Bloodborne: the Board Game - title

I wasn't sure about the Bloodborne board game initially. The Dark Souls board game wasn't particularly good, and I already had a pretty great Bloodborne-themed card game. But I kept seeing good reviews of Bloodborne: the Board Game, and it was designed by the same designer who made the card game, Eric Lang, who I trusted to make a compelling board game. So I bought it. And then it sat on my shelf for a couple years because my friends and I were busy playing other games, like Star Trek: Ascendancy expansions. One of these days, I'll get around to actually playing a new board game promptly after buying it... One of these days ...

A narrative-driven dungeon crawl

First and foremost, Bloodborne is not simply a Bloodborne-themed reskin of the Dark Souls board game. They are made by different companies and designers, and have totally different design philosophies. Dark Souls is built around grinding with no real purpose other than to eventually beat a single boss. Bloodborne is a much more structured and purposeful game, which is built around narrative-based campaigns. In fact, this Bloodborne game actively and explicitly discourages grinding by implementing a strict turn limit. As such, a Bloodborne session (a single chapter of a campaign) takes about 90 minutes to play or less. It won't drag on for hours, or into the next day, like some of my Dark Souls play sessions did. This, by itself, makes it a lot easier to find people who are interested in playing, and to get them to come back for subsequent sessions to finish that campaign.

Because Bloodborne: the Board Game does have narrative campaigns, I actually feel like I need to preface this review with a SPOILER WARNING. Some of the images may contain story-related cards, board configurations, and enemy placements, which may contain spoilers for the first 2 campaigns (mostly the first one). The review itself does not contain any explicit spoilers for any of the campaigns, so feel free to read on. If you are worried about potential spoilers, and want to go into the game as blind as possible, then I advise that you avoid reading any of the text on cards in any of my photos, especially cards that are labeled "Mission" or "Insight".

Bloodborne is more narrative-driven and less grindy than its Dark Souls board game cousin.

The core set comes with 4 campaigns, each with its own short story and narrative branches that take place over 3 or 4 chapters. As of the time of this review, I've only actually played the first 2 of those 4 campaigns. But I've played the first campaign multiple times, with multiple different groups of players, so I still feel like I have a pretty good grasp on the game -- good enough to give a meaningful and relatively informed review.

Each campaign has a deck of cards that provide objectives for the player to complete, as well as the occasional reward. It plays out kind of like an old Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book, with each card telling the players to draw a specific numbered card after completing the given card's objective. In some cases, the players will have a choice, or the card will have different conditions, and depending on which choice the players make, or which condition(s) is met, the card will instruct the players to reveal one card or another next.

The total of 4 campaigns is actually a solid amount of content, and each campaign can be played multiple times to see the different branching paths. But the campaigns aren't quite as replayable as they might initially seem. Each decision always has the exact same outcome, which means that once you've played a campaign once, you know what choices to make in order to get which results. Knowing the outcomes sucks out a lot of the mystery, intrigue, and threat from the game, and allows players to micro-manage their decisions to optimize their play.

Player choices can cause several branches in a campaign story, opening up different quests and rewards.
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At the top of my list of favorite game franchises, sits 2 seemingly unlikely companions: one is the first 4 Silent Hill games developed by Konami's internal "Team Silent" studio; the other is the series of "Souls-Borne" games created by From Software. If these 2 franchises are not my number 1 and number 2, respectively, then they are both definitely in my top 3, with Sid Meier's Civilization being the only other real contender.

On the surface, Silent Hill and the Souls-Borne games don't seem to have a lot in common, nor would one necessarily think that they would appeal to overlapping audiences. In some senses, it would seem that they couldn't be further apart. Silent Hill is a series of slow-paced psychological horror games with linear narratives, that emphasize puzzles and encourage the player to run away from threats and avoid the games' poorly-developed combat mechanics. The Souls-Borne games are frenetic action-RPGs that barely have any plot at all, and which are built entirely around combat mechanics, and which are infamous for their difficult gameplay. But despite the radically divergent styles of gameplay that these 2 franchise offer, they both contain similar themes and are open to similar artistic interpretations, which appeal to me, personally because of a particular aspect of my core beliefs and identity.

You see, I'm an atheist. More specifically, I consider myself to be a "strong atheist", "anti-theist", and "secular humanist", among other labels. Not only do I not accept any of the various god-claims due to insufficient evidence; I also positively believe and assert, with confidence, that there are no gods at all. Now, I'm sure that I've just invited a slew of commenters who will try to convert me or share their beliefs for why their personal god is real, but I'm not here to argue about the theology. Besides, I've pretty much heard it all. Not just on the internet, but also from extended family. God of the gaps, personal incredulity, watch-maker, Pascal's Wager, Kalam and other various Cosmological Arguments. I've heard it all -- or at least most of it. And I reject it all.

I am as confident in my belief that there is no god, as I am in my belief that there is no Santa Clause (and for many of the same reasons). So unless you think you can convince me that Santa Clause is real, you're probably wasting your time trying to convince me about your god.

View this entire essay in video format on YouTube.

But my atheism goes a bit further. I'm also an anti-theist, and I believe that religion and religious institutions are also dangerous and do more harm to society than good.

And based on my own personal reading of both Silent Hill and the Souls-Bornes, it seems that both game franchises kind of agree with me.

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I recently posted a new video to my YouTube channel about my frustrations with the design of Control's "challenging" gameplay. I'm not going to transcribe the entire video here on the blog because most of what is in the video is already in my previous written review of the game.

In summary, the video compares the "tough but fair" design philosophy of From Software's games (most notably, Dark Souls) with the way that difficulty is implemented in Control. Even though I found Control to be a much easier game overall, and I suffered far fewer deaths in Control compared to Dark Souls, I did feel that Control lacked that "tough but fair" feeling that Dark Souls is famous for. Control uses a lot of seemingly cheap tricks to artificially inflate the difficulty of the game. If deliberate, then they are cheap tricks. If not deliberate, then they are faulty game design. I may not have died as often in Control, but the few deaths that I did suffer rarely felt deserved.

The full critique is available on YouTube.

The video also contrasts Control's healing system with that of Doom (2016) and Bloodborne. All three games seem to be trying to encourage fast-paced, aggressive play by rewarding the player with health for relentlessly assailing the enemy. Yet this intent doesn't come through as clearly in Control because the player needs to be close to where the enemy dies in order to pick up the health, but most of Control's action is done at medium or long range. Doom and Bloodborne, however, give health to the player when the player performs melee attacks, ensuring that even if the health is dropped on the ground as a pickup, that the player is always close enough to immediately get it if they need it.

One thing that I neglected to mention in the actual video, but which I want to add here, is that Control also has enemies with hit-scan weapons. Most enemies have machine guns that instantly damage the player if the enemy has line of sight. Attacks are not always projectiles that travel across the arena and which can be dodged, blocked, or otherwise avoided. This means that exposing yourself to crossfire is almost certain death if your health is critical in Control, and it contributes to the player needing to slow things down and play cautiously and defensively, instead of maintaining that fast-paced, aggressive play.

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Last week, I put up a new YouTube video called "Regarding Accessibility: A Critique of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice". This video was the second part of a 2-part series about what I perceive to be the flaws of Sekiro. The first video was titled "Conflicted Priorities: A Critique of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice". Both videos are really about the game's conflicted design, but the second part focused more on the removal of accessibility features.

I try to make a point of emphasizing in these videos that I am not trying to say that I dislike Sekiro, or that Sekiro is a bad game. Rather, I'm pointing out what I consider to be egregious flaws in an otherwise good game. You can check out the full review to see how I feel about the game more generally.

I've embedded the first video below for those who wish to watch it. I've also included a full text transcript of my commentary within the video for those who prefer to read. I'm sorry that this post is not as well-formatted as usual. Right now, I just haven't had the time to go through and convert this wall of text into a proper blog with images and so forth. I've given myself some pretty strict deadlines for the next few projects I'm working on. I don't know when, or if I'll have time to come back to this post. In the meantime, I suggest watching the video. Enjoy! If you enjoy the video, please remember to like, share, and maybe even subscribe!

Check out my YouTube critique of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.
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Sekiro - title

I never got into Tenchu because the
demos were too hard for younger me.

Oh, boy, was this a tough game to play and review! Frequent readers should probably know that I'm a huge Souls-Borne fan -- to the point of writing strategies and lore analyses. Sekiro is a bit different, however. It's much further divorced from Dark Souls than even Bloodborne was. Despite the lack of "Souls-Borne-ness" of Sekiro, I find it very difficult to put this review in any context other than of a new Souls-Borne release.

Sekiro is, ostensibly, a stealth game. There's more of Tenchu and Metal Gear in Sekiro than of Dark Souls. That's not necessarily a bad thing. I like stealth games just fine. The Metal Gear Solid games rank among one of my favorite game series ever.

I'm not terribly familiar with Tenchu, though. I think I played a demo of a PSX Tenchu game on one of my Official PlayStation Magazine demo discs (back in the day when publishers let players play pre-release demos, for free, instead of expecting us to pay for games long before they're even released, or holding the "open beta" hostage to a pre-order). I never bought the full Tenchu game because the demo was far too hard for my little 13 or 15-year-old gamer skills to handle. This was, of course, long before I started playing more demanding games.

Sekiro is in an awkward juxtaposition between Tenchu-inspired stealth, and Dark Souls-inspired boss fights.

However, there seems to be a certain degree of juxtaposition between Sekiro's desire to be a Tenchu-like stealth game, and its desire to feature demanding boss fights in-line with what is given in Souls-Borne games. In essence, we have two games here: a stealth game about staying out of sight of enemies and picking them off one-by-one; and a melee boss gauntlet in which the stealth isn't applicable at all. The first of those is good enough. The second one is where my problems begin...

My first playthrough of Demon's Souls was spent
cowering behind a shield.

All parry, all the time

You see, this really comes down to play-style. I was never a big parry-er in my Dark Souls-playing days. I parried a lot more in Bloodborne, but a big reason for that was that the guns allowed me to do so from a relatively safe distance. Heck, my first playthrough of Demon's Souls was done as the Royalty class, starting with the mana-regen ring, stabbing out with a winged spear from behind a shield, and using Soul Spear to dispatch any enemies I wasn't comfortable fighting up close. I hardly realized the parry mechanic existed!

Of course, I've grown and matured since 2008, and parrying has become a common element of my play-style. But I've still never been particularly good at it. This is causing me a lot of trouble in Sekiro because Sekiro's combat is all parrying, all the time! The new posture mechanic (which essentially replaces stamina) also means that a single parry isn't good enough to riposte and kill your enemy. You have to parry each strike in flurries of blows. For those coming from Dark Souls, imagine having to fight a hollow undead, and needing to parry every one of its wild slashes before you can riposte, instead of just the first one. That is what Sekiro expects and requires you to do.

Sekiro requires that you parry most attacks.

If you were a master-level parry-er in Dark Souls III, then you'll probably segue right into Sekiro with no problem and wonder what all the fuss is about. But for the rest of us plebs, that isn't going to be so easy.

This game plays much faster, enemies are much more aggressive, and health is in much smaller supply. Almost everything will kill you with two hits, and many grab attacks will drop you from full health to zero. This game leaves you with virtually no margin for error! Yet the mini-bosses and bosses have ridiculously high HP and posture.

...

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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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