I’m a huge fan of Castlevania and Hellsing. There are games recently that try to achieve this Victorian aesthetic but none them hit the mark like Bloodborne. Battling your way through Victorian scenery as a Hunter feels like out of a Dracula novel.
Bloodborne is a spiritual successor to Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, other games developed by From Software. While it shares a lot of mechanics with those games, Bloodborne succeeds in feeling fresh by bringing new things to the table. So far Bloodborne has sold 1 million copies in its first week, which is a great success and rightfully so.
Bloodborne features breathtaking Gothic environments, unlike what I’ve encountered in other games. The sheer scale and grandeur can be felt in all of Yharnam, the city where Bloodborne takes place. Players are given a vast world to explore. You are given a lot of choice as to how you want to tackle certain areas and in which order. Some areas are entirely optional as are some bosses, so it’s totally up to you to decide what you want to do next.
Most areas have nonlinear structure with many side paths and shortcuts which you unlock as you progress in your journey. Each area is intricately designed and gives off a different vibe. Bloody skies, murky swamps, ominous forests, haunting graveyards and eerie caves filled with unearthly monsters. It is easy to get immersed into Bloodborne’s world.
Bloodborne is unlike most modern video games. It manages to retain that sense of wonderment and mystery old retro games possess. You are invested in playing it because you are genuinely interested in finding out more about the lore. You are intrigued about what is going to happen next, where the next path will take you or what this mysterious item you have recently discovered does. What happens if you kill an NPC like Doll from the Hunters Dream? Those kind of questions have fuelled my quest even more. So instead of chasing the next quest marker you get fully immersed in the game’s world.
I cannot talk about Bloodborne without mentioning its difficulty. The game is difficult, but for someone who wants to invest their time and wits it is one of the more rewarding experiences. It pushes you to study enemy movements and attack patterns. You will die. But each time you die and go back you will progress one step further. When you finally slay the area’s boss you feel a true feeling of accomplishment.
When I started the game I struggled to kill the first beast with my bare hands. I tried hard, but it killed me in one fell swoop. After acquiring my first weapon I progressed further and into the wretched streets of Yharnam. I was then killed by the next enemy. After finally succeeding to defeat it and killing the next, the third enemy ended my miserable life. But I didn’t give up. I managed to kill four enemies before I got to the bonfire where I was welcomed by a patrolling group of enemies I struggled to beat. Without explaining what happened I’m sure you know the consequence. After a few hours in the game I was able to pass this whole area without much annoyance. Each battle is like a puzzle you must solve in order to progress.
Like its predecessors, Bloodborne is all about combat. But this time around it is paced much faster. Since you don’t have your trusty shield to rely on you get to wield a gun which changes the pacing of the combat considerably. You can still do a parrying move but most enemies are so fast that you will be doing a lot of dodging instead. The game is designed around an aggressive combat style. When you get hit there is a small time frame in which you can strike enemies back in order to regain your HP. You will be using this often, as this can make a difference between victory and certain death.
One of the most notable additions to the combat system is the ability to transform your weapon. For example, Saw Cleaver extends so that you get a higher range but with a cost in damage. Hunter Axe extends becoming a double handed weapon. Other weapons have different transformations which I will leave to you to find out. All weapons have their strengths and weaknesses so you will be switching modes frequently.
The game is pretty balanced. Most weapons and clothes have very similar stats, so you can use them however you seem fit without any of it being too weak or too strong. You can never feel safe in Bloodborne as enemies become progressively tougher as they scale up to your progress.
Designers at From Software also mixed thing up by changing a bit how Souls system works. Souls, now known as Blood Echoes, can be lost to enemies as well. When you die you will leave a bloodstain at the location of your untimely demise. Enemies that roam around can pick it up. There is not many words to describe the joy you feel when you take down that one wretched enemy and retrieve your Blood Echoes.
An intriguing new stat is Insight. It is a quantifier of how much gruesome and twisted things you have witnessed. Encountering a boss for the first time, or slaying it will increase your Insight. Then when you come back to the previously visited areas you might notice changes that this Insight might bring. New enemies may roam the streets or existing ones may get new attacks. It serves as a means for story progression and balancing difficulty.
Insight also serves as a currency in multiplayer. When you help other players in their worlds you gain Insight and when you call for help yourself you spend Insight. You can invade other players. The community seems pretty classy given my experience so far. My first encounter was rather notable. I rang the sinister bell to invite a player to fight and waited. Other player spawned shortly after. First we spent a good few seconds just checking out the other player, waiting for the other player’s response. The other player bowed, and waited for me to respond. I managed to find the command to bow back and then the combat began. I was the one to give the first blow, but the other player was faster. After slaying me the player bowed politely once again. Even though I have lost I had a smile on my face.
Another multiplayer feature that comes from Souls series that gives that special feel to the game are messages that you and other users leave for others. You should be careful though as some of them can lead you straight into a trap. For instance there was a hole through the ground which many labelled as a shortcut to treasure. Thankfully there were many graves with replays of players falling to their deaths right there.
Not everything is perfect though. Loading times are a bit too long between areas. It can add to frustration if you keep dying. There are also some infrequent frame drops and popups in the background.
Bloodborne is one of the most rewarding experiences on Playstation 4. This game is still not designed for casual players but I wouldn’t like it any other way. If you are up to the challenge Bloodborne will give you many, many hours of sheer fun.
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