Sony’s decision to localise Demons Souls paved the way for many in-game deaths. It became a 21st century cult classic that paved the way for similar games in the future to be developed by From Software to launch on multiple platforms. Dark Souls got the mainstream attention it deserved, while Dark Souls II was a fantastic sequel. With Sony announcing that From Software were returning to their arms with one of the few truly exclusive games on the platform, Bloodborne indicates a shift in direction. However, in essence, it’s a Souls game at heart and that’s not exactly a bad thing.
Hidetaka Miyazaki’s Souls games had weird stories that took months of working out from their communities to figure the lore out. Bloodborne introduces us to Yharnam – a city gripped in the midst of some kind of “hunt” where lycanthropes and other monsters are slaughtered by hunters. Using the Hunters Dream as a hub, you have a safe haven to get your bearings, complete with a marionette taking care of levelling up duties and ghouls in pots and graves for shops and teleportation. Apart from the fact you signed a contract to become a hunter, the plot is threadbare until you delve deeper into the notes scattered around and the conversations with friendly NPCs. Narrative is there should you wish to delve deeper, but doesn’t get in the way with clunky exposition that you can’t skip.
Souls games always had intricate level design and Bloodborne is no different in that regard, however its interwoven nature gives Yharnam and the surrounding areas that sense of continuity. It also helps that the sense of scale in the visuals is utterly incredible, inspired both by Victorian architecture and Lovecraftian monster design. Even your own created character for once actually looks somewhat human rather than a deformed grotesque excuse for one! What little music there is beautifully captures the haunting dread of those moments, providing that extra bit of tension. It’s a classic Souls technique that works wonderfully here. If only the loading times weren’t so long after death or warping from the Hunter’s Dream, upwards of around 40 seconds at times.
As with all of Miyazaki’s games, Bloodborne is relentless in its challenge. It’s entirely possible for scrubs that you’ve been mowing down constantly for hours to overwhelm you in fluke situations. Dying happens often and experience known as “Blood Echoes” are now either dropped in a puddle for you to retrieve or infused with a nearby enemy for you to kill. Unlike the Souls games, however, there’s only really one predominantly melee focused class, so those who used magic in previous games may find the newfound learning curve a bit steep.
Each difficulty spike peaks with the boss battles. More than likely, a veteran won’t have much trouble with the first big monster they should be encountering, but the second boss acts like a parrying tutorial. If you don’t master using firearms here, the game will be more difficult overall. But in among the big stompy monsters and gun-toting clerics are a few bosses that change every preconceived notion of what boss battles are. They’re a real joy to fight, at least when you’re not dying to them, as it shows From Software’s ability to think outside the box.
While the template for Bloodborne is almost a carbon copy of how the Souls games played, From Software still has plenty of room to surprise. With a greater focus on fluid combat thanks to both how health works and how guns change everything, there is a cut on the amount of gear one can find throughout your adventure. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty to find, but they have a more meaningful impact on how you play. All weapons have two states: one allowing for off-hand equipment such as guns and torches and one for dual-wielding. What’s key here is that individual weapons have their own traits: Having a spear that while dual-wielding acts as a blunderbuss with a bayonet for example. Later on you have weapons such as rapiers that can be “sheathed” into a claymore, or a short sword that splits into two daggers.
Instead of that, Bloodborne is keen on players finding the various tools to imbue weapons with bloodstones that change the properties of your attacks. Experimenting with different combinations is key to not only get the most damage possible, but also to inflict status conditions on foes. Runes also help with defensive buffs such as resistances to poison. But the crucial detail here is that Bloodborne makes you work for these perks. You don’t get these immediately. Mastering basic combat will allow you to defeat that boss which grants you access to new tools, making victory all that more rewarding. As is the Souls way, it’s up to you to work everything out, but the clues are far less obtuse than before.
Of course, playing Online is how you should play the game as it unlocks both cooperative and PVP. You can still write notes for other players, warning them of danger or treasure ahead. The items may be different and it may now use Insight to initiate which limits its use, but the normal cooperative and PVP is smooth and fluid. Connectivity is an issue as much like the Souls games it’s incredibly restrictive, relying on levels. It also takes a while to connect and with no healing limit in place, PVP matches can take ages. What’s amazing is how there is also a random dungeon generation system hidden away within the game. Dungeons made can be shared and you can attempt to invite people to cooperatively explore a little slice of Bloodborne. It’s a neat idea overall and some of the random dungeons have some hard as nails boss fights too, but it’s still bogged down by restrictions.
Bloodborne had me gripped from start to that glorious moment when I overcame the final boss, yet it’s still not quite the perfect game. As a single player adventure that’s hard as nails, it excels with its exquisite combat mechanics and stunning design. Boss battles act as a crescendo to each area, intensifying the need to time every attack, dodge, and shot to perfection. Multiplayer is still very good and fantastic when it works properly. When long loading times, arbitrary connectivity conditions, and a divisive player-base are the only caveats one can muster; Bloodborne is definitely a PlayStation exclusive worth sinking your teeth into.