Attack Follow-up Speed in Bloodborne

This is a quick look at the unusual relationship of attack follow-up speed to difficulty in Bloodborne. Attack follow-up speed is the speed at which a given enemy or group of enemies attacks/hits again after having hit the player, basically the inverse of the time between attack hits.

Follow-up speed is a small aspect of overall action/combat pacing and difficulty. That said, I think it’s indicative of Bloodborne’s general approach, and so worth investigating.

The main ideas here are:
- In the basic fighting game, harder enemies require faster player actions.
- In Bloodborne, harder enemies instead force players to selectively delay their actions.

Basic action game follow-up timing pattern

We’ll start with the basic/common approach to attack follow-up speed in relation to difficulty:

Difficulty Follow-up speed
Easy Slow
Medium Medium
Hard Fast

Here, high difficulty is associated with high speed. Higher enemy attack frequency implies narrower timing windows for player evasion and counterattack. Of course, the way a game creates challenge says something about what it values, what experience it seeks to create. A typical action game becomes more difficult by requiring more precise, rapid inputs, and values the feelings of excitement and mastery that this creates.

For instance, here’s boss from Cuphead. The first-stage boss is relatively relaxed, only attacking every few seconds. By the final stage, the player must dodge attacks near-continuously (each of which requires multiple inputs), while constantly maneuvering on moving platforms.

Bloodborne follow-up timing pattern

Bloodborne does something different with attack follow-ups:

Difficulty Follow-up speed
Easy Slow or continuous
Medium Fast
Hard Slightly less fast

We’ll now look at Bloodborne enemies from each difficulty tier.

A standard low-difficulty enemy in Bloodborne (and other Souls games) is the “Weak Sword Human”. The WSH has two attacks: (1) very slow windup and swing, and (2) slow windup and many very fast swings. Attack 2 can kill a player from full health, due to the repeated hitstun. However, the player can escape it by simply hitting the dodge button. The input will be buffered, and the generous iframes will carry the player outside the attack’s range. Thus, a seemingly difficult input becomes a basic, easy-to-use tool. To avoid getting hit in the first place, the player must be patient and resist attacking during the multi-swing attack (gif below) or must attack without hesitation when approaching the enemy.

A typical medium-difficulty enemy (such as the chalice dungeons’ Merciless Watcher) introduces higher mobility and longer sequences. Instead of just dodging once, the player must dodge multiple times in a row, or dodge after getting hit. However, attacks come at roughly the frequency of the player’s dodge, meaning the player can simply buffer dodge inputs or follow the dodge animation to dodge with the correct timing. We see this in the gif below - the player gets hit by the first swing, but avoids the second by buffering a dodge during their hitstun animation.

A basic high-difficulty enemy (such as Father Gascoigne’s beast form or the Orphan of Kos) introduces slower follow-up speed than the typical medium-difficulty enemy. After getting hit, the player’s instinct is to dodge away ASAP, especially if the next attack’s windup has already started. In this case though, a panic dodge will actually finish before the next attack arrives. To avoid getting hit again, the player must stand their ground, read the next attack, and then dodge a fraction of a second later.