Thursday, 15 October 2015

Bloodborne: "Chalice Dungeons"

Bloodborne is two games:

The first is a generic 3D brawler. You mash the attack button at every enemy, and then you do the same thing. And then you do it again. You do this for nine million years, and it never becomes exciting or interesting. The world is drab and lifeless, all of the levels are forgettable, there are no meaningful interactions and there's too much damned level grinding. There are obstacles that have solutions so obtuse, so nonsensically beyond what any sane person would ever think to do, I'd swear it was made by Tim Schaefer.

Basically, it's Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest.


But there's another game in here: The "Chalice Dungeons". An attempt at rogue-like, randomly-generated dungeon crawlers using the previous game's art assets and game engine.

It is also terribly linear, dreadfully long and pointless. A dungeon crawler is built around two things:

1.) What is in the treasure chest at the end,
2.) What's standing in your way.

A puzzle? A monster? A trap? It could almost be like a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Or any sort of adventure, really.

Fuck that, just press R1 until you win. When you win, your prize is... more dungeons to press R1 in. That's the Chalice Dungeons.

I'm guessing this was supposed to be the Dark Souls answer to online multiplayer. The level design is so barren, I imagine that was to make room for multiple people in the same dungeon. But because the dungeons offer no reason to go spelunking in the first place, nobody is ever around to try them. It's all stick and no carrot, and you're the only horse in the race, and there's no one in the stands.

Because these two games were being developed at the same time and are on the same disc, it's pretty easy to see why they both fail as entertainment: From Software did not have the time or resources to make two games at once(at the same time as Dark Souls III, which is not an encouraging thought). The existence of one meant time and resources taken away from the other.

Did you ever wonder why there are almost no traps in Yharnam? Why aren't the levels aren't designed with environmental hazards in mind anymore? Because they needed those to justify the Chalice Dungeons. So that's where they went. There is nothing remotely like Sen's Fortress anywhere else in this product.

Why is there virtually no plot or memorable characters in Yharnam? Souls games have always used a light touch, but there is no character arc that sticks in my memory the way I remember Solaire's search for sunlight, Siegemyer's search for adventure, the pity of Anastasia, the cameraderie and existential struggle of Lucatiel, or Lautrec's treachery. There are no creepy-faced, masticating snake dudes who tell you of your destiny and eat items you want to throw away. There aren't even faceless quest vending machines.

They couldn't put any of that stuff in. They were too busy making the Chalice Dungeons. They forced themselves to spend so much time making a world, but forgot to give me any reason to want to do anything there. They couldn't make Bloodborne good, because they were too busy making the Chalice Dungeons. They couldn't make those fun, because they were too busy making Bloodborne. Each one leeched off of the other. So there's nothing to protect, to save or even to improve. It has no point to make. There's no theme or message here.

In Borderlands, there is always the allure of getting a better gun. In Diablo, again, the promise of some rare or powerful new addition to your arsenal is a big part of the appeal. Certainly these games are about more than just their rewards, but at least they HAVE rewards. In Bloodborne, you are a rat in a cheese-less maze.

Now, I want you to imagine something: Think about what either of these two halves would have been like without the other. Imagine if the entire game was focused on the Chalice Dungeons. If they didn't have any of the Bloodborne to worry about diverting attention and resources. They could have made a modern metaphor for something like Phantasy Star Online. They could have made more armour, more weapons, more customization for your player characters. They could have actually made a game with loot worthy of putting at the end of a dungeon full of monsters. More carrot for your stick.

Imagine the triumph that Bloodborne could have been without the Chalice Dungeons. It could have had traps. It could have had personality. It could have had any sort of arc, anything at stake, and anything else afforded by not having to constantly split development on two underwhelming projects.

It could even have had a story, characters or gameplay variety. I know. Crazy right?

Either road could have led to a great game, and instead they stubbornly tried to push their way through the middle. To nowhere. To nothing.

I think even From Soft has figured out that this game is a two-faced bust. They backpedaled from making two DLC expansions down to just one. And none of that content will directly involve the Chalice Dungeons. They've figured out that it's not worth saving in its' current state. They've realized, probably much sooner than anyone else that it's probably better to get that shit out the door, and just try to do better with Dark Souls 3.

I hope they do. But it's still a shame nonetheless. There are times where I can see a game that could have been. This is doubly painful, because we've been deprived of two potential greats.



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