Okay, one more post about Bloodborne, for now.
Multiplayer in the Souls series has always been kind of an odd duck. It’s there, and it works, but it’s not the thing that attracts most people to the experience. The idea is certainly novel, in theory; your “world” is open to anyone from another world, be they hostile or helpful, and while you can choose to summon in helpful people whenever you wish, hostile invaders can enter whenever they wish and make your life hell. This has always been an evolving process, of course; in Demon’s Souls invaders could only invade you when you were “whole,” and killing you meant they could become whole, thus putting them at risk in turn, while in Dark Souls, invasion was simply a matter of being in human form, but there were also a whole lot of covenant options available to players who wanted to customize their invasions or even act as spirits of vengeance. Dark Souls 2 took this concept even further, creating covenants and entire zones where invasion was basically a thing that was always going to happen, though it also implemented a concept called “Soul Memory” which retained your total accumulated souls, thus limiting invasion options, which hasn’t been very popular with online players.
Bloodborne takes this a step further, by not only prompting the player at launch of the game if they even want to be online in the first place, but also by limiting the availability of invasions to specific set zones in the game (two “nightmare” zones and some Chalice dungeons), unless you’re summoning help (or invasions) in which case bets are off, which has players up in arms on various posting boards. The general argument seems to b, on the pro side, that the online in Bloodborne is not very good, due to the extensive limitations placed on it because of the “whining” of the “casuals”* and how it’s a huge cop-out and so on, and on the con side, that they’re fine with this, but would prefer alternate options. For the most part, this argument isn’t generally compelling to me, for various reasons, but I wasn’t really sure why I wasn’t really on-board for either side. The fact that I don’t particularly like the online component in Souls games makes sense as to why I didn’t care about the pro online side, but the anti-online side isn’t especially compelling either, frankly, because… well honestly, they don’t really understand the situation, I don’t think.
Let’s start with the pro online side, which can be summed up by the following completely real quote I extracted from GameFAQs that sums up a lot of the arguments in favor of the invasion system in one easily digested sentence:
“I want to be able to invade your game and halt your progress whether you wanted me there or not.”
Yes, an actual person said this. He also used the word “unconsensual,” to the extent that this is a word, to describe the multiplayer. There are actual people in the world who basically get off on the idea of raping your gameplay experience, and don’t think there’s anything weird about it, and they don’t seem to understand that they are the reason that the multiplayer has been changed the way it has. These sorts of players occupy a very vocal minority who think that removing or changing these aspects of the game will in some way kill the entire franchise, as if the much larger groups of people who are either praising the changes or asking for a dedicated combat arena won’t still buy these games.** Their entire logical point seems to be that, by keeping the games going for years via PvP, they’re in some way doing From Software a favor, and they’re the reason the games are so popular, so therefore, they should be catered to, not the much larger groups of people who are much more reasonable about what they want. Their entire mentality seems to be, “if you don’t want to deal with me sticking my metaphorical digital dick into your game, play offline pussy.”
I don’t really empathize with their argument because, well, they’re assholes.
First off, personally, I have never had a good experience playing competitively in any Souls game, ever. It doesn’t matter if I won or lost (and we’ll say it’s about 50/50 because I honestly don’t keep track), I find the entire concept disruptive as hell, because the only (and I stress only) reasons I play Souls games is to advance my single player campaign, and occasionally help out players when I feel confident about my ability to beat a specific boss. Dark Souls never offered me a compelling reason to play online, because I beat every boss on my own, so outside of placing a summon sign outside of Gravelord Nito’s boss door to help out players***, I never did. The one time I played online recently (because the Steam version of Dark Souls kind of forces it on you) I was invaded by a dude who, and this is true, people saw it, basically would hang back and cast poison spells to goad his opponent into following, lead them to a Black Knight, then roll past them and block them in to get them killed. That’s inventive, sure, but I’m not exactly sure why I should feel compelled to partake in that thing when I’m trying to make progress, and considering how many times I saw people who summoned me into a game get invaded and had to help them fend off a foe, which then put us at a disadvantage when facing a boss, if I were compelled to deal with it, that would’ve evaporated after the fifth time of that nonsense.
Second, I don’t know anyone, and let me reiterate, fucking ANYONE, who likes the invasion systems, and I know A WHOLE FUCKING LOT of people who play Souls games. J. Rose plays offline at all times because he doesn’t need the help and finds invasions disruptive. Shawn PC is the same way. Sean Madson would actively play offline at times during Dark Souls 2 because the bell towers became too much of a hassle. I literally know about ten people who play Souls games, and at best, a couple of them TOLERATE the invasion mechanics, but NO ONE, literally, likes them. That’s not a small sample size, frankly, and while I’m sure that you (assuming you’re someone who likes the invasion system) could probably poll your friends and produce similar numbers, there’s a small difference there: many of your friends probably are your friends through the Souls games, and thus you have that specific interest in common from jump. I’m not in that position, as we didn’t become friends due to our mutual shared love of playing Souls games offline; we were all friends outside of the franchise, got into it for our own reasons****, and decided independently of each other that invasions weren’t for us. I’d be willing to bet that the number of people who don’t like invasions dwarfs the number who do, and I’d also be willing to bet that if it came down to retaining one side or the other, from a business standpoint, From would keep the larger fanbase.
Finally, and this one is kind of key, From Software probably would prefer it if you didn’t keep their games alive in the online scene for years to come, honestly… or more accurately, their parent companies would prefer that. You remember when Atlus wanted to take the Demon’s Souls servers offline back in 2012, and what kind of a stink that drummed up? Well, they ended up keeping the servers online after all, much rejoicing was had, and exactly how much of that impacted From Software? Basically none of it. That, right there, is the double-sided point: From Software isn’t hosting the servers and thus mostly doesn’t give a shit if online is active or not since it in no way impacts them, but it does impact the parent companies, who would probably like to be able to take the games offline eventually since it’s expensive to keep servers running and they can’t make any more money from you once you own Demon’s Souls or whatever. Now that Dark Souls has run its course, financially, once the sales trickle down to nothing, I don’t see Namco keeping it online much longer, as another point. It’s cute that you think that keeping the game alive through its online component in some way makes you more indispensable than the players who play through the storyline and leave, but you’re actually costing Namco more money than someone like, say, me, who 100%’ed the game and left it, but still remembers it fondly and tells others about it in passing. We’re both basically marketing the franchise to others in our own way, but you’re the one costing them money; why would they want to keep you happy when you’re essentially an economic drain on them?
Your arguments, in other words, are not terribly compelling, and if they were, you… probably wouldn’t find it as hard to find invasion targets in the first place.
That said, I don’t really sympathize with those who feel that they shouldn’t be invaded either, not because I don’t agree with the broad premise of this point, but rather because, frankly, their points have already been addressed, and their core argument, IE, the want of an online co-op free of assault, is kind of lacking.
Look, I’m sure it’s comforting to think that From is changing the online mechanics to appease their fanbase, but anyone who thinks that From Software gives two drizzling shits about online play in this franchise in general, or that they change things to appease anyone but themselves, is, to quote others, a “fucking casual” when it comes to From Software games. Real talk: I’ve been playing From Software games since 1997 when Armored Core first hit the US, I’ve played literally every game in that franchise except for Verdict Day, I’ve played a small handful of their Japan-only releases, and I’ve only missed out on about five of the games they’ve released in the US, TOTAL. As such, I feel I’m probably pretty qualified to tell you, point blank, that the ONLY reason From Software incorporated online play into Demon’s Souls in the first place is either because Sony threw money at them to do it and they came up with a good way of handling it, or because they had the idea to do it from jump*****, not because they give a fuck about online play or appeasing players. If ANY company is a poster child for “ignoring what they players want,” it’s From, and you don’t have to take my word for it when you can look at the Armored Core franchise.
Here’s an example: the DualShock controller was first rolled out into the world in 1997, the same year Armored Core came out. Want to take a guess when From decided to finally incorporate right stick aiming into the franchise? Armored Core: Nexus, which came out in fucking 2004. Even if we ignore the first game, since it came out before the launch of the DualShock, that is seven fucking games that were released before From said, “Hey, literally everyone hates us for not using this right stick, maybe we should get on that.” Here’s another one: the PS2 online adapter was released in either 2001 (in Japan) or 2002 (in the US), allowing players to compete and team up online for the first time on the PS2, which was more or less the definitive home of the Armored Core franchise. Do you know when the Armored Core franchise finally saw an online mode? Armored Core 4, in fucking 2006, on the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. That’s five games that came out, one of which was a purely arena combat game, before From said, “Hey, literally everyone hates us for not adding online play to this franchise, maybe we should get on that.” Fucking Chromehounds saw an online component before Armored Core did, okay? The reality is, From Software does not care, and has not ever cared, what its fanbase thinks of their games, they release the games they want to make. They almost certainly don’t give two shits about the online component in any of the Souls games, and even if they do, they absolutely don’t care what you think about it. They’re making games that appeal to their own personal artistic interests, and if they work the way you want, goodie, but if they don’t, fuck you, they don’t care.
If anyone cares, it’s Namco and Sony (the respective publishers/bankrollers of the properties), and that’s the key point: From Software is the developer, not the publisher, and as the developer, they make the game they want to make and put in whatever they’re contractually obligated to put in, then send it off to print. Let’s be realistic here: it’s fine to point out that Demon’s Souls had a wonderful online system, but that’s entirely because it was simplistic as fuck. From put it in because they had to, and if you think From Software in any way has an investment in making online-capable games, go back up to the Armored Core summary, and then ask a franchise fan exactly how robust the online is (answer: not even a small bit). So they created an incredibly simplistic online component: invade and come back to life, but risk being invaded yourself. It worked because it was simplistic, not because From Software had any great love for online play, because they still don’t. If they did, Bloodborne‘s online play would’ve evolved, not regressed, and, again, if you disagree, Armored Core fans would like to have a word with you.
This might seem like it’s a complaint against those who want online play, but it really isn’t, because From Software saw the basic potential in online play and handled it their way, which was what Demon’s Souls offered: an online component that was simple, offered basic risks and rewards, and allowed for cooperative and competitive play as players saw fit. Dark Souls continued that trend, as From realized that they could expand the online play to fit into the world, hence adding in things like the Book of the Guilty, the option to join Covenants that punish invaders, and so on. While the above link points out that invasion was made more complicated (and therefore, shittier), that’s from a player perspective, and even then, only from a specific player perspective. From the perspective of From Software, the idea was awesome, because it does exactly what they wanted it to do: feed into their artistic vision of the world they’ve created, in a way that advances the concept and makes the world richer for it. From Software doesn’t make games for us, they make games for them, and anyone who thinks otherwise is delusional.
Again, this might seem like it’s being directed at those who enjoy the act of invading, but in reality it’s not; invasions will always be a part of the Souls franchise so long as From Software is forced to implement online play and the company financing them doesn’t insist it be removed, unless From comes up with an idea they like better, which is certainly possible. Rather, this is being directed at those who feel like From is slowly taking the game away from the invasion system in some attempt to appease those who dislike being invaded, because surprise, that’s almost certainly wrong! Dark Souls made it harder to invade constantly, but added in so many mechanics for invading that it’s almost definite that From wanted to expand on the idea, but handled it in a way that didn’t appease those who loved the simplistic take Demon’s Souls used. Dark Souls 2, on the other hand, made invasions much easier, in that there were several Covenants geared toward invading players in some form or another; it just didn’t work out in a way that was ideal for those who simply wanted to invade on their own terms. Random invasions were made more difficult, absolutely, but I guarantee you that you were invaded a shitload when you entered one of the Belfries or at least once when you entered the Grave of Saints (or more accurately, that you were pulled into someone else’s world) if you were online. Just because From is trying to expand the methods of invasion in ways that fit in with the stories they’re trying to tell doesn’t mean they’re making it harder to perform them; they’re just doing what they want, not trying to spare you from being invaded.
Finally, and this is the most important point here, it’s not like the Souls games have made any kind of a point toward forcing players to play online in the first place, save perhaps for the Steam versions of Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2. Dark Souls has multiple AI summoning spots in the early goings of the game, when players are at their worst, the one battle everyone has trouble with, the Bell Gargoyles, has two summon spots available to players, and most bosses offer at least one if you look around and maintain the NPC storylines, so it’s not like you can’t play offline and still get help. Dark Souls 2 not only offers several NPC’s to summon in, but also basically doubles the capabilities of the bosses you face, so it’s literally not worthwhile to summon someone in to begin with, so there’s literally no reason to play online unless you want to. Finally, Bloodborne just took that to the logical next step in the best possible way: it asks you up-front if you want to go online, and if you say no, you play offline. Sure, there aren’t a lot of AI NPC’s to summon (I assume, anyway, I haven’t checked) but it’s not like their intervention is really needed. Who would you need them for? The Shadows of Yharnam maybe? Otherwise there are very few bosses where having a second or third ally would really make a big difference in your ability to kill the boss, except maybe in the early going, and you can summon Father Gascoigne to kill the Cleric Beast anyway so hey, there you go******.
The point here is, if you don’t want to be invaded, don’t play online. What’s the benefit? You get to see hint messages? Yeah, after the tenth time you find a bottomless pit with “Try Jumping” next to it, I’m sure you’re really finding the value in those, aren’t you? You can see the bloodstains and visual indicators of when people died? Okay, that tells you… what, that there’s a dude up ahead who will kill you, which might save you one respawn, or might get you killed anyway? You get to play with others? Which, outside of Dark Souls, is at BEST agro redistribution, and in most cases can be substituted by AI NPC’s, especially since you have no idea if the person you’re summoning has any idea what the hell they’re doing? I mean, sure, I understand where you’re coming from; you’d like to be able to play the game coop with someone because it’d theoretically be easier to complete specific things or take out bosses than it is to do so on your own. That’s fine as a theory. In practice, however, that is not how From Software rolls, because if it were, then summoning would basically be straight coop, and that’s essentially never how it’s worked*******. You’re never going to see that unless someone like Sony or Namco Bandai forces the issue, and since the games are still selling out on day of release and making millions as is, that’s probably not going to happen.
Look, I get the basic opinions that because Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls had forced invasions at all times, so too should Bloodborne, and I can almost kind of empathize, in the same way that I can almost kind of empathize with players who want the games to have straight coop, no invasions and PVP arenas for those who want them. Honestly, though, you’re pissing in the wind here, because at best, From Software doesn’t give a shit what you want, at worst, Namco Bandai and Sony don’t give a shit what you want, and either way, the majority of the paying customers simply don’t care because they’ll deal with it as is. In an ideal world, From Software would find some sort of compromise that appeased everyone, such as opt-in invasions that reward players for being involved or something, but the reality is, From does what they want for their own interests, not yours, and it doesn’t matter because no one will ever truly be happy with the results anyway.
People who like the mechanic think it’s the best thing ever, but the people who don’t basically think it’s (at best) disruptive to their experience, and (at worst) essentially trolling in a game they paid for. The fact that Bloodborne is consistently making it hard for players to invade, often requiring them to sit for extensively long periods of time before they get to invade or get invaded, should make that point clear; people are either playing offline or killing the Bell Maidens that allow for invasion because they don’t want to be invaded, and From almost certainly did that because of some kind of specific reason only they know and understand. The fact that you want a different thing from the experience, whether it’s “more and better invasions” or “no invasions at all” is fine, in a broad sense, but it’s not going to compel them to do anything, because that’s not why they make games. They make games because, well, they have specific stories they want to tell, and they’re interested in doing it their way, not in a way that appeases the fanbase who will, in all fairness, probably never be entirely happy with what they make. It doesn’t really matter if you like it, because it does work; if it didn’t, the aggregated scores and sales for Souls games wouldn’t be going up as time goes on, and yet, that’s exactly what’s happening, because frankly, From is offering you options for how to play the game your way, even if they aren’t perfect, and even if you don’t like this version, you’ll buy the next one and hope it’s exactly what you want.
Just a thought.
* Real quick, before we move on: if we’re seriously at a point where someone who buys a game that’s a part of the Souls can be called a “casual” because they refuse to partake in a specific feature, that is fucking stupid. It’s fucking Bloodborne, not a Lego Adventures game, you asshole; it’s made for diehard players. If not wanting to deal with multiplayer makes you a casual then, as Inigio Montoya would say, “You keep using that word, I don’t think it means what you think it means.”
** I will note, however, that there are three things that probably will kill the franchise sooner rather than later: consistently releasing new ones every one-to-two years without fixing the problems the game has at launch beforehand, griefing and nerfing the ability to speed-run or otherwise have fun with the game. Say what you will, but turning the series into Assassin’s Creed basically killed Armored Core, no one wants to be beaten into the ground by online assholes, and speed-running is becoming an actual thing nowadays ever since that one guy did a speed run of Dark Souls as a nearly naked pyromancer.
Oh, yes, and also responding to anyone who expresses frustration with the games or inquiries with “git gud” and calling them bitches. Stay classy, internet.
*** I never really understood why people found that boss to be particularly troublesome until I watched people actually try to fight him, but holy shit, some of y’all were your own undoing. I mean, I enjoyed helping out, and I helped out somewhere around fifty players get through the boss (it was easy to kill skeletal babies while I waited), but man, it seemed like no one bothered to bring holy weapons into a fight against a skeletal monster who can summon the dead, and I just don’t get that. Oh well.
**** J. Rose, Shawn PC and I got into the series because we basically love From Software and have for years, while others got into it because of the hype around it. A couple of my friends, despite my recommendations not to play it, got into it anyway, and still speak to me, for some reason.
***** Which, since it was supposed to be a King’s Field in the first place, is probably not the case.
****** Which I sadly did not figure out until after the fact, because that probably would’ve helped a bit.
******* In Dark Souls, those summoned cannot heal via Estus, and are essentially reliant on their own raw skill, Miracles, or the healing of their summoner. In Dark Souls 2, bosses get statistical buffs to aid them in battle, thus relegating summoning to “having an alternate aggro point.” In Bloodborne, anyone summoned loses 30% of their health bar when summoned to assist. Demon’s Souls didn’t really do anything to nerf cooperation that I can recall or discover through research, but it did punish players in all kinds of other creative ways for losing to invaders or during invasions, so really, in its own way it was still a dick.