Labyrinthine, difficult and very long. That just about sums up Bloodborne, and articulates exactly why I haven’t put a review up for the game yet, as much as I would like to. Like almost anyone writing a review I don’t want to publish my final word until I’m done with an experience, and ideally have had time to marinate in my thoughts. It’s unfair to readers and developers alike to publish an inaccurate review that misrepresents a game. So the world will have to wait a little longer for a full review. Thing is I really want to talk about how much I’m enjoying Bloodborne, and all its devilishly hard delights; that’s where this impressions piece comes in.
For the better part of a week I’ve journeyed through the dilapidated gothic city of Yharnam. Whilst there I’ve attempted to piece together the mystery of what caused its apparent destruction, why creepy monsters are lunging at me from all angles and just what is the significance of blood to the city historically? Thus far my adventure has barely scratched the surface of what Bloodborne has to offer, I can see portal after portal to stages I haven’t began to dream of yet. Regretfully this last week I’ve scarcely had the time to delve deeper than the third boss. The depths of Bloodborne remain locked to me.
What I have managed to experience so far however has been immaculate. FromSoftware has taken what made their Dark Souls series so iconic and applied it to a brand new setting, world, and aesthetic before making careful, but significant changes to the tried formula. As a result Bloodborne appears a familiar figure, but whose intricacies make it surprisingly different. This is no lazy lathering of Victorian/Gothic imagery on top of Dark Souls.
Visually Bloodborne is incredible. Like a twisted perception painting of Gothic architecture, elaborate cathedrals appear to build onto top of one another far of into the horizon, they scale impossible heights, and the ground was unfathomably far away from the first balcony I stammered onto. Despite its apparent impossibility the City of Yharnam fits together like an elegant puzzle. If you can see it you’ll likely get there at some point, regardless of mind meltingly confusing structure. Bloodborne plays on Yharnam’s daunting layout by hiding sneaky short cuts all over its winding streets.
Exploration is a core element of success. Dig deep and dig clever and you’ll be rewarded by short cuts which make subsequent trips through monster filled districts easier, or perhaps better discarded weaponry, armour and rare items. Those who really get stuck in will be showered (more drizzled) with bonuses that will make their trip through Yharnam a slither easier. To get the greatest of treasure’s though I needed to be prepared to face down powerful monsters that guarded their loot with frenzied loyalty.
It would appear on the surface that the quicker pace of Bloodborne combat would make tangling with enemies an easier business. Those who make that assumption are wrong. Bloodborne retains the patented difficulty which predecessors in the Souls series prized. Combat is less stoic, the Dark Souls approach of sword and shield or using defensive stances is all but gone. Instead in Bloodborne players are taught to be on constant offence. There’s no defend button at all, instead evading enemy attacks is crucial, and with the parry technique removed the ‘defend and counterattack’ tactic has almost completely evaporated.
Instead players must always be dodging and striking back. The Bloodborne hunters even have the ability to replenish health by attacking enemies in a short window after they are struck. Stepping back for a breather can be in many cases actually be detrimental to survival. The other worry fans vocalised going into Bloodborne was the addition of a firearm to the player’s repertoire. Worry not the gun really doesn’t make things easier, for one beyond the first area ammo is scarce. That fact is made worse still by the fact Bloodborne limits the amount of ammo the player can carry. You’ll not be stockpiling beyond what FromSoftware want. Which is a shame because firearm functionality replaces the parry technique from Souls. Fire the gun into a foe at the right moment and they’ll be stunned allowing players to pull off a heavily damaging ‘visceral attack’.
To further counteract the heroes new found swiftness in Bloodborne vs Souls enemies are frequently clumped together in overwhelming groups. Bloodborne places a high value on strategic planning before enemy engagement. Using a combination of gun fire and distracting pebbles players should whittle groups down in size, or gain strategic placement before starting a scuffle. Boss fights retain their notorious reputation for not only being incredibly cool, but their high difficulty too. There’s nothing more satisfying than bringing down a massive foe in a well thought out battle, but be prepared to die. A lot.
In my short time with Bloodborne I’ve found much to like. A game that resembles its Souls heritage but re-writes DNA enough to stand alone as its own thing. The retention of rewarding gameplay through the completion of difficult sections, boss fights, and the added satisfaction of uncovering a well hidden multitude of shortcuts. On top of that the level design in Yharnam is utterly fantastic, structurally and aesthetically. I look forwarded to unwrapping more of Bloodborne’s hidden depths and releasing a fuller verdict.