Alright, we get it.
. It’s challenging, it’s grim, it’s mysterious, and it feels like a passionately made Bloodborne is good Souls-like game. But why? What is it about Bloodborne that makes it so compelling, so deserving of your frustration and perseverance?
It’s the crows, obviously.
Even if you haven’t played it yet, you’ve likely heard someone mention
Bloodborne’s freakish crows. They’re right there in the beginning of the game, jumping at you with their unsettling roars, startling you as you go to grab a glowing item, chomping away chunks of your health. Eventually, you’ll learn their tricks and start smacking them right out of the air. But you’re always a little on-edge around these things, and there’s a reason for that.
The crows summarize what’s so brilliant about
Bloodborne’s enemy design. Let’s look at why that is.
The crows represent all that’s nasty and brilliant about
Bloodborne. But they’re not the only well-crafted enemy in it. If you’ve been making your way through the game, tell us what your favorite enemy is in the comments!
Bloodborne Enemy Design Gallery
Demon’s Souls and both Dark Souls games, which I’ll refer to as the Souls games from here on out, utilize careful enemy placement to keep you on-guard as you progress in a level. From Software often plays with your expectations and will throw enemies at you when you least expect it. See a chest? Go on and open it, but as soon as you do, something will probably come up behind you or drop on your head. A narrow bridge? Be wary of something out of your reach that’s more than happy to shoot you off to your death. The Souls games teach you to be cautious of everything and to only take risks when necessary. Bloodborne challenges your cautious play by taking away your shields and giving you enemies that attack fast and relentlessly. This means that, as you’re adjusting, every combat encounter requires you to be fully engaged. It’s hard to be cautious with so much going on. To keep you alert, From Software hides deadly crows near items on the ground, right where you’d assume you’re safe from horrible monsters. What’s worse is that they’re hard to see on the dark ground with grass and other stuff in the way. So, just as you’re bending down to pick up the item, they’ll jump out and lock you into a stagger animation as your health depletes.
Next time, you’ll scan the ground, weapon at the ready to beat them down.
Bloodborne expertly teaches you to pay attention to your surroundings by giving you a very memorable encounter. It needs to, because later in the game, you’ll be ambushed by more than crows.
Souls veterans will know this, but newcomers in Bloodborne might not. Enemies in the series are predictable. If you know what they’re going to do, you can easily defeat them. But you have to learn through example.
Remember I said the crows jump out at you? Well, that’s all they do. They always jump forward in the air. If you get hit by them, you’ll be stuck in a flurry of beak and feathers. But if you can strafe to their sides, they’re easy prey. It’s super simple to execute, but it requires a bit of trial and error to understand.
Souls Design 101. Learn through error, or more likely, death. This is why people like to describe the games as hard, but I think a more accurate word would be demanding. Most games will ramp up their difficulty and require you to use more of what you’ve learned near the end. If the crows were in another game, they might still jump at you, but would probably only lightly damage so you could survive to figure it out on the first try. Bloodborne gives the crows the ability to gang up on you and kill you quickly because it wants much more out of you from the start.
The crows simple attack teaches you to roll out of the way or to stay calm and circle around them. It also teaches you that facing an enemy head-on isn’t always the answer and that you should be mindful of other approaches. This is necessary to make it through
Bloodborne and it’s why you’re taught so early on.
Bloodborne plays a good trick on you. In the beginning of the game, most of the enemies are talking humans that swipe at you with torches. There’s something off about them, but they’re not much more than your typical angry townsmen from other games.
The crows are your first real glimpse that something is very wrong. When they attack, they let out a guttural roar that sounds nothing like a crow, and they don’t seem capable of flying very long. It’s weird and, since you have no explanation, it’s unsettling. Intentional or not, that noise motivates you to kill them faster so you can avoid hearing it again. It’s
Souls series is known for that kind of subtlety in their visual enemy design. It’ll give you an enemy that’s scary, but won’t immediately explain why it exists, making it even more scary. The crows aren’t normal crows, which fits nicely into Bloodborne’s horror theme.
Minor spoilers here for the crows.
Very little in a
Souls game exists without reason. That’s why deeper into Bloodborne, you’re actually given a vague explanation for what the crows are. It turns out, they might be transformed dogs, which would neatly explain why they can’t fly and make that awful noise. You learn this by fighting dogs with crow heads. While it’s not clear what caused them to turn, it lets you know that, yes, something is definitely messed up with those crows. And, best of all, this continues another Bloodborne theme: beastly transformations.
The Power Trip
Bloodborne is a game about punishment and making you feel constantly oppressed. You die a lot and your skill is repeatedly tested. It can be exhausting and occasionally frustrating. When will this game let up?
The answer lies in the crows!
The crows never go away in
Bloodborne. It seems like you’re always running into them, even after mastering how to kill them. The game keeps them in the mix because the crows are familiar to you. You’ve been fighting them for a while, and now when you kill them, it changes from a frantic encounter to a fun one. You get a rare chance to feel powerful when you slam your weapon down on them. You also get to feel smart when you catch them hiding in the grass. They become an easy relief from the new and harder enemies the game introduces as you get further along. The crows shift from your deadly enemies to your deadly friends that you murder with glee.
Putting It All Together
Bloodborne’s crows are used as a trick, a tutorial, a story point, and a brief respite, yet they’re behaviors never change. What changes is the context in which you fight them and your own internalized tactics. You’re the one that grows, not them. And that, to me, is proof that the Souls series and Bloodborne are some of the most compelling and best-designed action games in the medium right now.