Bloodborne, From Software’s latest brutal masterpiece of a game, is finally out and I’ve been completely consumed by it. I could spend this entire article raving about how great the game is but instead I want to focus on some of the interface improvements (and a notable downgrade) from Dark Souls, its spiritual predecessor from 2011.
(Sidenote: I have not yet played Dark Souls 2 so I’ll be reserving a more complete analysis of UI in the Souls games and Bloodborne for the future)
Crisp and refreshing
The “next-gen” nature of the game means that Bloodborne runs at a native 1080p (Dark Souls was 720p). This allows for a noticeably crisper UI overall. Text feels easier to read and in many cases the UI elements have been decreased in size in response to the increased resolution.
The core layout and structure of the menus in Bloodborne are very similar to the Dark Souls UI formula but with significant improvements. It feels like From Software was more careful in their use of screen real estate and put real care into cleaning things up.
In Dark Souls (shown below), your health and stamina bars (red and green) in the top-left corner along with your Humanity count (“00” here). The bottom-left corner is an overview of the equipment currently in your left and right hand, along with the currently selected item (in this case an Estus Flask).
The four boxes in that corner map to the controller’s D-pad, so you can press down on the D-pad to toggle through your quick items (and likewise to toggle between weapons in your left and right hand). The bottom right corner shows your current number of souls (basically XP).
Bloodborne’s in-game HUD features almost the same set of UI elements but takes up much less space on the screen. The top left still houses health and stamina but the bars are more minimal in their presentation. They’re no longer segmented into chunks like in Dark Souls and have a small white shape indicating current health/stamina level.
Because the game is so dark those white shapes make it easy to glance at the corner and quickly assess your situation despite their smaller size. The immediacy of those bars is strategically critical when deciding whether to retreat and heal or run in swinging.
The item selection has also been moved to the top left, along with two persistent items: blood vials and quicksilver bullets. There’s no longer an on-screen indicator of currently equipped weapons, although you can still toggle them using left and right on the D-pad. There are only two weapon slots for each hand so it’s generally obvious what your current weapon is.
Bloodborne’s equivalent of souls, Blood Echoes, are now in the top right corner along with Insight, the game’s closest approximation to Humanity in Dark Souls (previously in the top left).
This more minimal presentation overall feels like a really nice refinement and helps to better showcase the game’s gorgeous environments. For long-time Souls players it’s a bit of an adjustment but one that feels comfortable pretty quickly. Huge improvement already!
Both games feature a quirky character creator which is also some of the first UI that the player will encounter. Although Bloodborne’s creator felt a little easier to navigate they’re quite similar.
Their differences are mostly stylistic, and reflect the game’s different themes. Dark Souls uses this ancient-looking scroll to feel consistent with the more fantasy aesthetic while Bloodborne’s menus are dark and Victorian.
Notice how much smaller the text is in Bloodborne, and how the text has much more room to breathe as a result.
This screen was totally overwhelming to me when I first started playing Dark Souls. Your stats are divided into three big columns of labels and numbers and sub-divided into groups, only separated by a subtle horizontal line. Fot example, it’s easy to mistake Humanity (bottom of leftmost column) as belonging to the list of upgradeable stats immediately above it.
Bloodborne’s equivalent uses the same structure but adds extra space between these groups of statistics, making it much easier to digest. This screen still requires some initial effort from the player to figure out what they’re looking at but it’s an improvement.
Bloodborne’s loading screen is its greatest tragedy and disappointment so far. In a game where you will die, often, this is screen you see quite a bit. A typical loading screen in Bloodborne lasts 30–40 seconds and looks exactly like this:
That little icon in the top right corner pulses a bit so you know the game hasn’t frozen, but seriously, that’s it.
This is a huge missed opportunity to expand on the game’s lore and a literal downgrade from previous games! We don’t need to see the game’s logo repeatedly; I know that I’m playing Bloodborne and I can only admire the swooshy arm of that lowercase R for so long…
In Dark Souls (and in most modern games) the loading screens would give you information about various items in the game, helping to passively teach you about different gameplay mechanics and provide interesting insight into the game’s world.
Here are a few examples:
Much better, right?
I’m still completely baffled by From Software’s decision to implement such a useless loading screen. It takes the player out of the game experience and creates additional frustration that could be solved by giving us something (anything!) to look at while we wait.
I suppose it does make the penalty of death even greater, which seems appropriate for a game known for its difficulty.
A wealth of improvements
I’m only about 11 hours into Bloodborne but I’ve been really pleased with almost all of the changes From Software has made. The game feels like an evolution of Dark Souls without being too derivative. It exists as its own entity but offers enough similarity to previous games to feel welcome to Souls veterans.
And it’s a good example of a game that has implemented good, readable typography that matches the game’s aesthetic. The serifed type used throughout feels comfortable to read at a distance and the more minimal HUD presentation makes the game feel richer.
A few more examples
Without getting too long-winded about this, here are some more examples of how the UI has evolved since Dark Souls: