From Software has managed to create quite the sensation with their brand of notoriously punishing titles, spanning from Demon Souls to 2014’s Dark Souls 2. In their latest outing, the developers have adapted their signature style for the Playstation 4 exclusive, with enough of a new spin to make it worth your while to die and die and die all over again.
The first huge departure from the Souls games is Bloodborne’s setting, that of Yharnam and its surrounds. The world is dark, creepy and absolutely dripping with atmosphere. Every inch of its paths, from winding overgrown forest tracks to cobbled streets and haunted victorian structures help shape the nightmarish realm. Venturing through the different areas you get a real sense of a world fallen to darkness, broken down and filled with evil.
The graphics are also quite stellar for a From Software title, looking much better than it’s upscaled PS4 counterpart, Dark Souls 2. While the player character’s face can look a bit dodgy at first, the different armours you can clothe your hunter in, and the blood splatter from fighting, all look top notch.
One of my only gripes with Bloodborne early on is the character customisation. It just feels old and showcases some of the average face options, with all too many sliders making creating a simple, decent looking character a pain. Thankfully, once you manage to create something you’re happy with, helmets, hoods and jackets cover the hunter’s face, reducing the annoyance.
When you enter the world you’re presented with your first snippet in a string of cutscenes, barebones storytelling as to why you’re here. The game feels a lot more like it’s focused on giving you an experience first and foremost, allowing you to chose how much you invest yourself in the lore. There’s plenty of story to be found, from NPC hunters and characters, lore pages and even some very hidden side missions and objects, but you can enjoy Bloodborne without doing any of those, should you choose. It may come across as alienating at first to new players, but it’s a really good system that works once you dive into it.
During your adventures around the city of Yharnam you’ll frequently visit Hunter’s Dream, an alternate-world safe haven accessible through lamps – the Bloodborne version of Soul’s bonfires. In this realm you can level up by interacting with a slightly creepy doll, access challenge dungeons and keep your gear in top condition. It’s a nice break from the danger-filled world and quite a detailed little game hub – new things were there for me to discover and talk about as the game progressed.
Combat is core in Bloodborne, but in a different way to previous From Software titles – you’ll still be cautiously progressing further and further from your last lamp, but it pushes aggression and offence as the core tactics. It’s a much faster game in that enemies come at you right away, so victory often lies in hitting first and hitting hard, dodging and slashing at your foes.
Your hunter comes equipped with a right handed weapon, the melee slot with two modes, and a left handed weapon, where you can carry a torch, pistol or blunderbuss. There really isn’t a lot of weapons to choose from in the game, and I often found my original choice of cleaver was perfect for any challenge, as it was able to be upgraded and buffed as I made my way through the game. This limited choice really lets you get to know the way your chosen weapons work, as well as develop strategies with them rather than being forced to trade up over and over to new drops.
All primary weapons allow you to switch between a long version and a short version, each with different damage output, stamina usage and attack range. The more you play and flick between the two the more you learn what will work best against an array of foes.
Aggression is core in Bloodborne, shown through the health regain system. You do have vials to restore health, but upon taking a hit you have a small window of time to slash back at your attacker, each hit restoring a small portion of you health. It’s a really nice system that encourages you to attack and attack fast rather than inching around foes with a shield up. You can equip one shield in Bloodborne, a wooden one found early on, but it really lacks the usefulness of a gun.
Your gun is used to stagger, or lure enemies from afar. A well timed shot will not only disrupt an enemy’s attack – it’ll stun them, allowing you to swoop in and deal a gruesome ‘visceral’ attack, doing a lot of extra damage, earning extra experience and currency because of this. This becomes increasingly important as you tackle larger, more difficult creatures and bosses, letting you get the jump on even the toughest foe.
You’ll face off against literally hundreds of increasingly horrific and creepy creatures as you venture through Yharnam, with the bosses being undoubtedly the most imposing. There’s great variety in what you fight between the core story, side bosses and the chalice dungeons – some are variants of early foes like the Chalice Beast, while others throw out the formula entirely, such as the Witch of Hemwick. The tinge of familiarity after you encounter a new boss with similarities to a previous foe is great too, giving you a lead into developing a strategy for the enemy. It’s a great system combined with the combat of learning and growing your skills, the vehicle of this learning being death.
As in previous Souls games, you should always learn from your death. It’s an important part of the flow of Bloodborne, letting you try and fail until something clicks. My only issue with the numerous deaths in Bloodborne is the time it takes for the game to load between them. While it’s not a huge wait (and From have promised to patch fix it), it disrupts the flow and lengthens out the time it takes to progress, which may annoy some players.
Upon defeating the final boss in Bloodborne, you’re treated to a New Game + mode, allowing you to re-experience the game. The fantastic thing here is that players are still learning and finding new things out about the game well into their second playthrough, providing a tonne of replay and exploratory value.
On top of the expansive core game, Bloodborne allows co-operative play, allowing other hunters to drop into your world, when summoned, to either help or hinder you. While I didn’t spend too much time playing co-op, having a second player in boss battles to help out or distract them was very handy, but a hostile hunter can also provide quite an annoyance should they try to take you on. This and the ability to place helpful messages on the ground – akin to those from the Souls games – provides a real sense that you’re not alone on this dark quest.
Chalice Dungeons, randomly generated challenge dungeons, also extend playtime by allowing you to delve deep into ever expanding chunks of the world. They’re a great pit stop between bosses to grind out health vials and experience, or to test out your skills and new weapons. Completing them won’t get you any of the best rewards, with those being found in the core story, but they’ll drop materials needed to open more dungeons. It’s quite a fun addition that gives you something new to play each time you start a new one, and great for more casual play with friends.
Bloodborne manages to take a niche series, the Dark Souls saga, and changes up the formula to deliver new players and returning fans a unique yet familiar and satisfying experience. While this game’s level of difficulty means it’s definitely not for everyone, this is by far one of the best games to have come out in recent times. Sony has landed a fantastic exclusive here and it’s more than worthy of your time.
Developer: From Software
Platforms: PS4 (Reviewed)
A review copy of the game was provided by the publisher.