April 15, 2015 by Paul Curtin
With a steep learning curve and almost no player hand-holding or guidance, Bloodborne is an unforgiving challenge that at times can even be downright frustrating to the point of rage-quitting… yet even after hundreds and hundreds of deaths over the span of 40+ hours, Bloodborne is still a captivating, exhausting, and enthralling experience that you can’t help but want to play more and more.
When diving headfirst into the new world of Bloodborne, there isn’t much in terms of an introduction or story — especially when stacking it up against more cinematic experiences offered by other modern adventure games and RPGs. Bloodborne’s lore introduces Yharnam, a Gothic town overwhelmed by a sickness that’s turning men into monsters. After partaking in a blood ceremony, your character will awaken as a Hunter, ready to slay these beasts and try to put a stop to the plague. From there on out, the story can be a bit confusing and shallow on the surface.
Rather than literally telling players a story, underlying religious tones have been brilliantly built into Yharnam’s beautiful architecture and diverse environments. These subtle clues tease a Lovecraftian universe beyond just the obvious werewolves, zombies, and other monsters you’ll encounter. This is a story that has a lot to say without actually saying it, and it’s not until closely examining objects, beating the game, learning of the multiple endings, and researching how all the lore relates to H.P. Lovecraft’s horror stories that the genius of creator Hidetaka Miyazaki and his team at From Software starts to become apparent.
Bloodborne is able to create its nostalgic old school feel by putting gameplay before story and forcing players to venture out and explore a horrific world with no clear objectives, waypoints, maps, or checkpoints. The game then tests said players’ skill to hunt and survive by pitting them up against unforgiving foes that can land devastating heavy hits and fatal combos. Like their previous unapologetic titles, From’s latest is a game that demands time and patience… and if you don’t have either, you’re not going to be having much fun in your short exhausting trips to Yharnam.
For those unfamiliar with From’s previous games, the “Prepare to Die.” tagline used for their Souls franchise to entice gluttons for punishment can be just as appropriately used for Bloodborne. Whether a Souls expert or a newcomer to the genre, you will die over and over again… and while certain boss encounters can take significantly more time to master, what sets Bloodborne apart from the competition is the way in which almost any foe you come across at any point in the game has the ability to catch you off guard. If you’re not playing cautiously, a quick combination of sucker punches could at any time send you back minutes, if not hours, to where you previously died.
Death is no stranger to gamers today, but what makes Bloodborne so difficult, and at times frustrating, is how death and resetting the player is handled. It’s not just that certain bosses may take hours to master, but getting to bosses can be just as difficult, if not more stressful than the bosses themselves. Dying also results in the Hunter dropping all of his currency, known as Blood Echoes (previously called Souls), and also being sent back to the last fast-travel point used. Factor in load times that can take 30-40 seconds after every death and fast-travel, and it’s easy to give up when the going gets tough.
But Bloodborne isn’t completely unfair and you won’t ever be starting over from scratch. Since there are no actual checkpoints, players who explore the vast world can find and light lanterns that can be used to fast-travel, similar to checkpoints. Locked gates can also be opened from the other side to create shortcuts that can significantly cut down travel times when running back to retrieve Blood Echoes.
Still, even with shortcuts, lanterns, and the safe zone, nothing prevents the Hunter from dropping Blood Echoes upon death, and the only way to not lose them forever is by recovering the Echoes after trekking back through the repopulated path you previously came from… and of course, not dying again. Losing Blood Echoes is a devastating experience that creates a pulse-pounding risk/reward gambling experience in which you’ll see how many you can collect before cashing them out for consumables, weapons, armor, and upgrades in the Hunter’s Dream safe zone… or dying twice, losing them forever, and crying yourself to sleep.
To add to the thrill of the hunt, Bloodborne’s pace is much faster than that of From’s previous games. Those coming from the Souls series and expecting to use spells or a shield for defense will be in for a rude awakening. There are no direct damage-dealing spells, and although there is a shield, it does little to protect its bearer from damage. Whereas the Souls games focused on patience and landing tactical strikes at just the right moment, Bloodborne encourages players to take the offensive by playing aggressively.
With no shield, the Hunter’s primary combo is made up of a one-handed weapon to dish out quick damage and a secondary one-handed gun to quickly stun enemies. To unleash even greater damage, players can swap to a slow heavy-hitting two-hander with the ability to kill enemies in far less strikes. New trick weapons also give the Hunter the ability to not fully commit to either and transform his or her weapon between a one- and two-hand instrument of destruction on the fly.
Like the Souls games, Bloodborne still requires an endless amount of dodges and rolls around enemies who attack in distinct patterns. But where Bloodborne differs the most is in the way in which it promotes a frantic style of play. Upon taking direct damage from an enemy, for a short period of time the Hunter is able to regenerate health by landing additional consecutive strikes on his or her target. It’s this system of trading blood with foes that can be exhilarating and soul-crushing in the ultimate game of risk vs. reward when you and a foe are both a single hit away from death and thousands of Blood Echoes are on the line.
Unlike the Souls games, for those who just cannot get past a certain area or boss, Bloodborne also offers co-op for up to three players. But beware: bosses can still be a challenge even with a friend, and by opening your game up to friendlies, the process also allows From’s revolutionary player-invasion system to make its return. Unfortunately, co-op also opens up the game’s biggest flaw in the form of unavoidable framerate drops that don’t go away until going back to singleplayer.
If you’re looking for extended play beyond running the gauntlet again on the New Game+ mode, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that From has also added procedurally-generated Chalice dungeons like those of what you would find in Diablo. Players who save earlier dungeons for after beating the campaign will be sad to see that their character has out-leveled some of the earlier enemies and bosses. Still, certain encounters and bosses found in the dungeons can be more memorable than those found in the game’s primary story and greatly add to replay value.
For those who don’t come undone by the blood and are willing to be made men by the blood, Bloodborne can be an addicting and engrossing new experience. From Software’s latest only gets better and better with each punishing hour spent in the mean Gothic streets of Yharnam. By ignoring current game design trends and instead continuing what they’ve done best in their previous Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls games, the developers have arguably delivered their best game yet. While trying to decide where From’s latest ranks among their best work might spark debate among fans, Bloodborne is without question the best new exclusive IP on the PlayStation 4 to date that will make those without Sony’s eighth-generation console envious. Bloodborne gets 5 out of 5 stars (Masterpiece).
- Brutally challenging gameplay
- Fast, exhilarating combat
- Horrific boss battles and monsters
- Stunning level design
- Chilling atmosphere and score
- Cryptic Lovecraft lore
- Frame rate drops
- Long loading times