The Contender: Brent Felsing (TheDude79)
Gaming Experience: Gaming since 1985
Favorite Genres: Shooters (Hell Yeah!), Adventure, Survival Horror, Puzzlers
Experience With Souls Games: Little-to-none (Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls 2)
I Want To Be A Hardcore Gamer!
I’ve always been open to trying out different genres of gaming outside of my comfort zone; I’ve even gone as far as opening my mind to Final Fantasy, a franchise I used to despise, but of which I have since become a huge fan. One genre I haven’t been too fond of in recent times is the endlessly-challenging-relentlessly-punishing-dying-thousands-of-times-action-rpg-genre — or more specifically — the series of Souls games made by From Software. Despite all of the accolades and critical acclaim, I was never fond of Demon’s Souls or its successors (Dark Souls); the level of difficulty on display in these games was totally off-putting. Now I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, more like the opposite actually. I think it was the inability to wrap my head around the precise and deliberate combat, which is much different than the more simplistic combat found in God of War. Toss in my overall lack of patience (a necessity for this style of game), and it’s pretty obvious why I never warmed up to the Souls games. I acknowledged the fact that these types of games were brutally tough, but I never gave them a fair shake. Instead, I’d play up to a certain point early on where I would constantly die, only to then shut the game off, never to return. There’s a phrase for that…it’s called “being a big baby!”
Leading up to the release of Bloodborne on the PlayStation 4, I couldn’t help but notice the level of genuine enthusiasm that gamers had for this game, and that really bothered me. I couldn’t gather why fans of those games were chomping at the bit to play Bloodborne, and I felt left out. The last thing any gamer wants to do is label themselves “hardcore,” but then fail to even try and master a hardcore game, and that’s where I think I began to question myself. Do I really want to pretend to be a hardcore gamer, or do I want to BE a hardcore gamer? I knew there was only one way I was going to excel at a game like Bloodborne, and that was by taking my beatings like a big boy and practicing. I would have to swallow my pride (I hate losing!) and accept the fact that in a game like this, you pretty much have to learn by dying over and over and over again. Even though I was constantly telling myself this in the days leading up to its release, I knew it would be much easier said than done.
The morning of Bloodborne’s release, I did my best to avoid spoilers by not reading any of the reviews. However, judging by the scores that were being posted on Twitter and N4G, it was apparent that From Software had done what they always do; they released a game that was met with critical praise. Even though I was excited to hear about how good it was, I was still concerned that its level of difficulty would drive me mad, forcing me back on to Battlefield: Hardline with all my other dudebros! Upon firing up Bloodborne, the first thing I noticed was the dreary presentation, as I’ve always been fascinated by dark, gothic-themed movies and games. Even the musical score playing throughout the main menu and the opening movie helped set the tone; I knew this was going to be a beautiful, but fiercely challenging experience.
The first real surprise I encountered was the character customization and how in-depth it was. I spent a good amount of time creating my character, which I think creates a relationship between the player and his on-screen persona. As you spend all that time crafting someone else, you eventually start to see a little bit of yourself in your creation, a connection is formed, and I honestly feel that entices me to invest more time into the game because I want to see my character through to the end. After creating my character, I had to choose a background story that would affect his starting attributes. Even though I knew the hardest of hardcore would choose the “Waste of Skin” class (meager stats across the board), the only way I would stand a chance here is by choosing one of the characters that had decent vitality, endurance, and strength. After deciding to go with Cruel Fate as my class (in hindsight, I should’ve gone with Lone Survivor or Troubled Childhood instead), I was ready to begin my quest as a hunter!
Old Habits Die Hard
After being sedated — or something along those lines — by an old dude with no eyes, I was tossed right into my first battle. This is where I found out the hard way that Bloodborne wasn’t going to hold my hand. I was going to have to figure things out for myself. After stumbling my way through the first area, I came across my first enemy, and of course, it’s a Lycan. My initial thought was, “Ha! Lycan’s are a joke! I killed them with ease in The Order: 1886!” This filled me with a false sense of confidence, because as soon as I startled the beast as he was feasting on a corpse, it occurred to me that I was standing there barehanded. I managed to dodge a few attacks and “bitch-slap” the Lycan a few times before getting mauled completely. How the hell am I supposed to slay this beast by playing patty-cake with it? I must’ve replayed that sorry excuse for a “battle” five or six times before I realized that those little demon things inside the Dream Hub would give me some weapons to use (exploring can be fun kids!). Ok, so now that they gave me some gear, I was ready to hop in and exact some revenge! Sure enough, I get the beast’s attention, but I still don’t have my weapons in my hands. I frantically hit all of the buttons to try and arm myself, but once again I’m staring at a loading screen and frustration is beginning to set in… and I haven’t even gotten out of the first area!
Once I figured out how the inventory worked, I finally took the fight to the Lycan, and in epic fashion, dodged my way into a corner and found myself staring at the loading screen yet again. I have a gun and this huge battle axe, and yet I still can’t manage to get past this puppy dog no matter how fast I mash my buttons to attack and dodge! Hey, wait a second… if I play like that, I’m going to burn up all my endurance and leave myself vulnerable to devastating blows. In I go again, and this time I’m thinking, “I’ll just shoot this Lycan in the face and go about my business.” So I walk into the room, feeling confident in my shooter skills, and plug that Lycan — and much to my surprise — I notice his health barely drops at all. What the hell? I just shot this mutt in the face with this huge hand canon! Why isn’t this thing dead? So you’re telling me I can’t mash buttons (God of War) and I can’t shoot enemies in the head for an insta-kill (any shooter ever)? What kind of bullsh*t is this? So while I walk around the dream hub sulking, losing faith in myself, I notice there are little notes on the ground that offer tips related to combat and various other aspects pertaining to the game. Huh? So I can use the gun to stagger an enemy during its attack which leaves it vulnerable, sort of like a shield is used to parry an enemy’s attack? The gun acts as an offensive shield! Eureka! Now I finally get it! I go back in one final time with a new mindset and a new attitude; that Lycan is going down! As it charges towards me, I pull the trigger and hear a glorious ringing sound that indicates I’ve successfully parried their attack. I close in to take out my frustration on it with two quick blows, while dodging back to avoid any counters of its own. It comes at me one final time, and I dodge its attack and deliver the final, fatal blow. Immediately, a sense of relief and accomplishment pours over me like a bucket of Gatorade as I stand over the Lycan’s motionless body. Sometimes, that’s all you need to experience to fully appreciate what games like Bloodborne are all about.
Learning To Survive Through Death
Once I made my way to the streets of Yharnam, I was impressed with the level design and the scale of the city. The attention to detail is staggering; there is so much beauty in this dark, dreary world that From Software has created. As I make my way through the city, I spot some eerie looking dude with a torch. Immediately he comes at me aggressively. I go to dodge but do so right into a stagecoach and he lights me ablaze with his torch. My health drops some, and I attack him quickly only to see some of my health is regained! This is a pretty cool idea because it rewards you for thinking offensively even after you’ve been hit. Once again, I stagger my enemy with my pistol and enjoy a short, but gruesome, finishing move as I dispatch of my first human-ish opponent. I make my way up a ladder and find my first official checkpoint in the form of a lantern. After taking a break to gather myself after spending close to an hour or so reaching the first checkpoint, I was ready to take on whatever Yharnam had to offer.
After making my way past a few isolated bad guys who weren’t particularly fond of my presence in their neck of the woods, I came upon a staircase that led down to a street that had pockets of enemies, all of whom were making their way towards a bonfire a little ways off. After foolishly trying to charge in to take on a group of four enemies, I decided to try a different method, one that I was totally familiar with thanks to my experience with first-person shooters; I was going to chuck a Molotov cocktail into this group of baddies and torch them all! Once I got in position on the stairs — unbeknownst to group I was overly excited to set ablaze — and let them slowly go by, I made sure to target the central-most enemy of the mob in an effort maximize the amount of damage done. You can imagine my surprise when my Molotov made contact with its intended target, only to find that the explosion was barely enough to kill that one person. The rest of his posse charged up the steps and I was quickly backed into another corner, dying for what felt like the hundredth time already. Any confidence I had gained early had quickly faded. How could all my experience as a gamer be failing me so mightily right now?
After spending some time thinking things over in the Dream Hub, I came across an item in my inventory, one that doesn’t sound all that effective as a weapon, but would prove to be more valuable than I could’ve ever imagined; I’m talking about *ahem* the pebble. As I made my way past those easier enemies (again), I kept telling myself, “Brent, you have to move slowly and plan your attacks better. This isn’t checkers, it’s chess.” This time, from the top of the steps, I waited until the group passed by before selecting the last member as the recipient of my pebble. I threw the pebble and finally, FINALLY, I managed to peel off just one of the bad guys and he made his way up the steps towards me, which ultimately made the battle much easier. Now, even though the group was one person lighter, there were still plenty of hostiles up ahead. Slowly but surely, I made my way up the street, picking off one guy after another — sometimes having to take on two at a time — but I was never overwhelmed as I implemented my new strategic approach. Along the street there were staircases that led to other platforms, some of which had enemies hiding around corners that I had to react to quickly to avoid. It was around this point of the game that I realized I was in this for the long haul; I was beginning to understand what games like Bloodborne are all about. It’s not about running in guns blazing, smashing buttons like a buffoon. It’s about studying, learning, and respecting your enemies. It’s about not getting frustrated every time you die and head back to those loading screens. It’s about utilizing that time to think about what you did to get yourself killed, and what you have to do to avoid those same mistakes.
I’m In It To Win It
There’s so much more about Bloodborne that I want to talk about, but I don’t want to spoil it for those who are still on the fence about investing some serious time into a game that demands your attention and respect. I’ve managed to get past quite a few bosses so far, and I’m well aware there are even tougher bosses that lie ahead. Normally, the idea of dying thousands of times in order to defeat them all would be incredibly off-putting, but now that I finally understand and appreciate just how incredibly fun and rewarding these types of games are, I look forward to each and every single death along the way. If you’re like me and you’ve never been a fan of these types of games, do yourself a favor and go in with an open mind and infinite patience; eventually you’ll start to appreciate what it’s all about.