Despite not being incredibly interested in Dark Souls at the time, Bloodborne hooked me the moment I watched the announcement trailer. The trailer featured a bunch of really cool environments, interesting weapons and a unique Victorian dark ages look. I was in the mood for a dark game done right and oh boy, does this game deliver.
If you don’t know what the game is about, Bloodborne takes place in the city of Yharnam, where the inhabitants have fallen victim to a mysterious plague somehow related to a blood practice very popular among them. You play as a Hunter who travels to the city to search for the origin of the plague to hopefully get rid of it. But you probably know that already.
Anyways, what sets this game apart from others is how consistent and visceral the experience feels. Just like your Hunter in that world, you too feel like an outsider, armed with only very little information and clues about what the hell is actually going on. The story is dense but it’s delivered very subtly through the environment and some occasional cutscenes. It’s up to you to take the pieces and figure out the puzzle yourself. Even after watching a few lore videos on youtube, the story is still a bit fuzzy in my head. That is not necessarily a bad thing… this is one of those games that you can go pretty deep if you like rabbit holes, but can also enjoy if you just want to touch the surface. All I can say is that the story is pretty badass and very well fleshed out. In fact, I’d totally read a book set in this universe, even though I never read books based on videogames (the only one I ever read was the first Mass Effect book, great read btw!).
As I’m sure you know, Bloodborne is a hard game. This is not a game you can sit down, turn off the brain and power through on autopilot. You gotta be in control all the time, paying attention to enemy attacks, dodging and getting better with your weapons. While the game can get incredibly hard sometimes, it’s never unfair and can be conquered with proper patience and dedication. It’s so rewarding to finally beat a freaking hard boss after the 12th attempt or so.
Now for what matters to us here, is that the environments are superb and show a really high degree of skill from the team. The architecture is constructed in very efficient ways but still feel handcrafted. This is achieved by a combination of adding extra geometry cuts on top of tiling textures and by sculpting reusable modular pieces. Buildings are usually built out of smaller modular parts that are repurposed in several different areas in the game, instead of being unique monolithic pieces.
It’s interesting how some of the props (like statues) are used thousands of times in the game but somehow don’t look repetitive. They really belong in the world the game is set in.
Playing through the game is like moving from painting to painting, as you can tell a lot of care was put into compositions and vistas. They tell you a lot about the events taking place in the world and help navigation a great deal.
The biggest accomplishment from the environment team in my opinion is hiding the level design under a great world that looks and feels like it exists somewhere. Some of the places are very abstract level design wise, however, when you are playing, they feel like a real place. Hiding the level design under a virtual world that makes sense and breathes is one of the hardest things to pull off and this game is a great example of this.
Making fictional worlds that make sense has been one of my obsessions lately and the subject deserves a blog post one day. I think dominating this aspect of environment art goes a long in becoming a great artist, one that makes virtual worlds that go beyond being simple eye candy for a game and immerse the player in the artist’s creation.
Go play this game now if you haven’t already.