Bloodborne – Review
Bloodborne is the biggest exclusive title to hit PS4 this year. Released in late March 2015, Bloodborne is the latest game to come from the now famous game studio FromSoftware and was met with immediate critical acclaim.
FromSoftware have gained a lot of attention and fans in the western world with the release of the Souls games franchise. Both Demon’s Souls and the Dark Souls games have been met with incredible praise in the western world for gameplay that requires player skill and practice to progress through difficult levels and put your knowledge and skills learned within the game to the test. Games like these feel like a call back to an older age of gaming where such things like player skill mattered. Bloodborne is a spiritual successor to the Souls series and holds these values close to heart.
Bloodborne is a nitty-gritty dark game where you venture deeper and deeper into the Gothic city of Yharnam. You play as a hunter who has come to Yharnam in search of ‘Paleblood’ for unknown reasons. Like the Souls games, you have to pay close attention to the writing and what little dialogue there is to understand the story, which is woven into the land, the characters, as well as the items and weapons you obtain. If you are a returning fan of the Souls games, you will feel largely feel at home with Bloodborne. Bonfires are now Lamps you can light on dark streets in Yharnam, souls are now Blood Echoes, and Estus Flask are now Blood Vials. Bloodborne also has those same Rouge-Like elements found in the Souls games i.e. the loss of your hard-earned Blood Echos upon death.
You control your hunter from the third person perspective and the gameplay features action role-playing elements similar to those in the other Souls games. Having a third person camera in an action game like this is essential as you need to be aware of your surroundings and position at all times. Many stupid deaths come from not paying attention to enemies and your position relative to ledges and cliffs. You must fight your way through hordes of enemies plaguing the city streets of Yharnam and overcome intense boss fights in order to progress further through the game. This isn’t a game you can play lightly and without focus. You must be engaged at all times with Bloodborne; the slightest mistake results in your death and having to work your back through a level.
From the very beginning Bloodborne sets itself as a fast paced combat game. Unlike the Souls games, there is no hiding behind shields or slowly walking around enemies to attack them from behind. The game encourages you immediately to fight enemies head-on and really get stuck into the combat. Bloodborne expresses this well through the gameplay itself, as early on in the beginning of the game you encounter an enemy with a wooden shield. Bloodborne is literally telling you that hiding behind a shield is not the way to play this game, and being conservative in combat is going to get you nowhere but dead. What better way to make your point that to demonstrate how weak and easy it is to kill the shielded enemy.
This fast paced and aggressive style of combat is insisted by new game mechanics. Instead of a shield to hide behind, your secondary weapon and side arm is a gun. You have the choice early in the game to choose between a shotgun and a pistol. When you are in the heat of combat your gun allows you to counter-attack and parry enemies and save you from taking a hit. When an enemy goes to strike you, you can interrupt the hit with a well placed shot and counter attack for massive damage. Again, the game encourages you to get stuck into the fight at hand. You can carry a max of 20 silver bullets, and should you run out you can sacrifice roughly 1/4 of your health for an instant 5 bullets. The second mechanic which incentivises you to stay in a fight is the ability to regain your health. Should you take damage from an enemy, you have a brief moment where you can gain 90% of your lost health back. To do so is simple: get back in there and strike your opponent again and again. You are rewarded with extracting your health back for every successful struck you land after you have just been hit and lost health yourself. I myself love both of these additions to the games mechanics as I revel in fast paced tight combat where you can go in swinging until nothing is left.
The combat gameplay in Bloodborne is smooth and fluid. In addition to rolling, you can sidestep while locked onto the enemy you are fighting. This makes it a lot easier to stay engaged with your current foe instead of rolling away and pulling out of combat completely. To have fluid combat however, you need tight responsive controls. Bloodborne nails this and has fantastic controls, everything from the player movement to attacking and locking on in combat is great. I feel they have made Bloodborne slightly more forgiving and easier to get into for new-comers of the genre. Your stamina regenerates fairly quickly and side stepping does not consume a lot of it, so for the most part of don’t have to meticulously manage your stamina. The starting section of the game seems to be quite generous with things like health potions and bullets for you gun as enemies are constantly dropping them when killed. I think it’s the creators’ way of trying to encourage new players to stay in the game longer and really give it a go.
The weapons in Bloodborne are fantastic. Each weapon is completely unique and comes with its own play style to master. All primary weapons in Bloodborne have a secondary mode or transformation making the weapon count as two and feel completely different. For example, one of the 3 starting weapons you can chose from is the Threaded Cane. At a glance it is a ordinary cane that you brandish like a short sword and strike away at your enemies with. You can hit light and fast with the R1 button and hit heavy or charge attacks with the R2 button. Its an effective weapon when used like a sword, but then at the touch of a button you transform this cane into a long razor sharp whip with chain linked blades. You can do this mid swing or mid combo and any time during or not during combat. The result is a complete shake up to how you can fight and react in combat. The transition between your attacking and the weapon transforming is seamless and blends into combo attacks well. This makes you feel like a total bad-ass when you are striking away at enemies only to unleash an unholy razor-sharp whip to strike down your foes both up close and at a distance. Then with the press of the same button, you weapon reassembles back to its original form. It completely changes the dynamic of the weapon you hold in your hands and makes you excited for combat.
Your main weapon plus your side arm gun of choice makes combat incredibly satisfying. You can chain together beautiful striking combos where you may be slashing away with a sword only to end with your sword transforming into its pistol form and firing straight through the enemy. This level of amusement and vicious satisfaction that comes from using the weapons in Bloodborne makes it an incredibly immersive experience. No feeling comes close to just defeating a large group of enemies with your hunter now covered head to toe in blood, then tapping the weapon transformation button to have your hunter smack the Threaded Cane against the ground to return it to its original form. It’s the small touches and sounds like this that make you feel awesome and immersed in the game.
One of my favourite weapon combinations from the game was the Kirk Hammer, a sword that’s sheath is a giant stone hammer head, and the cannon as my side arm which dealt devastating damage to enemies and bosses alike.
All weapons can be upgraded using your acquired Blood Echos and Blood Gems at The Hunters Dream. Weapons can be upgraded to level 10 which just increases their overall damage, the use of Blood Gems however can change or add specific qualities to your weapon such as more Arcane (magic), physical, or blood damage.
But where the combat and weapons are really showcased is during one of Bloodbornes many epic boss fights. The Souls series has always been highly regarded for having brilliant and challenging boss fights which require you to use your own skill to overcome. Bloodborne of course upholds this and does it fantastic justice. With 16 bosses both optional and not optional throughout the course of the game, Bloodborne is a real tour de force for boss fights. Each boss has been exceptionally designed in both style, appearance, and move set which makes each boss completely unique and a victory to be earned when you come up against one.
Fighting any of the 16 bosses is always an intense experience, leaving you sweaty and shaking, a feeling that I believe is growing less and less common among games these days. Your first attempts at any of the bosses will results in your immediate death 90% of the time. You must apply all your skill at that point in the game to attack, dodge, and counter successfully in order to kill the boss at hand. Each boss’s move set must be studied carefully and learned in order to gain that crucial combat advantage that will lead you to victory. This is why I feel the Souls series and Bloodborne is loved and held so dear to heart for many gamers. It’s a challenging game that tests your skills and knowledge in order to overcome hordes of enemies and colossal bosses. It rewards you with the greatest feeling of self accomplishment and victory when you defeat a boss as you know it was your own direct involvement and skill that got you though. This kind of game definitely stands above the ‘AAA’ games of current generation, that holds the player’s hand and guides you rather than challenge and improve your skill level.
You will die repeatedly on each boss until you begin to learn and work out a strategy. Finally, through all your struggles over what can be hours, the boss will drop and the feeling of relief and satisfaction will take you by storm for finally being able to accomplish the feat at hand. The words PREY SLAUGHTERED engulf the screen at which point I usually had my face in my hands while the rest of my body shakes in disbelief.
A slight but frightening change in Bloodbrone that wasn’t present in the past Souls games is the use of fog doors. Those familiar with the Souls games know that foggy doors can mean a new area, but more importantly a boss fight. Bloodborne has gone a step further and removed fog doors so if you are playing blind without any prior knowledge it can be a complete and horrifying surprise when you run into a boss. You can be exploring a particular area and stumble upon a dark building or swampy clearing only to be jumped by a boss. This messes with your mentality and sent me into a full panic when I wandered into a boss fight unknowingly. It caused me to always be cautious and have my wits about me all the time after falling prey to a surprise boss fight. Personally, I think this is a brilliant change to the game that keeps the feeling of ‘anything could happen at any time’ alive.
Those who have played any of the Souls games will be familiar to gameplay elements present in Bloodborne. Being an action RPG you can level up your character. This is done through the use of Blood Echoes. You gather Blood Echoes from every enemy you defeat, you can then use your acquired Blood Echoes to upgrade your character at The Hunters Dream through the use of a talking NPC in the form of a living doll. The Hunters Dream is your safe haven that you can visit any time from any lamp you have lit previously. Its here you can spend your Blood Echoes to upgrade your character and weapons, plus purchase more items like Blood Vials (health potions) and silver bullets. The area also acts as the central hub to all locations in the game. It’s always nice to know you can retreat to The Hunters Dream at any time throughout the game, especially after an intense boss fight its nice to have an area you can effectively call your base get your wits about you again. Any lamp you have lit throughout the world can be visited directly through The Hunters Dream, this makes back tracking a little easier.
You will spend a lot of time at The Hunters Dream through to the course of your play-through. It’s calm yet chilling music and atmosphere become more and more consoling as you establish this area as your home. It’s the one refuge in the game you are completely free of the stress created by combat and boss fights. I feel it provides a good balance in a game like Bloodborne.
The level design is incredibly impressive. Bloodborne has giant interconnected levels that you can lose your self in for hours exploring and walking around, if you see a town, building, or forest in the distance, then you can go there. Often you will find yourself in a new location, only to look back and realize where you have come from and to know that everything is interconnected.
Every area has been carefully thought out and created for you to work your way through. There is a lot of discovery and re-pathing to be done as it is one of those games that challenges your memory and desire to explore. Should I continue on the path ahead? Or should I take off down this area to see what is to be discovered? Any such rendezvous may lead to death which takes you back to the last lamp you lit so you can try again and attempt to explore deeper into the level. This is where the level design really shines, after hours of working through a particular level you will discover or unlock a shortcut that saves you from repeating an onerous and perhaps dangerous trek. It’s a rewarding feeling to make it through a participial area and then unlock the means to progress quickly into the next section you have not explored. There will be many times where you will look back over the ground you have covered to see exactly where you have come from and realize how everything is so intricately connected.
All areas in Bloodborne are essentially one giant interconnected level that you can progress through and anything you can see in the distance is most likely some unexplored area you have not yet reached. Like the previous Souls games, there is an element of passive multiplayer present in these large levels. You can leave notes for other players to help guide or misguide them, and you can watch other players previous deaths by touching bloodstains. A lot can be learned from your environment by watching another players final moment.
The atmosphere in Bloodborne is fantastic. It gorgeously frames Yharnam in it’s plague ridden depression and although everything appears to be 50 shades of gloom, there is a wealth of beauty and fine detail that has gone into creating this world. Horrid, twisted faced, crying statues populate the streets while smoke fogs the roads you walk down. You hear mad people chanting to themselves and people crying behind closed doors, it all creates a very uneasy experience. Everything from the Gothic architecture, to the chilling sounds and music all help to add that level of immersion Bloodborne offers.
Graphically, Bloodborne is a beautiful PS4 title. The graphics are a huge step up from Dark Souls II. The character models and details for all the different equipment and armor is fantastic, specifically the weapons. They have all been individually crafted and look so detailed and unique. The lightening in Bloodborne is truly beautiful. Nothing beats standing with your back to the shinning full moon with its light drifting over your characters shoulders and reflecting off the buildings and roads in front of you. It’s the sweetest eye candy.
To add to its already astounding amount of content, there is a multiplayer component to Bloodborne that is the same as what was found in the Souls games. You can play in coops with up to 2 other players to fight bosses together. It’s an awesome feeling to defeat a boss together with another player as there is no direct communication and you must rely on our coordination and complementary skill sets to beat the boss at hand. However you cannot abuse the co-op mechanic and use it to breeze through the game. Calling players to your world consumes Insight, which is only gained by defeating bosses thus limiting how often you can use it. Additionally you can also invade other players worlds in Bloodborne. Once you have matured enough and feel like you have the combat down and are a confident player, you can proceed to ruin anybody’s day by invading their current play session and killing them. When I tried to invade someone else for a laugh, it was me who was killed and expelled from that persons world. So experiences will differ which is all part of the fun, but I would only really recommend invading once you are fairly familiar with the game and weapons.
Should all of the above not be enough for you, Bloodborne offers a new game mode: Chalice Dungeons. Chalice Dungeons are randomly generated, many levels deep, dungeons that can be played at any time and are separate from the main game. It gives Bloodborne the dungeon crawling aspect while keeping it separate from the main game. Chalice Dungeons come equipped with all the loot and enemies you could ever want to give you that true dungeon crawling, rouge-like feel. They even feature 13 new bosses and can be played in co-ops with friends. This just adds even more re-playability and value to the game.
Bloodborne is easily my favorite game of this year so far. With its brilliant gameplay, design, and boss fights it has kept me engaged for over 80 hours. The only negatives I originally had about the game was the load times which have subsequently been fixed in patches for the game. I have very little to criticise and truly enjoyed all aspects of the game.
Bloodborne is a beautifully made game with so much to offer. It will keep you busy for 100s of hours and it's replay value is through the roof. A must own for any PS4 owner who is up for a challenge. My Favorited game of the year so far.