Dark Souls and its spiritual successors such as Bloodborne have become household names for players seeking challenging gameplay, thrilling action and blood-pumping adrenaline rushes. Each of From Software’s installments are full of traps, hidden enemies, unbalanced situations, and the like. Each new area in the game promises surprises that will almost assuredly kill even seasoned Souls players on their first go-around.
However, after playing through each game’s story several times, I found that the thrill had been replaced by drudgery as I was clearing out every ambush as a matter of routine—the enemies who once snuck up on me as I fought their comrades and backstabbed me off a cliff… well I became the one who ambushed them!
Anyway, it should be noted that Dark Souls et al. began to stop giving me those blood-pumping adrenaline rushes, and I did miss them. So, I would wait for the next installment mostly for the new locales with new hiding spots for enemies, traps, and loot. I’ve been trying to reclaim the same feeling of anticipation that I got from the first Dark Souls which leads me to play all their games after. Bloodborne delivered, and not just on the first playthrough, but also through another discovery.
While playing through Bloodborne for the fourth time or so, I decided to toggle off the HUD so I could take cool screenshots without it in the way.
I quickly discovered that having no HUD radically transformed how I played the game. I am here to try to convince you seasoned Souls players to try a run of your favorite Souls game without the HUD and see if it brings back the spark for you too. Let me explain how it worked for me.
The HUD shows how much health, stamina, ammunition, healing vials, and experience the player has. Without any of this key information, it becomes more difficult to gauge how a fight is going. This is particularly interesting for Bloodborne because many enemies deal enough damage to kill the player in almost one hit with their special attacks. For this reason it is very important to be at full health whenever possible. Having no idea how much damage an attack did, I often spent extra blood vials to make certain I was at full health. The max carrying capacity for blood vials is only 20, so these can be used up fast if I made a lot of mistakes, and I would have no idea how close I was to running out unless I counted—who cares about counting blood vials though when a giant werewolf is trying to make you into dinner.
Maybe I was just lazy, but when I was suddenly empty, I was full… of dread. There’s actually an animation that the character does when you try to heal without blood vials where they shake an empty vial desperately; this animation was much more fitting when I was expecting it to work and I was empty. Healing becomes much more interesting without the HUD and is both more strategic and frantic. In Bloodborne, bullets function about the same as healing without the HUD. In Dark Souls 1-3, you run into the further issue of your healing being linked to an item that you can toggle, so you may find yourself suddenly using your binoculars instead of drinking your estus flask. A mistake like that could be instant death in a boss fight.
An equally important hidden statistic without the HUD is the stamina bar. Stamina is used for sprinting, attacking, and dodging. Boss fights in Souls-like games are generally a balancing act between attacking and making sure you have enough stamina left-over for defensive action. Without a visible stamina bar, there is a very real risk you won’t have the stamina required to do that finishing blow, or dodge the next attack. This adds to the tension and difficulty of every fight, even regular enemies.
There is a reason beyond just difficulty to try playing without an HUD, and I alluded to it earlier. Screenshots! This game’s gorgeous, macabre setting pops even more when you don’t have an HUD covering parts of the screen. This allows you to take exciting screenshots that capture the action and make it a much cooler moment.
There are so many intense moments to immortalize. This game makes it very easy to get awesome action shots just by pressing the share button and then quickly saving the screenshot before zombies eat you. Or if you’re interested you can get cool panoramic shots of the city.
Everything in the background is connected in some way, so it’s cool to see what places you can get in the backround from heights like the Healing Church Workshop.
If your Bloodborne experience isn’t intense enough, you can always stage screenshots to make it look like you’re having more fun with the game.
And lastly, if you have the HUD turned off all the time, you never know when you might have an impromptu screenshot in the midst of crazy action that would have been ruined by an HUD.
Please note, if you take pictures too rapidly they may not be ruined by an HUD, but they may be ruined by a notice in the corner of the screen saying, “screenshot saved”.
Playing Dark Souls or Bloodborne without an HUD can add tension in all of the factors that you can’t see in the middle of a fight. I highly recommend you give it a try. It just brings back some of the feelings we all had when we first started out and panicked whenever a boss hit us once. Imagine having that panic almost all the time. Not only that, but it lets you take better screenshots on the fly so you can show off to your friends and make them interested in your game about werewolves and explosions.
One caveat, if you are one of those players who just doesn’t get hit anymore and all of the games are too easy for you, just keep doing perfect runs with no clothes and a broken sword. HUDless Souls is not for you, but keep doing your thing.
You didn’t hear this from me though.