Bloodborne is a game that I have been looking forward to since it was announced early in the PS4 life cycle. I am obsessed with everything FROM SOFTWARE puts out, so it went without saying that a new game from the guys behind the Dark Souls series on a true next gen platform excited me greatly. The game released a few weeks ago to rave reviews from almost all outlets that covered the game. I decided to take my time with the game and finish my first playthrough completely before writing my review to make sure that what I wrote wasn’t honeymoon emotions from a new release or some bitter resentment over the fact that this game wasn’t a Dark Souls games. Last night, I finally saw the end credits of one of the three endings and felt I was ready to put down in words what I felt about Bloodborne and it’s eerie and brutally difficult world. So, without further adieu, our Bloodborne review…
Bloodborne begins with a short cutscene that introduces you to the world of Yharnam and why exactly you are there on this one particular night. You aren’t told much, but you are left to ponder that you need some sort of blood treatment for something that ails you. There is a disease of some sort that affects people’s blood and the only cure for this affection is to head to Yharnam where the Church of Blood Ministration can be found. If you are familiar with previous games from FROM SOFTWARE (such as the Souls series) you’ll know that there is a story present in all of their games, it’s just hidden behind item descriptions and obscure NPC dialogue. When you begin the game, you are immediately told about something called Paleblood and your need to find it for a cure to your affliction. Following this short exchange, you’re set free into the world with no idea what you’re doing or really where to go, you just follow the only path available to you. It doesn’t take long for you to find out what you will be doing a lot over the next 30-40 hours in the game, dying and dying a lot. Without any weapons or items to your name, the first enemy you encounter tears you to shreds and sends you to a dreamworld called “The Hunter’s Dream.” To someone new to the series, the deaths you experience in Bloodborne may seem unfair or excessive, but over time I think you’ll come to appreciate them for what they really are, a learning mechanic. Each death teaches you about something the game is doing or maybe something you aren’t doing correctly. After dying to a late game boss countless times, I realized I had to change up my approach and overall playstyle in order to be successful with what the game was asking me to do. This type of harsh teaching has been present in all of the Souls games and it’s predecessor Demon Souls. It’s something die hard fans of the series relish in and causes the most friction with newcomers to the genre. If you are nervous about the difficulty, all I can say is don’t be. Yes, the game is extremely tough and demands meticulous attention to gameplay mechanics, but over time you’ll find that the game’s difficulty won’t be as rough because you will have gotten better at the game. Hence the payoff that all Souls fans love – the feeling of accomplishment. Starting out as a newbie only to grow in power to tackle insurmountable odds is something the Souls series and FROM SOFTWARE as a developer does exceedingly well and that is something that is ever present in Bloodborne.
The major change in Bloodborne versus previous games in the FROM SOFTWARE lineup is the way combat is handled. In Dark Souls 1 and 2, combat was more defensive in it’s approach. You would have a shield, block attacks or parry, and then unleash powerful counterattacks. Bloodborne does away with this defensive approach, instead relying on a much more active and aggressive style of combat. For starters, shields are completely done away with. There is one shield in the game, but it’s more of a joke left by the developers with a little quip about not playing defensively. Instead, you’ll have a weapon in your right hand and a gun or torch in your left. The weapons in the game aren’t as plentiful as they were in previous games, but they are much more interesting in design. These weapons, dubbed ‘trick weapons’, start out in one form and with the press of the L1 button, turn into another form of the weapon that usually offers increased range or a different attack set. For example, the Saw Cleaver, which was my weapon of choice through my first playthrough, starts as a short sword type weapon and with the press of a button, turns into a long sword with sweeping attacks. You can use the L1 weapon change button to even string combos together that will result in blazingly fast, yet powerful attacks that will end most enemies before they know what hit them. Another new mechanic that is introduced are guns. The guns aren’t used for damage though (at least not much damage), instead offering a way to parry attacks and set up extremely powerful visceral attacks that deal massive damage. The health system is also intertwined into the active approach to combat. As you take damage in Bloodborne your health will deplete, but not completely at first. You’re given a grace period where you can attack something to “regain” the health you just lost. The portion that you can regain is a different color than the remainder of the health bar and if you are successful in the counterattack, you’ll regain all lost health without needing to use a blood vial, the estus flasks of the Bloodborne universe. If you don’t attack anything within that grace period, the discolored health section will deplete normally. At first glance this regain system seems like a blessing but just wait until you get a little too greedy in trying to regain your health and end up losing your life due to an aggressive attack to regain some health. It’s a tradeoff that you constantly need to balance in order to play the game effectively. All of these mechanics and new weapon types come together in a brutal display of absolute aggressiveness against anything that stands in your path. To be honest, I didn’t like it at first. I was looking for Dark Souls 3 and I got something completely different. It wasn’t until I put a couple hours into the game and realized that this was something different, but equally as good, that I began to appreciate it’s intricacies.
The upgrade and leveling system (where your currency and exp are the same thing) that was present in previous Souls games also makes a reappearance in Bloodborne but in a very toned down approach. Where Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2 had numerous categories to put your souls, the newer system only has a handful. The big ones like Strength, Endurance, Skill, and Vitality remain, but others were cut such as Intelligence and Faith which were replaced by two other skills, Bloodtinge (which handles bullet damage) and Arcane. This drilled down approach to the stat system is both a good thing and a bad thing in my book. For starters, it streamlines the leveling process for newcomers and makes it easy to pick what to level up. I knew my guy would be a strength focused character so most of my points went into the 4 big stats and I largely ignored Arcane and Bloodtinge. The downside to this is that character diversity isn’t something you’ll see in this game. In Dark Souls 2, it was common for most characters to be widely different from each other depending on the skills they put their souls into. My main character was a Paladin type build with high strength, high vitality, and high faith. This allowed me to wear some heavy armor, swing a short sword with a shield, and cast miracles. On another run, I decided to go with sorceries, so I put a lot of my skillpoints into the Intelligence stat so that I could learn spells. It was this diversity that gave Dark Souls 1 and 2 a ton of replay value which just isn’t really there in Bloodborne. Plus, I’m not exactly sure how this will carry over into the PvP scene where pretty much everyone will be similar. There is some diversity, but not as much as previous Souls games. I would have liked to see more variety in the builds, but I can understand how the drilled down approach to stats would be beneficial to newcomers.
One of my favorite things in any FROM SOFTWARE game is the world in which the developers create. Bloodborne’s Yharnam and surrounding areas are absolutely gorgeous. There are times in the game where you will enter a foreboding environment only to sit gawking at the scenery as a baddie sneaks up behind you looking for blood. The story in Bloodborne is also heavily told through the world you are interacting with. As you walk around Central Yharnam, you’ll notice coffins lined up around the streets with many having chains wrapped around them with a lock. You’ll also notice beastly creatures burnt at the stake and hunters patrolling the streets. Putting all of this together, you can obviously see that the blood curse we were told about earlier is definitely affecting the residents of Yharnam. The hunt you’ll hear numerous people talk about is underway and the hunters walking around the streets are looking for beasts to put down. The only problem is that they too have succumb to the disease and are beasts themselves with long hairy arms or disfigured faces. It’s this type of story development that you gain through exploration that makes Souls type games so enjoyable to get lost in. Little notes placed by the developers (or even the social notes left by other players) add a level of enjoyment to the game that just isn’t there in other games. The approach to story is so subtle, yet masterfully done that by the end of the game you’re left creating your own story in your head, using the pieces you picked up on your first playthrough only to discard that theory in lieu of another one based on additional clues you found on your second playthrough. The community is also a great place to start if you want to learn about additional details in the story. Video producers like VaatiVidya on Youtube do a masterful job of telling the story in Souls games and you’ll find that you’ll enjoy the game more by partaking in the community.
After spending a night with Bloodborne, one thing became abundantly clear – this is not a game to play with the kids in the room. The sheer amount of blood on screen at any given time, the shrieks from monsters and the horrifying sites you’ll see spread throughout this morbid town would give nightmares to any child. Hell, there were some scenes in the game that really gave me pause at certain moments (just wait until the baby crying begins…) This is going to be a game you’re going to want to play after the kids go to bed and, if possible, with headphones on or on a low volume setting. And this isn’t a bad thing. It’s nice to have games that the kids can witness or even play along with, but it’s also nice to have our more mature games for when they go to bed. Just remember not to curse too loud when Rom beats you for the fifth time in a row, you don’t want to wake up the kids.
So far, I’ve given you numerous reason why I loved this game, and loved I did. But, as with any game, there are problematic areas that arise that should be noted. I spoke about my dislike of the lack of diversity in character builts, but there is another much more egregious issue in the game. The first blaring problem with this game are the load times. The load times are so bad and intrusive that at times you’ll regret dying not because you lost all of your blood echoes, but rather because you have to sit through another load screen. And these load times aren’t anything to scoff at. When you die, you’re greeted with a 30-40 second loading screen. When you want to go back to the Hunter’s Dream to level up, 30-40 seconds load time to get to the dream and then another 30-40 seconds to get back to the level you were just in. It gets annoying fast and is a black eye on an otherwise amazing game. It’s unfortunate FROM SOFTWARE wasn’t able to reduce the load times before release because at those lengths, it’s nothing short of aggravating. FROM SOFTWARE have said a patch is in the works to fix load times, but so far it hasn’t been released? When it releases, I really hope they are able to decrease the load times because this is the biggest issue with the game.
Another complaint I had about Bloodborne was the lack of a diverse world like in previous games. In Dark Souls 1 and 2, you’d spend some time in a forested area only to then find yourself on the rooftop of a grand cathedral, then fighting through a lava area only to top it off in some subterranean tunnel system where you have to do battle with the Rat King and his horde of followers. The varied environments helped keep things fresh and you really felt like you were moving from one area to another. In Bloodborne, most of the world looks like a 19th century image of London. You’ll see some diverse environments that take you from forests to city streets and such, but for the majority of the game it’s the same type of environment. It does help tell a more cohesive story in this world which is very Lovecraftian in it’s design, but it is increasingly difficult to remember where you just were when you want to travel back to somewhere. The quick travel system uses names only, unlike in Dark Souls 2 which had pictures, so you’ll find yourself traveling to the wrong location, suffering multiple loading screens and then trying again all before traveling to the sport you intended to return to. It doesn’t happen often, but it is something worth mentioning.
Bloodborne was a game that I had a blast playing and I hope that comes across in this review. It’s rare that I will complete a game and immediately start the game over to get right back into the world and story, but that is exactly what I did last night. I can’t wait to get home tonight and put the kid to bed so that I can continue my journey and unlock more of the story and see the other endings I missed. If you are new to these types of games, there is enough in place to help you find your footing. The game offers co-op gameplay with friends or strangers alike and while the invasion system (where players invade your world and hunt you down PvP style) can be intimidating, you can look for others to help you when this occurs (you can also just play in Offline mode and avoid that nuisance altogether). FROM SOFTWARE have done something immensely special in their creation of Yharnam and the systems in place borrow from the previous games while also introducing just enough new mechanics to make this a true new IP. After traveling throughout the world and conquering numerous beasts along the way, I absolutely cannot wait to start the game over and do it all again. To me, that is the mark of a truly wonderful game and it absolutely should be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys video games.