Can't get enough of Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2? You're not alone. Legions of fans worldwide have been clamoring for more entries in the series since they first set foot in Lordran, and though the sequel is keeping many busy for now, players are starting to look towards the horizon for new trials to take on. Souls series creator Hidetaka Miyazaki has answered their prayers, albeit in a roundabout way: From Software, developers of the first two (three, if you count Demons's Souls) announced the upcoming title Bloodborne at E3 2014.
While details are currently sparse, From has provided a launch trailer and some vague details about the upcoming title.
Most exciting is the return of Miyazaki after his absence at the helm of Dark Souls 2, clearly an excellent game in its own right but missing the creative spark that brought so much freshness to Demons's and Dark Souls. Miyazaki has confirmed that his time away from the Souls franchise was needed to commit to Bloodborne development, signaling some potentially huge pushes forward in design.
With the might of the Souls games and their fantastic design behind it, Bloodborne is shaping up to be one of the most exciting next-gen titles announced at E3. Without much to go off of just yet, however, we're left wondering which of our favorite elements in Dark Souls will make an appearance in Miyazaki's latest.
#1 Challenging Difficulty
If the gaming community had to distill its feelings about Dark Souls down into a single word, it would probably be "hard". The franchise continuously recieves high praise for its unforgiving challenges and brutal difficulty. Judging by Miyazaki's design philosophy, this won't be changing any time soon. From the insta-death heavy Demon's Souls to the titanic bosses of Dark Souls 2, his titles have consistently bucked AAA trends which prefer linear and cinematic flow over engaging gameplay.
Landing as somewhat of a spiritual successor to Souls, Bloodborne will all but certainly follow the same trend of challenging trials. While the nature of these challenges might differ from the Souls games, Miyazaki has consistently favored design choices which emphasize fair but unforgiving encounters. Rarely do these games pull I Wanna Be the Guy-style kills that demand memorization for survival. Souls titles prefer to punish players for the smallest mistake in defense.
#2 Multiplayer Innovations
While Dark Souls is lauded for its brutally challenging gameplay, its ingenious multiplayer designs may be its master stroke. Traditionally, multiplayer in RPGs is confined to a strict party system or a series of minigames, leaving a singleplayer experience largely isolated from contact with others. Miyazaki might be heralding a new era of multiplayer through partially asychronous, drop-in/drop-out systems introduced in part through Demon's Souls.
Souls titles allow players to leave messages for others on the ground which populate across networks to be seen on strangers' machines at any time. Given a relatively small set of phrases to choose from, these missives are usually fairly cryptic but can be helpful - or at least amusing. "Merchant ahead" might be a great cue for players to search for a hidden shop, but the legions of "PRAISE THE SUN" messages don't offer much after the 50th time they appear.
That being said, the system is absoltuely brilliant. Offering players a highly interactive and engaging experience while retaining a fairly consistent gameplay environment for each player is no small feat, and Dark Souls pulls this off admirably. Entire articles can (and have) be devoted to the fascinating dynamics of the messaging system, but that wouldn't even touch the invasion system.
Using variants of the item which allows for sending messages gives players the opportunity to enter others' games as Spirits - friendly or hostile. Summon signs reveal themselves in worlds other than your own, and if another player accepts your invitation, you'll instantly enter a PvE (or PvP, if you're entering as a hostile Spirit)-style experience. On a timer, you'll be able to fight with or against other human players.
Again, the depth of such a simple system is absolutely astounding, and if Bloodborne doesn't include a similar (or much-improved) version, I would be shocked. Introducing this possibility lets players ask for help with tough areas or engage with others to test their skills, blowing away the walls of isolation that usually separate people during singleplayer RPG playthroughs. At its heart, the Souls franchise is definitely a singleplayer experience, but these multiplayer inclusions elevate them far beyond so many other action-RPGs. Spending so much time on Bloodborne development, Miyazaki will definitely be working hard on some fresh angles on this already incredible multiplayer.
Despite its recent reveal date, Bloodborne is available for preorder on PS4 at the time of writing, slated for an 2016 release.