Apprehensive may be the best term to use when I began Bloodborne, not just apprehensive on whether I would be able to complete it but whether I would even be able to play much of it. No doubt many people have felt this way with its reputation of being brutal and not kind to the newbs, which is exactly how I was going into this title — a From Software newb. Sure I dabbled into the world of Dark Souls when it originally released, heck I even gave it a couple hours to see if I could acclimate. It’s safe to say that definitely did not happen. So, you can see where my original apprehension came from.
Fast forward to the present, now that Bloodborne is out in the wild, and I am all in on this gore-tastic title. After completing a little over half of the game, everything I was nervous about was dispelled and reservations about this title have gone out the window. It has completely won me over.
For clarity sake, this is not a review of the game (there is actually someone with much more knowledge of the series handling that task). This is simply an explanation of how I fell in love with the hunt, focusing on the very beginning of the game so you don’t need to worry about spoilers.
It all begins with the first encounter. Waking up on some gurney in some dark room with no prompt on what to do. I have played video games before so I know how to move, and with only one door to go through, I take my first steps into understanding how the world works. The only instructions thus far come in the form of notes on the floor telling me which buttons are for attacking. Why would I need this now? I mean, I don’t even have a weapon yet. Well, because a werewolf is standing between me and the next door. With my new handy attack skills learned, I go headfirst, right into my death. I get massacred and I instantly regret my choice of playing this title. Then I spawn in some other area…could my early death have been a necessary one? Finding more notes on the floor, new things are taught to me, giving me the tools and new weapons to begin to survive. Now I am ready to take down this beast that took my life, of course with a weapon in hand I take him down.
That felt good.
Bloodborne used death to teach me a few things as soon as I stepped into the world. First, my intelligence is accounted for and thus won’t be bothered by a bunch of prompts. Second, death is just part of the world and must be expected. Third, when properly prepared I can take anything down. I would be lying if I completely understood that lesson so soon but the first area made these points abundantly clear later on.
This is when the love affair began and I understood this game was different. Fast forward to the first lantern in Central Yharnam and I am in the middle of a witch hunt with plenty of visual cues telling me I am most certainly not welcomed. With enemies all over the place I am overwhelmed. I run out to attack a couple of these guys, I get slaughtered by a mob of them. I guess I need to lure them out one by one. Figure that out and the pitch fork-wielding psychos don’t stand a chance. Another lesson learned: don’t let them overwhelm you. Then in a corner of the map I find an enemy larger than the others but he is alone. I go up against him mano a mano and he destroys me. My dodging skills clearly need some work.
Further into my play time and after many deaths I am getting the hang of the quicker combat, then I stumble upon the first boss of the game, the foul Cleric Beast. If you have been paying attention you know the drill — I got wrecked. This puts me back at the last lantern I lit without any of the blood echoes I just collected, and all of the enemies I just slaughtered are alive again. My confidence definitely takes a hit. I am obviously missing something. There is no way I need to keep running back and forth fighting everyone every time I die. My goal now is to figure out a much easier way to get to the boss. The mob in the middle of Central Yharnam is incentive enough to avoid the main path. Very quickly I have been sucked into trying to finding shortcuts, working on my combat skills, and discovering some new strategies.
That is why I fell in love with Bloodborne. Both the level and game design are brilliant. Central Yharnam is your introduction to the world and unless you want to keep doing the same thing over and over again, you are incentivized to find a different path (one where you don’t have to fight 30 guys). For anyone new to the “Souls” series, that mob in the middle of the town is intimidating. The first enemies that you encounter are also fairly sluggish just so you can learn how to look for perfect counter timing. It may not feel that way at first, but one by one I was learning how to evade, dodge, and hit back. All without having to endure a 20-minute tutorial.
Death is used as a tool for teaching here. Every time I died I was learning something new, I had either taken on more than I could chew, or my timing was off, sometimes I wasn’t being careful with my surroundings. There wasn’t one moment that I felt the game was the reason I died.
Not once was I beat over the head just to teach me the mechanics. The rules to the world are constant and either you learn to adapt by not making the same mistake twice or you will continually beat your head into a wall. I appreciate that. Not many games these days do that because chances are, they can’t. There are very few games that can teach you through level design. Some that come to mind are the older Mega Man titles that taught you the rules of the world the same way. All I needed to do was pay attention and it would make sense. Since we’ve been accustomed to have a tutorial level that gives you every button prompt, it feels weird and challenging when it is not there.
There is no map that gives you the objective or a target area. Yet, I was never lost nor did I feel like I was walking down a tight corridor. That is excellent level design that shouldn’t go unnoticed. Everything in this world is so deliberate and every next step brings a new challenge that builds on your ever-increasing skills.
The exact moment that I became enamored with this game though, came once I beat the Cleric Beast. It took me four attempts. I would add something new to my arsenal each time, getting closer each time, until I was finally prepared and took him down relatively easily. That lesson of being prepared from the first encounter applied to my encounter with the Cleric Beast. On my previous attempts I was not properly prepared. Very few accomplishments in any game have given me this sort of joy and satisfaction. Just how much better would it get when I would face larger enemies? That is when I became hooked.
I fell in love with the design of the game and levels and I don’t know of other games in recent memory that can match this sort of attention to the purest part of the game. I started as a newb but the game taught me everything I needed to know simply by progressing through the first area. So, if you are anything like me, a first timer to the series, I highly recommend giving it a shot even if it is intimidating.