I bought a PlayStation 4 for two reasons, Persona 5 and Bloodborne. While P5 could still be ages away, Bloodborne fell into my lap and all the Soulsian goodness engulfed me near instantly. I love me some ‘Souls’ games – even being one of those proud hipsters that actually played/beat Demon’s Souls. You can find full walkthroughs of Dark Souls, Dark Souls 2, and even Bloodborne now via GameZone and our YouTube channel. This game feels so similar yet different enough to really stand out in gameplay, graphics, and experience. When even I play games I’ve been madly anticipating though, I’m always harsher due to expectations, hype, and level of fulfillment.
Bloodborne is a FromSoft and Hidetaka Miyazaki project – you know, the Souls ‘A Team.’ Taking place in a fictitious Victorian setting, similar to a sort of Van Helsing period, you get a bunch of gothic architecture, costumes, werewolves, grittiness, and lots of blood. Looooots of blood. While we’re not ready to toss away the melee weapons, they did get tricked up. Every weapon has some sort of trick form to it. This could mean anything from adding an extension to a buff. The Victorian period also includes guns which are not as broken as they sound. Think of guns as more of parrying daggers, not so much riffles for damage. ‘Parrying and ripostes’ are done with the use of your sidearm.
Here’s the thing. Bloodborne has been advertising that you won’t be able to play it like previous Souls games or you’ll have a bad time – this isn’t necessarily true. This statement really depends on the 'how’ of your playstyle in Souls games. What Sony’s PR means by that statement is that if you’re a Souls veteran who wears the heaviest armor, hides behind a shield, and casts spells from a safe distance then YOU are going to have a bad time. None of this really exists in Bloodborne. This title is a game of fast reactions and a more aggressive / less defensive style of gameplay. No more turtling and casting.
All the armor is “light armor.” Enemies are going to hurt you, a lot. The slightest hit will F*** you up. The game has the ‘Regain System,’ which means when you get hurt, you’ll have a few seconds to regain your lost HP by attacking foes. This system alone makes for a forced aggressive playstyle. If you’re always running away after taking massive damage you’re going to run out of healing pots quickly. It’s an adapt or GTFO system for sure. There is a shield in the game where the item description makes fun of those who use it. They know what they’re doing.
For me, I’ve never been one of these types of Souls players. I never use shields, spells, or use any roll but fast (just watch my walkthroughs – no seriously, please watch them). So for me, this game played quite similar to what I’m used to – even easier due to the quickness of the dodge move. For this reason, I’ve had an easier time with the difficulty of the game compared to the few other people I know playing it pre-launch. This isn’t a humble brag but an example of the type of player who will have an easier time with the game. My first clear of the game was in 23 and a half hours while others have been 35-50+ hours. I know for a fact, I’ve missed a few areas and even some bosses though – I just can’t find them.
The bosses are a good mix of malformed and deranged hairy creatures, I never felt like I was fighting a similar version of a previous boss. Dark Souls 2 fell into a slump of ‘oh, here is another giant armored boss’ – Bloodborne didn’t suffer from this. I never encountered that ‘wall boss’ that stopped my progression of the game; like an Ornstein and Smough. Unlike other Souls games though, Bloodborne has a sort of Monster Hunter vibe to boss encounters. Many of the bosses have weak points that are fun to discover, exploit, and savagely murder. Attacking the right spots in the right window can cause a sort of topple effect where you can drop the mad DPS. Learning the fights are just as fun as winning them.
Even without grinding, your natural progression makes you quite powerful. The difference between fighting an optional boss the moment you can or waiting until later in the game is night and day (sometimes quite literally). I get the ‘duh’ in that statement but I mean the slope is steep. Leveling up your damage and upgrading your weapons has an extremely noticeable effect. Since your ‘defense’ state is difficult to raise via armor, it raises with every level which all comes to play in this. If you’re have trouble with a boss, I’d imagine grinding a few levels or upgrading your weapon further will truly make the encounter that noticeably easier. Also, Fire Paper, holy sh*t. I don’t know if this consumable is broken but its increase to DPS is ridiculous.
What you may have to farm are Blood Vials. Think of these are your ‘grass’ if you’re familiar with Demon’s Souls. When these run out, they run out. For those who are used to the Estus Flasks of Dark Souls, this may suck for you. What this means is that every time you teleport to a new location or die, your health potions aren’t getting replenished. Sure lots of enemies drop these and are farmable if you want to take the time to do so, but that can break your flow. You can also purchase them but the price increases as you get later in the game. There is nothing worse than almost beating a boss to realize you only have 4 pots left and you have no Blood Echoes. Time to grind!
Speaking of teleporting, Bloodborne has a combination of Demon’s Souls Nexus and the ingenious short cut-level design of Dark Souls. From the Nexus, or, the Hunter’s Dream in Bloodborne, you can teleport to any ‘bonfire’ you’ve been to thus far. The Dream even organizes them by area, much like the Nexus. The awesome thing though, is that they aren’t separated from each other (well, except for one). Thus you can get to any of those places by just running if you want – this combination is god tier. The Hunter’s Dream is also laid out very conveniently, unlike the Nexus. Everything you need to use is close. Even the Doll who plays the role of the Maiden in Black is voice acted by the same woman – Evetta Muradasilova. It’s truly the little things.
As the hub, the Hunter’s Dream is where you level, upgrade weapons, rune weapons, rune yourself, access the areas you’ve discovered, and manage your Chalice Dungeons. There is also a Blood Echo shop and an Insight Shop for various weapons, items, armors, and precious precious Blood Vials. A tip, after leveling use your extra Echoes to purchase Blood Vials – even if you think you got enough. The Chalice Dungeons are fun, procedural, shareable, and cooperative. Make these dungeons, share the dungeons, and play them with two of your friends. Cooperative dungeons? This is amazing. The game even has 8-digit codes you and your friends can set up to maximize summoning ease.
A quick note on summoning and PvP, due to the limited number of early access reviewers, I haven’t had an opportunity to delve into this feature yet. My review score is based on offline features only.
Visually, the game is beautiful. Well, you know, darkly beautiful. The Victorian style and monstrous themes capture both hopelessness and allure simultaneously. When you see a building or area in the far distance, most likely it's really where that location is and you’ll be able to get there eventually. I simply love this feature – very reminiscent of Dark Souls. The environments in Dark Souls 2 just didn’t make sense when you broke them down. In Bloodborne, the areas are genius in there interconnectedness. There are also neat features that just make gameplay more generous like not losing stamina fast climbing up stairs or the entire slotting weapons system. The ability to just swap out runes without losing anything is baffling and suspicious in how kind it is.
All that glitters isn’t gold though. Like any game, Bloodborne suffers is certain areas. The most frequent and in your face issue are the load times. Keep in mind I played pre-launch and this could be fixed, but man, we timed it at work and after dying we waited 45 seconds – that is NOT okay. In certain areas the draw distance is super wonky. I’ve seen bridges appear where there was just air or statues appear out of thin air in front of me. Draw distance isn’t game breaking but it takes you out of the moment. FPS can drop at range or if you’re not focusing on something to your side. Enemies also have a tendency, even some bosses, of attacking through walls or areas you can’t attack through. I also rolled into areas I couldn’t get out of a few times. Luckily you always have the Hunter’s Mark to leave, but at the cost of all your Echoes. Always carry at least one Bold Hunter Mark with you.
Direction is also a huge problem. I know people will want to crawl down my throat for this one in Bloodborne it feels like there is a lack of direction of the sake of having a lack of direction because we consider that ‘hard.’ People complain that Dark Souls doesn’t have direction but I disagree. There is an entire legend about your character, you’re told to kindle bonfires, and you’re told to defeat four lords. In Bloodborne you are a hunter, so go hunt. I get that lore is found through NPC dialogues and item descriptions but man, it seems even lighter than usual. When people ask what it is you’re trying to accomplish in this game, I’m not quite sure how to answer. To hunt?
After receiving the ending I did, I had no idea what I just watched, except only understanding the most obvious of occurrences. I’m excited as hell for the community to make lore videos but as I stand now, I felt no attachment or accomplishment for finishing the game. I wasn’t even 100% sure I was fighting the final boss beforehand. Lastly, during my first playthough the final boss glitched and died on its own (trust me, not in a way that is supposed to happen). As someone trying to learn the game, this is extremely disappointing and a huge let down. The game of course saves right after and I’m thrown into new game+ without getting a chance to fight the boss again until getting there again on my second run. The depression was real.
As someone who was hyped for Bloodborne, as someone who half bought a PS4 for Bloodborne, and as someone who beat the game twice before release – I do actually love Bloodborne. It’s of course not without flaws, but the mix of familiar and different was executed extremely well. Patch the load times, stop making key bosses suicide, and allow the community to drown me in lore and I’ll be in heaven. I played the entire weekend to prepare the walkthrough and I STILL want to play. I’ve only touched the surface of Chalice Dungeons, play with friends, and invade savages. Knowing there are bosses, areas, weapons, covenants, armor sets, endings and just general content I’ve completely missed after a few playthroughs just makes me want me to play more. These, are all really good signs.