Bloodborne is very much a Souls game in nature, but takes elements from both the Demon and Dark Souls franchises to forge its own path and leave its beastly, near perfect mark on the gaming world.
Being one of the best entries on the PS4 to date and a masterpiece in its own right, Bloodborne takes you through the beautifully twisted city of Yharnam plagued by a nightmarish disease and vicious beasts lying in wait around every corner. Speeding up the combat and transforming it into a more offensive experience by dropping the shield and equipping your hunter with a firearm creates a unique experience that once you’ve gotten the hang of, offers a fun new way of playing the game. Aside from the lengthy load times and a couple graphical issues, Bloodborne has enough gory goodness to keep you coming back and clawing for more.
You find yourself a hunter, seeking sacred blood from the Gothic city of Yharnam. Upon starting the game, a native welcomes you and performs a blood transfusion. With magical blood rumored to have potent healing properties now pulsing through your veins, you wake up in a dingy blood stained medical clinic with your fists as the only means of defending yourself against a vicious lycan. Naturally you die, making it readily apparent that this game already means business. I mean, we’re talking about a From Software title here so that really comes as no surprise.
As we mentioned in our starter guide, and as many Souls pros know, dying is an integral part of the learning process and there is no hand-holding here. In addition to a few prompts you’re able to interact with (or avoid) that explain how to hit, you also learn about what happens when you die less than five minutes into the game. For starters, you lose all of your “blood echoes” — serving as both XP and currency in the game — and awaken at a nearby location. It makes leveling up a nightmare if you continue to lose all of your progress. Luckily for your hunter, he or she picks up their first two weapons — one melee, one firearm — and is able to warp from the Hunter’s Dream hub via creepy headstone back to the clinic where the werewolf who just mauled the ever-living crap out of you is going about his business. Yes, that means like the game’s predecessors, enemies respawn once you leave the area, which comes into play later on when you want to grind for more blood echoes. Once the difficulty level ramps up, every death means the loss of progress, but dying also rewards you with a better plan for attacking the level once you respawn. Everything is deliberate here.
As far as grinding for souls, erm…I mean blood echoes, goes there is one annoyance that couldn’t be avoided — the only way to reset an area is to travel back to the hub world and then travel back to whatever area you were in. If that isn’t enough to bug you, the lengthy load times and unimaginative screens you are forced to look at while it’s happening coupled with the fact that you can’t travel between locations without first going back to the hub world is enough to drive anyone mad.
Speaking of spawn points, we should probably talk a little about the lanterns (Bloodborne’s version of Dark Souls bonfires) that you light along the way as you venture deeper into Yharnam. It is a rarity to find these beauties as they are spread pretty far apart. Once your do, you’ll be able to warp back to the Hunter’s dream to level up, fortify weapons or purchase items…but that’s about it. If you were counting on resting at one to quickly respawn all of the enemies in the area, you are out of luck. While being spaced apart sounds like a bad thing, especially when you’ll have to slice through the monsters in the area again if you die (unless you are smart and run past them) From Software’s brilliant level design makes you shake it off like it ain’t no thang.
One of the best parts about the level design is that each main area (starting with a lantern and ending with a big bad boss) has several shortcuts to unlock. The last of which is usually pretty close to the boss. Being able to open up a gate you couldn’t pass earlier or riding down an elevator and ending up back at the lantern is a rewarding experience in and of itself. Also, later on in the game, opening up shortcuts will lead you to other locations, some of which are additional areas you may not have found otherwise. It quickly becomes apparent how imperative poking your head around in every delicately designed nook and cranny is to getting the most out of the game. In addition to shortcuts, exploring the area also gives you a better idea of what the heck is going on in Yharnam.
In true From Software fashion, if you want to know what is going on in the game, you’ll have to earn it by searching for clues. Various things like notes and architecture serve as visceral hints about what is really going one. One of the best parts about the game is that it isn’t vague about what it is trying to show you. More often than not what you’re seeing is what you think you’re seeing. Is that really a burning ____over there? Yes, yes it is. Though finding these bits isn’t necessary to enjoy the game, they make the experience that much better once you start to piece things together like a mystery.
The game opts for ambient sounds instead of music throughout several of the locations. Upon entering Yharnam, you are greeted with deathly coughing coming from several of the buildings and later on, when visiting an alternate area, you are forced to travel the halls of a frozen castle plagued by crying female ghosts. The interesting thing about the sounds is that they aren’t merely a series of noises played on an endless loop. For example, when in one of the bldinuigs at the beginning of the game, you’re able to hear villagers whispering about you, the outsider. As you move through the house, they moan, groan and hush each other up so you aren’t able to detect them in the dark. If you take out the lot of them however, the house they were in will remain silent. The same goes for the women in the castle. Leave them be and you’ll be listening to a choir of mournful cries, but destroy them all and the only sound you’ll be hearing are your footsteps. Sounds like these are what keeps you on edge — as if an enemy sneaking up on you wasn’t enough of a worry already.
“The gameplay is as dynamic as ever
and breathes new life into
an already great system.”
The locations themselves speak volumes about the bizarre activity in the city. The fact that they are all centered around religion makes it that much worse (think creepy Unitologists from the Dead Space franchise). Many enemies and bosses are members of the “healing church,” which is the sect of the Yharnam religion responsible for using ritualistic blood healing on their followers. With a power they never dreamed of at their beck and call, they’re able to transform the pious citizens and use them for a darker purpose.
There are several NPCs you can interact with who sometimes divulge information, or laugh so maniacally it makes your skin crawl. There is also, pretty early on in the game, the option to send trapped citizens to one of two locations (as far as we know). The game doesn’t give you a clear explanation of who to send where, but going with your best guess to see what happens is all part of the nuance of the game, especially when some of them play into the interesting side plot which grants you the “true” ending for the game. If you happen to miss talking to a certain NPC once you reach a certain part of the game, you can kiss that alternate ending goodbye, unless of course you decide to play the game again. As you can imagine, this increases the replay factor tenfold.
As you progress further into the game, you’ll realize that the time of day changes as well. That’s because the entirety of the game takes place on the so-called “night of the hunt” — the reason the townspeople are hiding inside as the crazed mob of pitchfork wielding villagers and brutish beasts run amok outside. As the sky changes, so do the enemies. Some disappear, while others spawn, keeping you on your toes in all of the areas you thought you once knew. There was a moment towards the end of the game where I walked out into a familiar courtyard and saw a lowly villager standing in the place of one of my former enemies. Thinking he was harmless, I prepared to slash at him with my leveled-up Ludwig’s Holy Blade but was met with a nasty surprise. He transformed into a snarling, electrified baddie. Several other enemies, including bosses, take this same route surprising the hell out of you every time it happens. This ability leads to some pretty impressive enemy animations and one hit kills.
If you haven’t gathered as much already, transformation seems to be one of the main themes in Bloodborne. Aside from the enemies, landscapes, and NPCs that evolve over the course of the game, weapons are also given the brand new ability to transform from the get go. Each weapon has two entirely different modes with a light and heavy attack per each version of the weapon.
So what exactly does that mean? Let me explain. If you get your hands on the Hunter Axe as your starter weapon, you’ll realize that it has pretty short range but hits pretty hard. Hitting the left bumper however transforms the axe, granting you with significantly more range and a heavy charge attack that will stagger multiple enemies at once. What is so great about this is that although there aren’t too many weapons, the ability to use the ones you do have in so many different ways is a welcome addition. Also, it is pretty great that the transformation animations are quick and seamless making adapting to your surroundings a breeze.
Also new to the Souls-esque series is the emphasis on offensive tactics as opposed to merely hiding behind a shield and poking the enemy. Dropping the shield (though not completely because you can find a crummy one in the game) and opting for a firearm dedicated to L2, you’re forced to alter your plans of attack completely. Instead of blocking an oncoming enemy, you’ll be able to quickly interrupt and stagger some of them, and swiftly shift between the different modes of your melee weapon. Using the new gun-slinging skill isn’t necessary for succeeding in the game, once the balance between thrusts, slices, and bullets is struck and you’re able to strategically switch between tactics, you’re left with something brand new. The gameplay is as dynamic as ever and breathes new life into an already great system. This is where the game truly shines.
“The Gothic setting ends up being more
than just a skin for the
formula we’re already familiar with.”
In terms of multiplayer, you’re able to summon (and be summoned by) co-op players via ringing bells found earlier in the game. One of the problems with this however, is that it is a less direct way of contacting other players. The only way it can be done is to have two players ringing their respective bells in the same area of the map (unless you are summoning specific friends directly via password sharing). When you do link up with somebody, the graphics have a tendency to take a hit. The tradeoff here however is the jolly cooperation with another player in a troublesome place. Inviting either a real world character or an NPC character to a boss battle is likely to serve as enough of a distraction to your formidable foe long enough for you to get a few decent hits in.
Also, new to From Software’s game are the procedurally-generated Chalice dungeons you’re able to enter in the Hunter’s Dream once you find certain ritual materials throughout the rest of the game. These areas offer brand-new content and enemies you won’t find anywhere else (though the bosses here are far less interesting than those you encounter in the main game). Bringing someone else with you inside of the series’ procedurally-generated chalice dungeons is also a must since they prove to be a tough challenge alone. If the unique dungeon you’ve been able to generate is cool enough to share with other players, you have that option as well.
Bloodborne marks developer From Software’s impressive first outing on the PS4. It is not only one of the better games on current-gen consoles but also arguably the best title out at the moment. It touts a healthy mix of some of the greatest aspects of the Souls franchise with a unique infusion of fast paced, dynamic gameplay. The Gothic setting ends up being more than just a skin for the formula we’re already familiar with. Married with the developer’s unique method of story telling through hidden items, lore, architecture and NPCs, the overarching plot provides players with enough to get them hooked and ready to sink their teeth in for more until they unravel the mysteries of Yharnam’s deepest, darkest secrets.
-Fast-paced dynamic gameplay
-Lengthy load times
5 out of 5 burritos
This review was completed using a PS4 copy of Bloodborne provided by Sony Computer Entertainment. The game hit stores March 24, 2015 on the PlayStation 4.