Bloodborne – Objectively Bad Game Design

Bloodborne fans, explain it to me.

Is Bloodborne only playable if you played Dark Souls first? I’ve never played any of them. Was told told skip those and so I gave Bloodborne about 1 hr and gave up. One of the worst experiences I’ve ever had. It’s starts of with a boring cutscene. Then there’s a character editor you could spend hours on. I spent maybe 10 minutes. After that I’m in a mansion room with no idea what to do. There’s these energy spots that give me tiny messages like “Press L3 to lock on” or “Beware of ghosts”. Then there’s these pools of blood where if I touch them a ghost animation appears. No idea what those are. There’s been no explanation.

After exploring the room for 10 minutes and finding nothing of interest whatsoever I go over to some werewolf like creature. I’ve found no weapons yet so I get killed and see the famous “You Died” I’ve seen gif memes of on the interwebs.

I appear in some garden/graveyard behind a building. There’s 30 or 50 of these energy spots and another bunch of the blood spots. Still no idea what they do. The energy spots are giving me instructions. There’s so many there’s no way I’m going to remember any of them. This isn’t good design. Good design adds one new feature at a time and trains you how to use it. I find 2 energy spots that claim to give me weapons but I can’t figure how how to equip them. I press the “use left weapon” or “use right weapon” buttons the energy spots have told about me but nothing happens. I walked around and checked out tons of these energy spots. It’s seriously boring.

So there’s like 3 doors and 2 gates. I go to every one of them but I’m told “Closed”. At that point I shut the game off. It’s been an hour and nothing has happened. It’s been 100% uninteresting and boring.

Seriously, what kool-aide would I have to drink to find this a good game?

I can only imagine it’s only playable if you’ve played Dark Souls and already know exactly what to do because playing this game it’s not clear at all and boring as hell.

People tell me what’s good about these games is they don’t hand hold you. I get that but there’s a difference between being handheld through the game world and being hand held through the game system. A good game introduces you to the system as in what buttons to press to do which things. Those aren’t gameplay those are basic instructions. Exploring the world with little instruction is one thing but learning what buttons to press to use your character is something that needs to be taught not guessed.

Similarly you need at least some direction to get started. Given that absolutely nothing happened for the first hour I have no idea what to do. Maybe I’m supposed just leave the game running for 46 hours and it magically starts. How would I know that’s not the solution? Maybe I have to quit the game 74 times. It keeps a count of how many times I’ve quit and doesn’t open any doors until I’ve done that. How would I know? Maybe I have to try to open a door 36 times and the 37 it says “opened” instead of “closed”. There’s no way to know. That’s not good design.

I’m sure there will be lots of hate in the comments. I’m not saying the entire game is bad because obviously the game hasn’t actually started. But, that first hour so far is objectively bad game design by every possible measure. ?

Note: I bought the game digitally so no manual. Apparently I’m supposed to read the manual to enjoy the game. That’s been a game design no-no since the 80s. Teach the player whatever you expected them get from the manual in the game. Good examples, Zelda Wind Waker you get train on several techniques before you start. Another good example would be Half-Life: Opposing Force’s boot camp which is optional but provides a fun way to learn the controls, after which you can enjoy the game.

I was ready to just wing it hoping that I’d learn the controls as I went but given none of the doors or gates worked and given it had already been an hour or boredom I quit.

  • CvX!

    I’ve just recently bought Bloodborne and have already spent about 25 hours playing it. Never played any Dark Souls game before, though I’ve seen some gameplay on twitch, played Nioh demo for a couple of hours (very similar type of game), and read some think pieces on Dark Souls and Bloodborne.
    How I get it, in these games half of the fun/gameplay is figuring stuff out, mostly by repeated failure. Where can I go, what can I do, how do I (effectively) fight, etc. That sounds tedious, and probably is for some, but after you get the hang of basics, it’s much easier to learn more things about in-game world and its mechanics. I’d say that the Bloodborne/Souls gameplay has many similarities to the Witness. It’s about learning, on your own, and then iterating on that acquired knowledge and experience.
    About that place where you got stuck – if I remember correctly you appear right next to the tombstone that gets you back to the main world. If you don’t try to use it immediately and go someplace else it sure isn’t obvious what exactly are you supposed to do. But, as you do for the most of the game, you have to check what’s interactable and what effect it has.
    I’d guess some people admire these games for doing the unusual – not teaching, but expecting you to learn.
    Cheers!

  • There’s a level of learning in games that’s fun and there’s a level of learning in games that’s not fun. The level in Bloodborne’s first hour is NOT fun at all. It’s NOT fun to memorize 50-70 energy spot messages in a row about controls out of context of any usage. It is not fun to aimlessly do nothing but touch these 50-70 energy spots and 30 ghosts spots that have no meaning. It is not fun to be stuck in an area for an hour with no obvious exit except “click on the one magic tombstone”.

    I find this “it doesn’t teach but expects me to learn” comment from people frustrating. Maybe deeper in the game that makes sense but so far it in the first hour it would be trival to much a game that expect you to learn. Example: I’ll make a game that puts a 3d character on the screen in the 3rd person (ie, Bloodborne). It’ll put you on a flat plane 300×300 miles large. It will take you 30 hrs of real time to walk from one side of that plane to the other. I won’t tell you what to do. Someone in the 300×300 mile space there’s a 1×1 foot place you walk on that wins the game. Done. If I don’t tell you how to play the game and then just say “you have to learn it on your own” how is that good design by any measure?

    Now, I’m not saying Bloodborne doesn’t do a good job later in the game. Maybe if I ever boot it up again and get past the first hour all the interesting “it doesn’t lead you” comments will make sense. But without a context of the good ways it does this so far I’ve only seen bad ways. Ways that are trivial to implement and take zero thought. Ways that any other game doing the same would be judged harshly.

  • CvX!

    That area is pretty contained. As you mentioned all doors are locked, so is the gate. Assuming player reads all of the notes, it takes 5-10 minutes to explore all of it. The exit isn’t obvious, but is hinted: right in front of you as you spawn there, and it’s the only tombstone with some moving characters on it, and it’s in the middle of the area, where two paths cross. Even if player doesn’t notice it, eventually will try to interact with all objects, and eventually stumble upon it. I can’t imagine many people get stuck for good in the starting area (otherwise that would have been patched?).
    I don’t want to defend Bloodborne’s design – I’m not a dev of this game nor a diehard fan (as I said, I’ve literally started playing it this week for the first time). I do enjoy playing it, so do many others, and I don’t think it’s because of non-obvious introduction or difficult UI.
    It’s really unfortunate that you got stuck there and I’m curious how you’ll feel about further, actual, gameplay.

  • > Even if player doesn’t notice it, eventually will try to interact with all objects, and eventually stumble upon it.

    It’s that kind of excuse that frustrates me. “Click every pixel/item/object in the world” is not good design.

    In anycase though thanks for the clue. Maybe I’ll try it again at some point.