It’s no secret that From Software make difficult games. Whether you’ve played Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, Bloodborne or Sekiro, you know that their games aren’t a walk in the park. They take time, they take patience and they take skill to complete. They are not really designed for the casual gamer, who just wants to sit down and play through a simple campaign of murder, mystery and mayhem.
However, after my many attempts and failures at trying to play Dark Souls on Xbox, my friend Danny recommended that I try Bloodborne on PS4, which I accepted to try with some reluctance, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover it wasn’t the same slow-paced, block spamming design as Dark Souls (that was just my personal feelings of Dark Souls at the time, I have since returned to the series and enjoyed it), but instead I was dodging quickly out of the way of werewolves and crazy mobsters, and mesmerized by a Lovecraft themed world full of the recognizable nightmare fueling creatures that From Software are known to create. My shield was replaced with a pistol for parrying and long distance distractions, and my short sword was replaced with a transformable cleaver that flicked outwards into a longer ranged version of itself. After just a couple of hours in the same area, I was obsessed with trying to play this game, and now, at the time of writing this review, I have lost track of just how many times I have actually completed Bloodborne over the years. So here are my thoughts.
Beginning in Yharnam, a gothic city known for it’s medical advances in Blood ministration. You awaken on a table, a fresh young Hunter, seeking something known as Paleblood, for reasons unknown.
The city of Yharnam is now plagued with an endemic illness (also known as a blood-borne disease…see where the title comes from now?) that has turned many of the citizens into beast-like beings. You have awoken in the nightmare on the night of The Hunt and your job is to journey through the land and overcome it’s obstacles in order to destroy the source of the Bloodborne disease and escape the Nightmare.
The Hunter must battle their way through hordes of deadly beasts, fight terrifyingly monstrous boss battles, and beware many of the other Hunters in the land, for very few of them are friendly and almost everything will attempt to take your life, as well as your precious blood echo’s which will be useful when you have gained your first insight, that will allow you to talk to a strange yet charming doll in The Hunters dream, a safe space for the Hunter which is accessed by using one of the many lamps scattered about the land.
Okay so as mentioned previously, there is not real difficulty setting in these games until you unlock New Game Plus (NG+) and so on, but the base game starts out on just a regular old From Software difficulty of “You’re going to die, get used to it”, but don’t let that put you off. If you’ve played Dark Souls, and like me you didn’t enjoy the constant and repetitive task of holding down the block button in hopes that the enemies didn’t somehow inflict damage, then you might enjoy Bloodborne, because, there is no blocking. There is a shield you can find but it’s crap and it’s basically this games way of saying “Trust me you don’t want a shield”. Instead, your Hunter is a master of strafing, in order to quickly dodge in any direction necessary to avoid those hits.
Oh and if you wanted to wear some cool looking armour in Dark Souls but didn’t want to bare the weight of it because it made you fat roll, well Bloodborne doesn’t have any fat rolling, and all of the outfits look cool, so once you get used to enemy types and tactics, you can go crazy and dress how you like as you play. Hell, even the iconic Hunter outfit, which is usually the first armour you find down in the sewers, can be worn for the entire playthrough and be good enough to maintain what you need to get through it all.
Like in other From Software games, and of course most RPG style games, there is a heavy and light melee attack, but beyond that, each melee weapon has two different ‘forms’ that can help you spice up your tactics. Some of them give you longer range, others give you a ranged attack such as the Rifle Spear…yes, that is a spear that can shoot bullets, and others turn your single handed weapon into a heavy hitting two-handed form to deal a bit of extra damage to those pesky beasts and bosses. There’s even a weapon that is both a sword and a hammer, depending on which form you decide to use.
There is also of course the shield replacing guns, which can range from pistols, to rifles, and even a cannon. These can be used for parrying if you time your attacks just right against the opponents, or they can be used to grab the attention of certain enemies, if you prefer not to dive head first into a crowd. Some enemy types, such as the rabid dogs, take massive damage from ranged attacks compared to a melee attack, but some of the weapons can take a decent amount of time to aim, fire, and reload so choose wisely.
The average NPC’s of the game that wonder about the streets eventually become a breeze to kill, but never, and I mean ever, get too cocky because there are some that jump out of nowhere with attacks and sometimes they can gather around and back you into a corner to kill you so be cautious of everything around you whilst fighting and farming for those blood echo’s. There is a wide array of casual NPC’s which become gradually more difficult to fight as you explore new area’s leading up to the boss battles. If you think the beastly citizens in Yharnam are a breeze, do not think the same of the one’s lurking about the forest areas of the game later down the line, because they are not the same, at least not at first.
The bosses are always amazing in From Software games and Bloodborne is no exception to that tradition. From the Cleric Beast, to Father Gascoigne, to Vicar Amelia and beyond (those are just three of the early bosses), the bosses can get bigger, and scarier, to really make your heart race as you attempt to learn their attacks whilst they pummel you into the ground. Yes the bosses can be hard to beat, but if you love a challenge then Bloodborne certainly has just that. You will need to dodge, parry, time your attacks and use the right items to get through these boss battles, which for many will indeed be a case of trial and error before success.
I may seem to be repeating myself, but it has to be said that From Software has some of the best designs in video games that there has ever been in the industry, whether it’s the tall gothic-like structures, the distant landscapes or the characters and NPC’s of the game, From Soft really immerse you into their worlds with their designs. Right off the bat, Yarnham is intimidating to walk around and the structures in the distance make you wonder just how far this land expands to, because there is so much to see, and not all of it is included in the game itself.
The enemies of this world are beastly creatures of all shapes and sizes from fat armoured, yet surprisingly fast, black knights with giant halberds, to the withering, pitchfork-wielding beasts that were once the citizens of the town, or even the large dopey troll-like creatures that wield broken chunks of brick to pummel you with, there is certainly a terrifyingly amount of nightmare fuel to keep you awake as you play through the actual nightmare of the game. Not forgetting that there are also more designs that relate to certain areas of the game, such as the monstrous fly-like creatures that leap on top of you, or the tentacle faced brain suckers that run at you for a hug and suck the knowledge and health from your head.
If the average NPC’s don’t do it for you then there is always the bosses. Beasts that were once humans, humans that empathize with the beasts, or just straight up monsters from another cosmos, whichever one keeps you awake at night. Rom the Vacuous Spider may seem cute to some but terrifying to others, The Moon Presence is something akin to the Cthulhu mythos, whilst Father Gascoigne and Vicar Amelia both represent a beast within us all waiting to be unleashed. There are the Celestial Emissaries that give us the sense of life beyond our world, and then there’s the Shadows of Yarnham which straight up gave me Ring Wraith vibes from Lord of the Rings. Not to mention the large Spider-like beings hanging on the side of buildings which you can only see after either having beaten a certain point in the game or by having enough insight earlier on in the game. These creatures are known as the Amygdala creatures and there is one you can fight. It’s long spindly arms reaching out for you certainly bring home the fear.
There’s also, of course, the other badass looking Hunters in the world which act as mini-bosses in a way. Whether that be Henryk, or Eileen The Crow (who isn’t really a mini boss unless you piss her off and try to fight her), or one of the many other Hunters scattered about, sometimes in pairs. These can prove a real challenge because dealing with one hunter can be difficult, especially since that can use the same tactics that you use such as parrying, so when faced with two, my advice would be to separate them if possible.
Within the base game, Players can choose to use certain items to unlock and explore areas known as Chalice Dungeons. These are completely optional but I would recommend them to anyone wanting that bit of extra content and challenge for the base game. The Chalice Dungeons are mazes filled with creatures to fight, puzzles to solve and bosses to slay. The first Chalice Dungeon is available once you receive the Pthumeru Chalice from defeating the Blood-Starved Beast (not an easy task, but also an optional Boss).
Set aside from the base game, there is currently one expansion for Bloodborne, known as The Old Hunters which adds more bosses and areas to the game, giving you plenty more hours of game play to dive into. This expansion brought some of the hardest bosses in the game to life such as Ludwig, as well as some awesome new weapons to fight them with, and of course some new outfits so that we can look cool as we murder our way through the Hunters Nightmare.
Bloodborne is not a game for everyone, but even the casual gamer looking for a little bit more of a challenge can find enjoyment in this game. Once completed, the game has tons of replayability since there are so many different character builds you can choose from as well as just going through the game using different weapons and outfits.
To me Bloodborne is, to put it simply, a masterpiece of gaming. To others it might simply be a fun challenge to pick up and play through only once, whilst to some it is perhaps a game that they’ll never play because of the difficulty. If you find these games too much of an effort, that’s fair enough, but if you have the patience to pick this game up and give it a real chance then I would highly recommend it.