From a reviewers point of view Bloodborne is intimidating, in my impressions I called it “labyrinthine, difficult and very long“. Then I had played for mere hours, since then I’ve sunk days into FromSoftware’s spiritual successor to Dark Souls to reach the end; I can confirm that Bloodborne carries those traits all the way through. Bloodborne’s difficulty is relentless, it delights in hurling challenge after challenge at players. For may it’ll be off putting, but for those who relent Bloodborne is a captivating dark trip through the intriguing Gothic City of Yharnam ripe with opportunity for marvellous discovery.
The City of Yharnam itself is a fascinating construct, like a twisted perception painting of Gothic architecture, elaborate cathedrals appear to build onto top of one another far into the horizon scaling impossible heights. No matter where I stood the ground felt unfathomably distant. Despite it’s apparent impossibility the City of Yharnam fits together like an elegant puzzle. If you can see somewhere 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. Finding the short cuts is utterly rewarding, it makes the journey easier to bear in future and sometimes they’re home to impressive loot caches.
Exploration is fundamental to success. Dig deep and dig clever and you’ll be rewarded. Those who really get stuck in will be showered (okay, 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. In one early scene I’d tip toed trough some abandoned sewers only to be confronted by a distant silhouette – one that charged violently toward me, it was in fact a gargantuan boar. Bloodborne doesn’t give up it’s secrets easily.
The same is true of Bloodborne’s narrative, it gives absolutely nothing away. For weeks I’ve attempted to piece together the mystery of what caused Yharnam’s destruction, why creepy monsters are lunging at me from all angles and just what is the significance of blood to the city? Even after days scratching my head I’d came up with very little solid explanation, but writing my own versions of events using the clues given was nearly as much fun. I didn’t care if I came to the correct conclusion, to me my self written story worked well. Equally I delighted in reviewing other players thoughts online; seeing how their deductions stacked up against my own. Discovery of the story is intriguing for those who care, but details are so thin it’s easily avoided.
For those who are less interested in chronicling the downfall of a city there’s still a whole lot to love. FromSoftware’s 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 is both narratively and mechanically a familiar figure, but home to enough intricacies that it feels like a surprisingly different experience. This is no lazy lathering of Victorian/Gothic imagery on top of Dark Souls. The same could be said of Bloodborne’s combat, this is no lazy clone of Dark Souls.
On the surface 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 pioneered despite newly introduced differences. Combat is notably less stoic, the Dark Souls approach of sword and shield using defensive stances is all but gone. Instead success in Bloodborne is dependant on a constant brutal offensive, standing back for a breather is nearly never a good idea. There’s no defend button; instead evading enemy attacks is crucial, and with the parry technique limited the ‘defend and counter’ tactic has been pruned back significantly.
Players must be perpetually dodging and striking back. Bloodborne’s hunters have the ability to replenish health by attacking enemies in a short window after they are damaged. Whenever I was attacked heavily I found falling back to re-establish an attacking point useful, but the enemies too are so quick they don’t allow for much in the way of a break. Many fans have questioned whether the addition of a firearm to the player’s repertoire would make for easier combat. Worry not fans of punishment, the answer is no. In face the gun and scarcity of ammo probably makes things harder
The parry technique has been removed from Bloodborne and replaced by ‘visceral attacks’. Hit an enemy or boss at the right time with a gunshot and they’ll be staggered allowing the player to pull of an powerful counter-attack. The limited amount of ammo players can carry though makes the visceral attack a technique to be used sparingly. Even worse using a bullet doesn’t even guarantee a visceral attack. You’ll not be stockpiling ammo beyond the 20 that FromSoftware allows. Naturally then I found myself leaving ammo for bosses and brutish enemies.
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.
Enemy and Boss design alike continues to be phenomenal. Be prepared to face amazingly large bosses, as well as smaller more intimate human sized ones. When exploring Yharnam and it’s surroundings expect the usual blood crazed citizenry as well as horrific abominations. A hunter’s wits must always be about, monsters will seek to knock them off balance using frightening scare techniques whenever they can.
In my time with Bloodborne I’ve found much to like. A game that resembles its Souls heritage but re-writes the DNA enough to stand on it’s 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 short cuts is all welcome. On top of that the level design in Yharnam is utterly fantastic, structurally and aesthetically. Bosses and enemies are a thrill to fight. If Dark Souls cast players as the stalwart human, then Bloodborne makes them a vampire. A vampire does not block, it attacks and dodges, go out there and join the hunt tonight – you may not be around tomorrow.