some time off over the actual Christmas break.

One of the challenges tasked a team member with beating the first boss in Demon’s Souls. The catch was, every time she healed she had to put on another sweater. (Like I said, pretty silly stuff.) By the end she was wearing 9 sweaters over top of each other. I watched it because it was ridiculous but soon got interested in the gameplay since, with the help of the rest of the team giving advice, she made it through and it was (I think?) her first time playing Demon’s Souls.

It looked fun, and Demon’s Souls was on sale at the time, but I have an issue with difficult games and even on-sale I didn’t want to buy a game that I figured I’d play for 30 minutes then rage-quit from. Which led me back to Bloodborne since I already owned it. In fact I played it not too long ago (last August), though when all this started I’d completely forgotten that fact. Even curiousier, in that post I wrote about having finally killed the Cleric Beast for the first time. That is not correct, because I was looking at the trophies I’d earned for Bloodborne and one of them was for beating the Cleric Beast and I earned it in 2015.

So I was ready to play Bloodborne but I wanted a ‘team’ to coach me. It just so happens that Playstation Access has a playlist called “Helping a Noob Play Bloodborne” (for some reason the videos are in reverse-order in that playlist) in which someone who, like me, had been stuck since 2015 gets help from his friends. I jumped in, but quickly realized it wasn’t going to help me much for two reasons. First, it starts where Rob (the noob in question) got stuck in 2015 and that was well past where I’d gotten. Second, he actually had 2 players by his side, in-game. He basically just followed them along getting carried. Since I didn’t have 2 high-level players handy, I wasn’t learning too much from the stream.

But YouTube is a big place.

I was happy to find FightingCowboy’s “Bloodborne 100% Walkthrough” playlist and it has been tremendous help. For the first few segments I followed along meticulously, first watching a video, then basically doing exactly what he did. Often I’d stop the game and re-watch parts of the video to make sure I was doing everything correctly. I started a new character and increased the same stats he increased, opened shortcuts in the same order he did, and so on. That got me on my feet and this time when I encountered the Cleric Beast I beat it first try.

As I got more comfortable I started being a little less structured in my following Cowboy. I was feeling like not doing *any* of the exploring on my own was detracting from the experience. I tried completely cutting the cord but quickly got lost and started getting frustrated again. It’s really easy to stray into an area that you are NOT prepared for in Bloodborne (and maybe all Souls games).

Now I’ve settled into a routine where I explore a bit on my own, try to figure out where I think I should go, then I watch Cowboy’s video to see if I was right or not. Then I go back to the game and adjust so I end up at the same place his video ends. Then I start exploring on my own again. Rinse and repeat. It’s working for me. I have nothing but respect for the people who played this game blind and just figured out all the tricks and shortcuts through this maze of a game.

I’m not pledging to finish Bloodborne or anything like that, but I am enjoying a Souls game more than I ever thought I would. I’m on video 5 now (the series has 29 vids) and I’ve killed 3 bosses so far. I’m level 32-ish and just unlocked Ludwig’s Holy Blade, which Cowboy says will be my weapon for most of the rest of the game. In order to purchase that I had to find a hidden area that had some loot that sold for a ton of Echoes. And when I say hidden I mean I had to blind jump down into a dark area to land on a platform I couldn’t see when I jumped. How anyone found that area initially is beyond me.

One side effect of this experience is now I’m buying into the Elden Ring hype, too. It turns out my 60+ year old gamer brain/reflexes can actually make progress in these games, given a little help from the Internet. But I’ll probably wait for strong young gamers to figure out Elden Ring’s mysteries before I take it on myself. Plus between now and the Elden Ring launch both Dying Light 2 and Horizon Forbidden West are coming out and I gotta play both of those.

I Beat the Cleric Beast

My first “Souls-like” game was the first Souls game: Demon Souls for the Playstation 3. It launched in 2009. I bought it and played it for a couple of hours, got frustrated and put it somewhere that I didn’t have to look at it. There it still sits, forgotten in some box in the back of a closet. I think.

Then came Bloodborne for the PS4. It launched in 2015 and, demonstrating that I don’t learn from my mistakes, I bought it, played it for a couple of hours, got frustrated and set it aside. (The one downside of digital games is you can’t fling the disk into a dark abyss when you get frustrated.)

Since then I’ve felt vaguely salty about “Souls-like” games and their popularity since I always feel like I’m missing out. Envy I guess. Damn the FOMO!

The other week I was sorting through the external hard drive that hangs off the PS5. It has my library of PS4 titles on it and I was going through removing games I know I’ll never play. There was Bloodborne. I felt like the icon was looking pretty smug so I hovered over DELETE and then for some reason clicked PLAY instead.

And died, died, and died some more. But for some reason I didn’t get so frustrated. Maybe age has mellowed me, I dunno. But I kept playing. Not for hours at a time. I’d do a run or two then set it aside. Maybe THAT is why I didn’t get frustrated. I got a little better. I got to where the villager ‘trash mobs’ in the first area were of no real concern to me. I explored, found my first shortcut. Found a boss: The Cleric Beast. I got smooshed.

I actually remember the Cleric Beast from 2015 and that it was why I quit. This time instead of quitting I just ignored it and kept farming to get my character stronger, at the same time getting myself a little better at the game. We’re not talking a straight line improvement. Some days I did well, other days I just had to accept that this wasn’t a day for Bloodborne. On average I was getting better though. Every so often I’d have a go at the Cleric Beast. Failed. Sometimes spectacularly, other times I’d do well enough that I could visualize the day I would succeed.

Monday, on the last day of my vacation, I finally beat the damned thing and it felt pretty good. Now I absolutely KNOW that for skilled Bloodborne players, the Cleric Beast is hardly a speed bump on the path to whatever waits further into the game. But for 60+ year old, slow-reflexed, arthritic-fingered, poor-eyesighted, failing-hearinged me, it felt pretty good.

Find someone who looks at you the way The Doll looks at your Hunter once he becomes a bad-ass boss slayer.

And it also felt like I was done. At least for now. I wanted to leave Bloodborne while I was feeling good about it, and I had some other things I wanted to play.

Now I have the itch to try another Souls-like. Bloodborne is, frankly, a gross game. The environment is oppressive and the gore-factor is very high. Also the game runs at 30 FPS. None of these aspects thrill me so I’m thinking of trying a different one; there are plenty out there. It’d be really nifty to be able to add “Souls-likes” to my quiver of gaming genres I enjoy.

One of the drags about getting old, for me at least, is that your world keeps shrinking. There are fewer and fewer things you can do. Adding something, even something as trivial as a game genre, really feels like a win. I’m pretty happy I gave Bloodborne one more try.