Most people will absolutely hate this game. The plot is vague, the learning curve is steep, and the difficulty is insane. They throw you right in with no explanation, no weapons, and a werewolf in the next room that will kill you. Even when you come back after arming yourself they ramp things up by throwing a town square full of dozens of enemies at you, and that’s just the beginning. What’s worse is that if you die not only do you need to do the entire section again, but you lose all of the Blood Echoes (in-game currency) that you’ve collected, meaning you have accomplished nothing.
Finally there’s the first boss, a large lycanthropic creature called the Cleric Beast. You use every skill you’ve honed by running through the countless mobs of enemies in the starting area dozens of times, but to no avail. The Cleric Beast is different. It’s bigger, meaner, scarier, and it does a hell of a lot more damage. It will kill you again and again and again until you reach the point of madness. Then it happens. Something clicks. You’re dodging the Beast’s attacks, getting in good damage, healing when you have a window, and feeling confident. The Cleric Beast is still wailing on you though, forcing you to deplete all of your resources and use every trick you have. With little health and no Blood Vials (health potions) left, you finally do it. You land a killing blow, and the screen flashes two huge bold words, “PREY SLAUGHTERED.” Nothing feels as satisfying as seeing those words, and that is the appeal of Bloodborne.Bloodborne drops you off in a decaying Gothic city by the name of Yharnam on the night of the hunt. The entire town is falling victim to a horrible plague that is turning its’ citizens into beasts. You play a nameless protagonist seeking a cure for your own affliction that of course you must do by killing every beast in your way until nothing is left standing. Really though, the plot is significantly downplayed in Bloodborne. It plays more like an old NES game in that it’s not about getting from cutscene to cutscene, it’s about experiencing the world. It reminded me more of the original Castlevania than anything more modern, though that may have something to do with the fact that I chose a whip as my starting weapon.
The environment is absolutely gorgeous. Yharnam is a rich and detailed setting full of terror and decay. Coffins and lit burning effigies line the streets as mobs of angry villagers with pitchforks and torches patrol. The detail in the architecture is astounding and there’s something new to take in at every turn. The entire city weaves up and down and loops back in on itself. With very few checkpoints to be found, there’s an emphasis on finding shortcuts and opening up locked gates. It can feel confusing and labyrinthine at first but you’ll find yourself eventually knowing the map like the back of your hand as you loop back to familiar places. The enemies and characters are all incredibly designed as well. The werewolves and beasts are freakish and emaciated, looking, like they are desperate to rip you to shreds. The barking crows creep me out every time I see them and some of the crazy things that are introduced later on are absolutely insane. The game’s Gothic Victorian setting shifts to something a bit different as the game progresses, but I won’t spoil that for you.
If you’re at all familiar with From Software’s previous titles Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls then you at least have an idea of what to expect in the gameplay department. Bloodborne is a third person action-RPG where you travel from environment to environment and kill increasingly difficult things. Unlike other RPGs though, the emphasis here isn’t on grinding and leveling up, even though that does play a part. Instead the focus is on reading your enemies attacks and reacting correctly. This isn’t a game where you get better because a number next to your character’s name gets bigger, this is a game where you get better because you get better. Bloodborne requires patience and skill.
Where it differs from the Souls games however is in the pace of the combat. Given the change in setting from Medieval castles to a Victorian city your weapons and attire change to suit that. Shields are basically gone and primitive firearms like pistols and the blunderbuss have replaced them. Armor is also given up for basic clothing and while it does add some protection it doesn’t make nearly the same amount of difference that a set of full plate does. You do still have weapons, but this time around they’re the much fancier “trick weapons” that can switch back and forth from a sword to a spear or from a cane to a whip at the press of a button. All of this adds up to a much more aggressive play style and the game actively rewards you for this. First off, there’s the regain system. If you manage to get hit by an enemy then you can get some of that health back by performing a counter attack immediately. Second, there’s the visceral attacks. If you get right up to your opponent and fire off a round from your trusty firearm just before they hit you with an attack you’ll knock them into a staggered state, and then you have the opportunity to perform a special visceral attack, dealing tons of damage and killing most non-boss enemies. These changes completely shift how you need to approach combat and gave me a lot of trouble in the early sections of the game. In Dark Souls, I was very much someone who liked to hide behind a shield so it took a bit of getting used to.
Any complaints I have are minor and often can be chalked up to “it was done better in Dark Souls.” Blood Vials are the new health potions and rather than being replenished when you go to a bonfire, they are an item that you pick up in the environment and on fallen enemies. For the most part this is fine, but can lead to grinding when you’re repeatedly throwing yourself at a boss. Unfortunately, unlike the bonfires in Dark Souls, Bloodborne’s lanterns don’t let you do anything besides travel to the Hunter’s Dream, the safe hub world where you can upgrade your character and weapons. The problem with this is that instead of being able to reset all of the enemies just by sitting down, you have to travel back and forth and sit through two loading screens in the process. While the loading screens aren’t the absolute worst they certainly add up if you’re doing this often. I also found a few minor graphical glitches here and there, but nothing game breaking. They were incredibly brief and will certainly be patched out soon.
I must also mention the multiplayer as it exists in various forms. My favorite aspect and one of the defining features of all of From Software’s titles is that if you play online you can see messages left by other players and leave your own as well. There’s an incentive to leave helpful notes (such as “ambush ahead”) because people can up-vote or down-vote notes by labelling them “fine” or “foul.” If you’re online and somebody rates your message as “fine” the you will be immediately healed, which needless to say can be pretty helpful. On top of that, finding helpful notes gives a nice sense of community in a game that mostly a single player experience.
There are some co-op and PVP elements as well in the form of summons and invasions. These are also carry overs from the Souls games and function much the same. The summons are a bit more difficult this time around however, as you no longer see “summon signs” on the floor and ringing the bell to try and find somebody to help you out for a boss fight can be a bit of a crap shoot.
Clearly I absolutely love this game, but I’m not saying that you should, too. It’s a grind, it takes patience, and your enjoyment will entirely hinge on your willingness to put in the effort to get good. The opening section is incredibly difficult for newcomers and Souls veterans alike since the game definitely doesn’t ease you into anything, but if you can get past that it’s a really satisfying and rewarding experience. There’s so much more to this game that I haven’t even talked about such as the procedurally generated chalice dungeons or the new game plus, but it’s best to just experience it for yourself. I’d highly recommend it if this sounds like this might be up your alley. If you enjoyed the Souls games then Bloodborne is clearly something you should play, but you probably already knew that. Bloodborne is out now exclusively for Playstation 4.