In 2009 we were gifted with the beginning of this curse. Demon’s Souls was a game that boasted a brutal difficulty, realistic swordplay and a constantly evolving dark fantasy setting that always had you wondering what was around the next corner. Then, in 2011 we got the masterpiece sequel to that game which was Dark Souls. DS1 took everything Demon’s Souls had built and improved on it a multitude of times over. The enemies become more brutal, more twisted, more sad. The environments, darker, forcing us to face our fears and in the end give our lives to end a world spiraling into chaos. Aye, it seems that the farther From Studios goes down this rabbit hole, the more twisted their original vision becomes. In this recent installment of the Souls series, we face what is most likely the darkest the series can achieve as this Victorian nightmare has mutated everything we once knew about fantasy games into this edgy mess. In this review, I’d like to talk about what made Bloodborne such a successful game as well as go over its systems and lightly graze over the plot to reveal why we enjoy this punishment so much. I’ll admit its not my favorite Souls game in the series, however, there are too many things it does both right and wrong to not talk about either one.
“We are born of blood, made men by blood, undone by the blood.”
“Our eyes are yet to be open…”
“Fear the old blood.”
In Bloodborne you begin your adventure in the blood stained streets of Yharnam, a town where crazed villagers, rabid dogs and towering abominations attempt to tear you to shreds before your story even begins. Like any Souls game, Bloodborne does not try to hold your hand in directing the narrative with cut-scenes or scripted events. Everything you learn about the story you learn through playing the game.This is because in Bloodborne you are not some chosen hero destined to save the world, you are a mere footnote in the world’s lore and its up to you to become a legend or even survive the walking nightmare that is Yharnam and beyond. The only goal the game gives you is to cure your blood sickness which you’ve heard can be undone at the healing church in Yharnam. Even this goal is selfish and not as glorious as most games try to make you out to be, but, creates the need to push-on and find out more about the world around you.
Obviously what makes Bloodborne stand out from the other Souls games is the Victorian style setting of the game, but, the beautiful part about it is that the setting is not so far into the future that players of the older games will feel lost or even that much has changed. You’ll still trek through dark forests, seemingly abandoned graveyards, and the beautiful Cainhurst Castle that you get to around mid-way through the game (And don’t worry the game has its own version of Blighttown in case you thought you were done with that torture). Did I mention that this game is graphically stunning? I believe that Bloodborne shows the true potential of the Playstation 4’s graphics with its dynamic lighting and intensely detailed visuals which further drives the player to want to see whats next for their hunter’s journey. I honestly felt physically intimidated when my hunter finally reached the top of Cainhurst Castle to see that ghost king amidst a swirling blizzard charging up his horrid blood-infused magic attacks. It was as though I was standing there looking at this ancient evil and facing certain doom. The visuals alone will make Bloodborne an unforgettable experience and truly stand the test of time for gamer’s love of adventuring.
In short Blodborne is a wonderful love letter to those interested in Lovecraftian worlds and have an unquenchable thirst for all forbidden knowledge. If you’re willing to put in the time to truly understand Bloodborne’s twisted tale you will come out a changed man but this is no easy task as I believe Bloodborne to be one of the hardest games in the Souls series. Bloodborne asks a lot of you without much guidance to completing the game’s proposed objectives, which I don’t believe many players picking up the game realize until its far too late.
Bloodborne, as opposed to its predecessors (And Dark Souls III which is already out at the time of this review) is a game very much focused on an offensive and action based experience. No longer will you be circling enemies to fish for backstabs nor will you be hiding behind some kind of shield to block attacks. Granted, there is a shield item in the game, but even the description of the shield mocks the player for using it, and most hunters will find out very quickly how useless a piece of wood will be against the eldritch horrors of Yharnam.
” A crude wooden shield used by the masses who have arisen to join the hunt.
Hunters do not normally employ shields, ineffectual against the strength of the beasts as they tend to be.
Shields are nice, but not if they engender passivity.”
The masses? What a cheeky way of saying the casuals trying to stick to their old ways will be utterly destroyed in this new Souls game! I can tell that Bloodborne really values my company. Regardless, Bloodborne asks you to put a gun in your left hand and a brutal cutting weapon in your right. The counter system that players came to know in previous games changed to a “Staggering” system wherein, you must shoot your opponent just before his attack animation happens to force the enemy into a weakened state. On paper this sounds the same to the Dark Souls counter system where you would simply press the shield bash button just before an attack to create an opening but the gun, and the rolling mechanic changes everything you knew about Souls games.
Rolling is still done with the circle button, however, now you get a second of invulnerability when you roll which allows you to phase through attacks that would knock you down in other souls games (Because you are an edgy ghost). This does not mean the enemies of Bloodborne are a pushover by any means. Instead, it allows the developers the opportunity to give monsters combo attacks, strong area of effect attacks and even transformations mid-fight. Since you are able to move faster and dodge through certain attacks you’ll find that most enemies in Bloodborne are faster than you. They’ll attempt to read your rolls even when you time them correctly because combat is no longer about being a knight in armor, stacking your numbers against theirs, its all about positioning and reading your enemy before they read you.
By combining the rolling mechanic and the stagger mechanic you’ll find a much more frantic combat experience overall. Sometimes battles will all come down to whether or not you timed your shot right, other times it will come down to when you committed to attacking in the face of what seems to be certain death. This game will try to scare you through its gameplay far more than its visuals or story. Luckily, the odds aren’t completely against you, each weapon has a transformation mechanic which gives it a unique feature. For example, Ludwig’s holy blade, at a glance appears to just be a regular short sword you’d find in any game, but by using the transform button your hunter shoves the smaller blade into its case to reveal that its actually an enormous bastard sword!
This can be both a good and bad thing, as you’ll find weapons are now more scarce than they were in older games because of the fact that each weapon you find has a transformation. Most likely, each hunter will find one or two weapons that fit their play-style, both in their normal form and transformed and just stick to those. I found myself using Ludwig’s holy blade for about 80% of the game, because by the time I found other weapons, none were worth upgrading to the same level my holy blade was, and the transformation to a giant sword seemed much more helpful against bosses than most.
Magic does return to the game, but it has also undergone a mutation from what you knew in previous Souls games. Even this seemingly pure aspect of a fantasy game has been corrupted to channeling the awesome power of Ebrietas(basically the Cthulu of the game). No basic fireballs here folks. Because of its corrupted and forbidden nature, there won’t really be a magic teacher either so instead you’ll find equipment in the game that scales off of your Arcane stat and has a “spell like attack”. This however, I believe is one of Bloodborne’s bigger traps because of how late in the game you get magic equipment. I often kicked myself for pouring points into Arcane early on when I could have put them in the much more useful Bloodtinge stat which increases your effectiveness with guns. (At 30 Bloodtinge you can literally use an Arm-canon! Who wouldn’t want that kind of firepower?)
Overall, I think the combat is where most will experience the harshest learning curve when playing Bloodborne. Keeping its system so close to previous games yet making such big changes; on top of the fact that some of the stats aren’t properly explained, gear being few and far between and the over all chaos that can happen in each fight of the game, players may find themselves begging for a difficulty slider–and From Software would laugh at you for asking for one as it takes your life…again.
Your goal in Bloodborne is more or less the same as it is in other Souls games. Adventure through the world, kill enemies and bosses, be on the lookout for secret areas to progress, watch out for other players trying to kill you for your precious blood echoes and piece together where the end of the game is. The hub world from Demon’s Souls makes a much welcomed return to Bloodborne in what is known as the Hunter’s Dream. In this realm seemingly disconnected from the rest of the world’s narrative you can level up your stats, upgrade your gear, store items and of course, pick which level you’d like to tackle. The Hunter’s Dream even has a creepy maiden character you use to level, a walking talking Doll void of emotion. However, unlike Demon’s Souls which allowed you to pick any level you wanted, Bloodborne opts for a more linear experience, only allowing you to pick levels that you’ve found the warp points for. Basically the middle-ground between Demon’s Souls level select and Dark Souls system of using Bonfires as warp points (Zelda much?)
As you venture through the twisted landscape of Bloodborne you will gain Insight which is a system designed to take place of the Humanity system in Dark Souls. Insight determines how much your character understands about the world and is a very central part of the game’s narrative. Many of the monsters are blind in Bloodborne because of the things they saw when gaining insight, and you too will come to know these horrors the longer your stay. Its a very unique mechanic that adds to the world in a way no other Souls game has, creating monsters that were seemingly invisible before and even opening ways to new levels. But, ignorance is bliss, and sometimes having too much insight could only cause you more pain down the road as monsters will have different attacks than you were used to, and even lower your resistance to fury, a status effect that can take your character down to your last hit-point. It will be your job as a hunter to mitigate how much insight you have and truly commit to unraveling truths about the world. It has to be one of the most unique mechanics of the game as it both adds to the narrative of the story, and creates a new difficulty all at the same time.
Speaking of hit-points, monsters hit much harder in Bloodborne because of the lack of heavy armor and the aforementioned dodge mechanic and stagger mechanic. You’re given twenty healing surges to restore your health with as well as a regain system which allows you to gain the health you may have lost to an enemy if you do that amount of health as damage to the enemy. This is another example of how Bloodborne favors offense over defense as you’ll find yourself wondering if you should swing wildly at the enemy who hit you to mitigate the damage you took. The game would much rather you simply kill what attacks you rather than attempt to lick your wounds, which makes health seem more like a formality than anything else, especially since you are given a limited amount of bullets to stagger enemies with, the temptation of sacrificing healing surges for more bullets will always be there to toy with your mind. You can also use the blood echoes you gain from enemies to purchase additional healing surges in the Hunter’s Dream, but, since this is the same currency you use to level up your character, buying healing surges is a slippery slope to falling behind in strength. Unlike older games where you could grind endlessly against re-spawning enemies, after you’ve defeated a particular monster spawn ten times, they de-spawn from the map forever. Of course it would take considerable effort to have this happen but it is something every player must think about when they are struggling at a certain part of the game.
Bloodborne is one of the few games that successfully drives its core themes and messages through sheer gameplay alone. Its maddening amount of systems to keep in mind, its do or die theme with combat and its dark Insight system all tie together to make Bloodborne’s gameplay a true descent into madness. Its rewarding, but also infuriating.
A game that seems to want to make you quit through insane difficulty is not a new concept for the Souls series. It is in this adversity that most of its players find their willpower to persevere and along the way take in all the beautifully horrific elements the game has to offer. In terms of atmosphere and lore Bloodborne is the pinnacle of what a Souls game should have, as every piece of the atmosphere is experienced both visually and through gameplay. But by changing the core of the game from a defensive-oriented game to an offensive-oriented game, many players will find that the climb to reach each milestone in Bloodborne much harder than in previous games. Because Bloodborne is much faster than what most people are used to, many of the game’s rules and secrets will be overlooked on the first play-through. The game is by no means a game for the faint of heart or a good place for people to start playing Souls games. But for players who have played the older games and are willing to adjust to the newer system, a rewarding and wondrous experience awaits. Bloodborne truly is a madman’s game and if you’re thinking about rolling the dice on picking it up or not, then you should be prepared for the consequences of not being fully prepared. For a score, I would give it a 4/5 simply as much as I wanted to love it, I got more enjoyment out of the earlier games than the back and forth rewarding aspects and frustrating aspects that Bloodborne presents.