From Software’s exclusive PS4 title is bloody, brutal, and absolutely brilliant.
Arguably the biggest game release for 2015 thus far, Bloodborne is a dark and gothic 3rd-person action game, placing you in the shoes of a Hunter, exploring the world twisted and crumbling world of Yharnam. The story isn’t the focus here (Although this spoiler-heavy breakdown from Kotaku UK highlights how deep the lore is), with the meat of the game coming from tough, controller-snapping fights between impossible enemies.
My personal experience with Bloodborne almost wasn’t. Having never dug any of the Soul’s series, also by From Software and the spiritual predecessors to Bloodborne, and also not liking the demo at GDC, I was planning to pass on Bloodborne. And then the hype grew and grew, and with a MetaCritic of 93, I felt guilty for passing on one of the few exclusive AAA titles headed to the PlayStation 4 in 2015. So I trudged down to Best Buy and snagged myself a copy.
Five hours later, it was up on eBay.
It might have been that I’m new to this type/series of games, but From Software does an absolutely terrible job of introducing newcomers to the mechanics of the gameplay. After spending nearly four hours trying to work my way past one of the earliest group of enemies, I had had enough. Each death meant a 40-second load screen, losing all the currency I had earned, and then spending 10+ minutes getting back to where I had died, only to die again. I found no joy, nor fun, in this punishment. I’m all for challenging games, but this was just stupid.
And honestly, it is stupid. I abandoned the game, and hoped to recoup some of the $48 I had spent on it (Thanks for the discount, Best Buy GCU). Then, I went and watched a brief video from Kinda Funny, where they talked about their experiences. These guys had been streaming it on Twitch, and talked about how they had they same issues, but people in their chat walked them through the mechanics. I watched and was stunned. A simple title card near the beginning of the game would’ve changed everything for me. I took this discovery, that the currency can be farmed and used at anytime by returning to the hub area, and pulled the game off eBay to try once more.
25 minutes later and I was not only past where I was getting stuck, but I had even taken down the first boss. All it took was making my character a little stronger. And suddenly, the hooks were in, and I was addicted.
It all suddenly clicked. The deliberate pace of the combat, the brutal learning curve of each enemy and boss, and the ever addictive cycle of farming Blood Echoes (the in-game currency) to use for items, weapon upgrades, and leveling your character. Yes, one currency is used for everything in Bloodborne.
And eventually, all of this becomes second nature, and a part of what I love about Bloodborne. Having played every Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, and other fairly annual title over the last decade, Bloodborne was the first game in a long time that required me to rewire my thinking. I couldn’t count on check points. I couldn’t count on cranking down a difficulty level. Hell, I couldn’t even count on my item count reseting after each death. Used too many potions and then died? Go ahead and re-farm or re-buy those items. Sorry!
Every decision becomes increasingly important, and even after you spend some time farming and overpowering yourself for a zone, you still get that growing tension and paranoia with every enemy you take down. Until you learn where enemies are located, one could catch you off guard at any point and take away everything you had gained. I quickly learned that while a stronger character might be able to take out enemies faster, they forever will be doing major damage to you.
Another brilliant element of Bloodborne is the level design. It’s hard to describe without spoiling the enjoyment of discovery, but just know that the world is hidden with secrets. You’ll stumble across entirely optional areas that feature items and new bosses that aren’t apart of the “main storyline”. You’ll also find doors, levels, and other things that open up shortcuts, meaning the next time you die, you can just cut through a newly opened path to get back to where you were. It makes progression satisfying outside of just boss kills, and eases the sting of death once you get the hang of exploration.
Outside of the exploration of Yharnam, there are Chalice Dungeons you’ll gain access to. These are randomly generated areas where you will encounter enemies and bosses not found in the normal campaign. Each dungeon consists of several layers where you’ll explore for a way to unlock a boss door, defeat that boss, and move onto the next layer. Eventually you’ll finish a dungeon and earn access to another “Chalice”, letting you access even tougher dungeons. These start out pretty easy, but eventually scale up to be far more challenging than even the final bosses of Yharnam. I had some issues with these dungeons, namely that finding the unlock became somewhat tedious – after a dozen or more layers of different dungeons, I would simply sprint around the areas to the unlock, and then sprint back to the boss, avoiding conflict all together. Still, the bosses here are new, and incredibly tough, and you can find some exclusive weapons and items. You also will need to do these for a trophy if you’re hunting the Platinum.
Presentation wise, Bloodborne is pretty stellar. It’s visually one of the most gorgeous games I’ve played, both graphically on current-gen systems, as well as just art design in general. It’s super bleak, with a mixture of gothic and steampunk architecture and weaponry. Sound design is wonderful, with incredible effects for gory moments. Technically the game is solid as well. I didn’t have any crashes, but the frame rate definitely dips occasionally when you enter larger new areas, although that never was problematic or caused me unfair deaths. The load screens are one of the biggest issues with the game, at around 40 seconds after each death, and can be a pain. During boss fights, they actually let me calm my nerves and regroup, but From Software has promised a patch to decrease this time in the near future.
Bloodborne really took me by surprise. I had completely written it off, and suddenly I can’t imagine having not played it. I quickly was hours upon hours in Yharnam, eventually completely the story, and diving deep enough into the Chalice Dungeons that I walked away with a Platinum Trophy. It’s my current favorite game of 2015, and could be hard to top. If you’re skeptical, take the dip. It’s worth it.