Game Reviewed: Bloodborne Release Date: February 24th, 2015 Developer: FromSoftware Publisher: SCE Japan Studio Platform: PlayStation 4 Genre: Action/Adventure, Role-Playing Rated: M for Mature
What we have come to expect from developer FromSoftware, they have created worlds full of secrets to discover and monsters around every corner, leaving you to wonder just when the inevitability of death will come knocking at your door. Fans and critics have praised Demon’s Souls and the two Dark Souls games as some of the most demanding titles of the last generation, leaving an everlasting impact in the minds of all who endured this marathon of a crucible. Bloodborne, can be easily labeled as more of the same, and that isn’t a bad thing, but its shift in focus is what makes a world of difference from its predecessors, and will leave Souls veterans struggling to survive in the blood-soaked streets of Yharnam.
In a time before the events of the game, Yharnam was once a destination for all who were suffering from any ailments. The Healing Church in Central Yharnam became immensely powerful all in thanks to their practice of Blood Ministration – using special blood to heal and even cure illnesses. Things went well until it was discovered that the special Yharnam blood was tainted and gave rise to a horrific endemic: The Scourge of Beasts. Those infected slowly lost their humanity and transformed into beasts that killed without mercy or remorse.
The first hunter of the Healing Church rallied remaining Yharnamites to take up arms and go on nightly hunts. This noble act to reclaim their home backfired as the bloodlust grew within the citizens and quickened their transformation. You, an unknown hunter whose reasons for coming to Yharnam are unknown, are given one singular clue to start your venture, “Seek the Pale Blood to transcend the Hunt.” This goal will set players on the path to finding answers and unveiling the secrets behind Yharnam.
You’ll enter the character creation screen after the opening cinematics are done, however, for veteran Souls players, you will notice that your class and background does not grant you any starting weapons or different armors depending on what you choose, only varying stats. This place acts as a sanctuary for hunters where they can level up, upgrade their weapons of the hunt, and purchase useful items. Shortly after creating your Hunter, FromSoftware wants to remind you that you’re playing one of their games, and when you bite the dust for the first time, you enter a surreal plain known as the Hunter’s Dream. Once you obtain your tools of the trade and re-enter Yharnam you will be able to return via lanterns located throughout your travels.
Bloodborne may have the same controls and feel as the Souls games, but it undergoes a serious shift in paradigm – from defensive to offensive. This is where I have a love/dislike relation with this new focus in combat. I absolutely love how fast-paced and frantic simple fights are now. Instead of having a shield with you, you must rely on how well you can dodge and evade in order to avoid taking damage. The funny thing is that there is, in fact, a singular shield that you can find and use, but it is so useless that even in its description it reads, “Hunters do not normally employ shields, ineffectual against the strength of beasts as they are”.
Many deranged and beastly inhabitants roam the streets of Yharnam: Ravenous lycanthropes, giant crows, denizens on the verge of becoming beasts themselves, and other horrors straight from a nightmare. Players will need to read their foes’ movements just like in previous FromSoftware games, but there is a much bigger risk without a shield. Making a single mistake will cost you a lot of health, but you are given a short opportunity to regain that health back.
Once you have taken damage you will see your health drop, but quickly dealing damage back slowly fills it back up; failing to do so will leaves you with taking the full damage and attacking to late will only regain a fraction of your health back. Blood Vials can be found on the bodies of enemies or purchased in the Hunter’s Dream and will restore a set amount of health in case you’re in a tight spot. While fighting you must also keep an eye on your stamina as you use stamina to attack and evade. If you recklessly use up your stamina you can get yourself killed quickly, but it does regenerate over time.
Fighting is fun no matter whom you come across; it is when facing a boss where your mettle will be pushed to their very limits. Relentless, grotesque, and outrageously powerful, you will be broken down time and again and it is then you realize that all the times you were cut down before was simply the epilogue to the countless times where you will face the same boss over and over again. The first time I face one of the starting bosses, The Cleric Beast, it was taxing just to be standing there to face it, and there are others like him that force you to acknowledge their overwhelming presence.
With dwindling supplies and with very short windows of opportunities to heal, my heart has never raced like this before. As my shoulders tenses up, nearly touching my ears, I desperately cut away at a boss’ health as their attack become even more erratic and unpredictable. Once a boss reaches a certain limit, they will become faster and give you barely enough time to plan your next move. You must have the reflexes to time your dodges and attacks perfectly if you hope to even make it out in one piece. Emerging victoriously from a fight such as this leaves you drained, but nothing compares to the feeling of finally slaying such a daunting foe.
The beasts you encounter later on in the game only become stronger and fiercer as you inch forward toward progress. Defeated beasts give players one of two in-game currencies called Blood Echoes. Blood Echoes can be used to level up with the Doll and purchase many items and weapons inside the Hunter’s Dream. Leveling up is essential to surviving the many perils in the waking world, however, the more you level up the more Blood Echoes it costs. You will usually carry many Blood Echoes at any given time, but disaster will fall upon you eventually, and when it does, you will die as you lose all of your Blood Echoes.
But do not get discouraged, you will be given one chance to retread your step and reclaim your Echoes. At times it is as easy as picking them up from your death site, other times you will need to kill the beast that picked them up, all whom can be identified by their glowing blue eyes; being killed again while attempting to get your Blood Echoes will cause them to disappear forever.
The second type of currency is known as Insight: a strange supernatural knowledge of the unknown – the more Insight you have the more you will uncover hidden elements in the game. Insight can be used to purchase other items that you can’t get otherwise with Blood Echoes and are required when wanting to play online.
For online play you need three bells: the Small Resonant Bell, the Beckoning Bell, and the Sinister Resonant Bell. The Beckoning Bell uses one Insight and summons players from their own worlds that are using a Small Resonant Bell in the same area. Once connected, players can tackle areas and bosses together in jolly cooperation. Tread carefully as you will summon a Bell Maiden somewhere into your current area.
Bell Maidens will ring a similar bell just like the Beckoning Bell, but brings forward an invading player that rings the Sinister Resonant Bell. Killing this Bell Maiden or defeating the area Boss is the only way to stop invaders from entering your world. There are only two areas in the entire game where Bell Maidens are actual mobs, of course once you find them and rid yourself of them you will not see them again, even when all the enemies respawn
The thrill of being invaded at any time is now gone, but this also made for a very pleasant experience. I didn’t have to worry about being invaded by some overly powerful player and getting annihilated. The times I did get invaded were when I was well prepared and knew the risks of ringing the Beckoning Bell or when I got much further into the game where I was more confident in my abilities. But even if you’re the invader, you too will subject yourself to the possibility of being invaded, perhaps as a little form of karma. There are plenty of risks when ringing these bells, but the reward of getting help or defeating your target is well worth it.
Bloodborne’s focus is on pure combat. You are a hunter who hunts beasts, not a knight slaying dragons – your equipment will reflect that – finding new pieces of clothing will almost never be actual armor. This is where I’m split between understanding this decision and wishing for more variety.
Besides being cosmetically different, there is very little advantage to choosing one set of armor over the other; one set can be superior by a small margin, but it really doesn’t do you a whole lot of good when you notice no change in the damage you take in combat. The only true help I had switching out pieces was when I needed a boost in poison or frenzy resistance, and even then that only helped so much.
A part of feeling like you are getting stronger is by finding new powerful weapons and more protective gear and you don’t feel stronger, at least you don’t really look the part. This is where I feel like this decision to rid the player of worrying about armor is the smart one for this game. In the Souls games you were constantly managing your armor. How much does it weigh? Is it slowing me down to too much? Which has the best overall defense? You don’t really need to concern yourself with those questions anymore. No matter what you wear in Bloodborne you are not hindered at all and remain nimble and agile.
You may not be wearing some badass armor to show how good you are, but in the end, you don’t need some spiffy looking armor to more powerful. Instead of relying on armor and shields to protect you from harm, you must hone your skills to become good enough to avoid being hit altogether. Your power comes from hours of practice, not from your equipment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have some tricks up your sleeve.
Making up for the lack of defense from your attire, players can equip up to three Caryll Runes that grant passive abilities such as more physical defense or increasing poison resistance. One slot is available for Oath Memory: special Caryll Runes gained by finding and completing certain NPCs questlines. Theses runes help with health regeneration and provide other useful traits to help your character become more robust, but even with hours poured into becoming stronger, Blood Gems can make your weapons attacks power even more so. Inserted directly into the weapon, Blood Gems can imbue your weapons with increased damage or changing its damage type altogether. The combination of Caryll Runes and Blood Gems will make you a truly fearsome hunter.
The Number of weapons are lacking this time around too. Demon’s and Dark Souls had numerous weapons to find, collect and master, yet that number has been cut down to a tenth for Bloodborne. While this disappointed me at the beginning, I thought to myself, “Why would I even need 100 weapons for”!? Variety is always nice, but having a smaller arsenal to choose from gives players the chance to find which weapon works best for their needs, without having to spend hours going through hundreds of weapon/shield combinations. I do miss getting a chance to get boss specific weapons however.
You have your light and heavy attacks for each weapon, which is standard enough, but perhaps the most innovative gameplay mechanic is the ability to switch to a weapons secondary form. Every weapon you acquire will be able to transform to mix up your fighting style and adapt to your needs in battle. For example, the weapon I’m currently using is Ludwig’s Holy Blade; Its first form is a silver longsword that allows me to attack many times while consuming less stamina per swing. Its second form involves sheathing the longsword into the second sheath/blade, making it into a giant broadsword capable of dealing monstrous damage with a greater reach to equally monstrous beasts – the drawback being the large amount of stamina required to use it and how slow it swings. You can even change the weapon’s form quickly during battle by pressing L1 during your attacks and still maintain a combo.
With the shield more than useless, hunters are instead more suitably equipped with firearms along with their primary weapon. Firearms require Quicksilver Bullets to use and tend to serve as a secondary mean of attack, more importantly, they are a replacement for the riposte and counter enemy attacks. Just before an enemy lands a hit on your hunter, firing a shot into them sends them into a staggered state. Once your target is stunned you can deliver a devastating attack that inflicts massive damage called Visceral Attacks.
Backstabs are (thankfully) not as simple to execute; before, you just needed to attack a player from behind to initiate a backstab – this time it requires two steps: one must charge their heavy (R2) attack from behind the enemy and connect to stagger them, and from there you may land a critical Visceral Attack. This way ensures that, when fighting another player, one does not simply spam backstabs for an easy win.
Another great addition is the procedurally generated Chalice Dungeons that let you explore different levels to find items that can’t be found anywhere else. You will need a chalice and some ingredients to perform a Chalice Ritual in front of some gravestones located in the Hunter’s Dream. Once you begin a dungeon your task is to find the lever that open the way to that depth’s boss and once you can defeat the boss you will precede downward the second depth where you will repeat the process. Each ritual mixes up the dungeon lay out and you can even play other dungeons that other players have left open.
Even when you do finally reach the end of the game you will enter New Game+ and start your hunt from the very beginning. Naturally the enemies are tougher this time around, but ridiculously so. Enemies I was able to take down in a single blow using a Ludwig’s Holy Blade +9 now take three or more hits, meaning they are three times as tough and deal double the damage as before. Even when you fought them before and think you know their attack patterns, bosses you will face again seem to not even use the same attacks as they once did. The moments where I had to struggle to stay alive before now turned to a massacre. Bloodborne the first time around is not for the faint of heart or those quick to temper. When it comes to New Game Plus+, you better keep a pillow nearby to scream bloody murder into.
Once I got a bit into the game, to my delight I start remembering a much beloved original PlayStation title: Nightmare Creatures. The setting is quite similar as they both take place in a gothic, Victorian-era setting where you explore a town seemingly occupied solely by the monsters you hunt. Not saying it’s a straight copy, but Bloodborne deserves some points in my book for it.
I cannot express how wondrous it was playing Bloodborne. Most of the elements I loved from the previous Souls games were here: the isolation, the sense of never being safe, the generation-defining gameplay and the notorious difficulty. I did have my issues with some of the choices made like the lack of weapons or the not-so-useful armor, but quickly grew to understand and appreciate the decision. On the technical side, there are some areas where for a split second I will experience a visual and audio stutter. It happened in the same spot for each and was not something I ran into frequently at all. The loading times during my initial reviewing period were pretty painful, but have since been patched to load much faster, making playing that much less stressful!
Bloodborne is beautifully designed, masterfully crafted, and offers a gaming experience unlike anything outside of it or its predecessors. You cannot ask for a better game that demands more of your time, your patience, your skill, and everything you’ve got, than Bloodborne. If you want a game to engross you for endless hours with ever-increasing challenges and difficulty, Bloodborne cannot be missed. In all honesty, this is the game that made me finally get a PlayStation 4 – its first real system seller.
Overall Rating: 4.75/5