Ask players of From Software's Dark Souls games what the difference between that series and Bloodborne is (other than the obvious setting disparities) and they'd probably sum it up like this: Bloodborne is about offense, Dark Souls is about defense. But after playing Dark Souls 3, I think I've found a more significant difference: Bloodborne is cool.
That's not to say Dark Souls 3 is a bad game. In fact, I think it's great. But the whole reason I bought Dark Souls 3 was the assumption that since I loved Bloodborne - a game which is itself derived from the Souls series' formula - I would obviously enjoy Dark Souls 3. And when I say I love Bloodborne, I mean I had a serious, committed relationship with that game, and I still go back to it for the occasional fling:
Including multiple characters, I have played Bloodborne to completion more than a dozen times for a total of more than 140 hours. My main character is level 387. It was the very first PlayStation game I ever got a Platinum Trophy on. I bought my friend a copy so we could play together. I. Love. Bloodborne. And the more I thought about this, the more it bothered me.
I kept trying to analyze and figure out why Bloodborne resonated with me so strongly when Dark Souls didn't. So here I was with Dark Souls 3. Playing a game I didn't love, because I felt this sort of pressure that I should be playing, and what's more, I should be enjoying it. After all, even though Bloodborne and the Dark Souls series are different in notable ways such as the aforementioned offense vs defense motifs, they're also quite similar. Why was I only connecting with one and not the other?
I thought about the way Bloodborne's Hunters moved, with their nimble sidesteps and swift dashes. The Victorian-inspired setting and aesthetics that called to mind some of my favorite stories like Bram Stoker's Dracula (and after a twist in the story, HP Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos). Trick weapons, longcoats, and tricorn hats. The way enemies gushed their blood onto my character. The deep, haunting strings of the soundtrack.
This isn't about Bloodborne being better than Dark Souls. I don't know that I'd say it is. But I think it's clear that, at least to me, where Dark Souls takes its dismal, decaying world with grim-faced seriousness and depressing solemnity, Bloodborne is more concerned with being wild, over the top, and freaking sweet.
I can summarize my experience with Dark Souls enemies thusly: undead guy, undead guy with axe, undead guy with pike, undead guy with sword and shield, undead guy with crossbow, undead woman, slightly larger undead guy, slightly larger than that undead guy, undead dogs. Granted there's also been a crystal lizard, a knight who crawled around on all fours, a demon or two, a walking tree, some giant crabs, and a man riding an enormous raven, but these have been the exceptions.
In Bloodborne, I'd have faced off against plague-infected townsfolk, hunting dogs, werewolves, half-turned beastmen, mutated crows, elongated sewer corpses, giant pigs, giant rats, giant giants, ogres, and church cultists, all within the opening hours. This isn't a review and I'm not bemoaning a lack of variety in Dark Souls, I'm saying that Bloodborne simply has more of the kind of stuff you'd see in a teenage Clive Barker's sketchbook - that great blend of utterly terrifying and totally rad.
In Dark Souls, I've added a bow, a broadsword, a rapier, a katana, a greataxe, a greatsword, and a battle hammer (to list a few weapons) to my arsenal. In Bloodborne, I can start the game as a fancy gentleman who uses a cane that is also a bladed whip. Dark Souls wants to deck me out in classic fantasy armor: chainmail, leathers, a knight's outfit. Bloodborne rewards me with bitchin' eyepatches and longcoats.
Again, this isn't to say Bloodborne's gear selection is better, as the weapons and armor of Dark Souls not only fit with the universe, but also allow me flexibility in playstyle, which I appreciate; it's just that, in Bloodborne, I can't stop tapping that shoulder button and feeling that oh-so satisfying clang as my saw cleaver extends to something more menacing.
Bloodborne is about me having fun. It's about me as a player, being a beast-slaughtering machine. Dark Souls is about a world trying to beat me into the dust, about being small and powerless against an infinite cycle of death. You can even see it in the cover art: Bloodborne has the player character standing in a widespread hero's stance, weapons at the ready. Dark Souls 3 features an armored figure kneeling with his head turned down (emphasizing despair and subservience), and it's not even the player that we see.
There's something to be said for games that don't serve the traditional power fantasy. Sometimes it's good to play as someone who isn't the solution to every problem, or a larger-than-life demigod. But it's also okay to want to feel cool, to be a badass, to just let go and have fun. In its own roundabout way, Dark Souls 3 reminded me of that. So thanks Dark Souls. You're alright. Even if you are sorely lacking in longcoats.