Few games make me as excited as the stuff coming out of From Software. This could be a case of Stockholm Syndrome as they’ve repeatedly tested my sanity with punishing difficulty, but that announcement for Bloodborne genuinely had me excited for a brand new setting and the leap into the latest hardware. As the successor to the lineage of Demon’s Souls and indeed Dark Souls, this aggressive new take shows you can hold out a blood soaked olive branch to the player, before beating their morale into submission with devious yet fair tactics.
The first impression was of awe. Never before has a gothic Victorian inspired setting looked so vast and foreboding. As I began to climb the tower, a blood curdling scream echoed through the air, not at all human and all the more terrifying because of that. While it looks impressive, sporting great visual fidelity, the combat mechanics probably deserved a higher frame rate to really show off what this PS4 exclusive is capable of. This of course won’t be anything new to Dark Souls or indeed Demon’s Souls fans, so they’ll feel right at home with the pacing.
Bloodborne felt like a more aggressive adventure simply because of how easy it is to restore health. When I was hit by the monsters, a huge chunk of my health vanished, replaced by a smaller yellow bar covering a small portion of the health bar. When you subsequently hit or kill the monsters, the blood they lose turns into recovered health; with the maximum able to be recovered being that yellow health bar. This is hardly a new idea as fighting games have utilised a similar idea for years, but it’s the first time we’ve seen this outside the confines of that genre and it works well.
Combat, for the most part, is fluid, with the modular weapons and stances proving useful in terms of crowd control or quickly landing hits on single opponents. Weapons range from the “Clever Axe” that we saw in the trailers, but also more conventional swords and axes. Without a decent block mechanic it was vital to dodge, especially when foes begin to use firearms.
This is something that the player can use as well; in fact, they play an integral part in how combat works. With a blunderbuss and pistol on show, the aim is to stun foes with your firearms before moving in for the kill with your primary weapon. Sadly, whether or not there is a lock-on system was never revealed by the staff, so its usefulness largely depends on if you can still lock onto enemies as it’s wildly inaccurate without one.
After dispatching a few human enemies who claimed that I didn’t belong, I went around an entrance to a gate being slammed on by something large. It turned out to be some kind of giant that was more challenging than its smaller cultist cousins thanks to a shoulder barge. Upon exploring the area for loot, I came across giant crow corpses which suddenly came to life and began to attack, from the ground. It was a bit jarring to see foes that usually swoop in from the skies to instead assault my character from the floor.
My run came to an end just as I saw what looked like an NPC being summoned to fight some werewolves. Thinking that it would be better to try to attack from afar, I fired my weapons a few times, catching one of them in the arm. Sadly this proved to be a fatal mistake as my character was leapt upon and consequently devoured for his troubles. I tried the run again several times, only for the speedy wolves to quickly end all hope of survival. Even though the mechanics are more forgiving when it comes to health recovery, this is still a Souls game through and through.
Definitely a polarising game then from developers From Software and certainly not for the easily frustrated, but Bloodborne is one of few games recently I’ve genuinely enjoyed. It had a great sense of pacing, a brutal challenge, and showed off just how striking a game’s visuals can be on a next-gen console. It may not be a graphical powerhouse compared to certain showcase titles, but it has the gameplay down and that’s the main draw.