Developer: From Software
If you’ve ever experienced a ?Souls? game, such as Demon?s Souls or the Dark Souls series, then you are familiar with the dark atmosphere and punishing gameplay that From Software is known for. Bloodborne, at its core is one of these increasingly difficult titles that demands your full attention to make any progress. It may seem cruel and unfair at times, but with some strong will and courage, it is an amazing experience!
Hidetaka Miyazaki once again brings the pain with the PlayStation 4 exclusive, Bloodborne. While not directly connected to the previous ?Souls? games in terms of story and setting, it features many of the play mechanics and overall spirit of those titles. Bloodborne throws you into the shoes of ?An Outsider? to the dark and desolate City of Yharman. The entire city is plagued with an endemic curse that has turned many of its citizens into crazed psychopaths, and it?s up to you to discover the city?s darkest secrets in order to survive. Not only do you have to deal with the crazed citizens who all want to kill you, you also must deal with horrible, nightmarish monsters that will kill you with little effort.
Before you begin your adventure, you first have to create a character using the detailed creation system. You can select your gender, then get into hairstyles, tattoos and facial features from the extensive array of choices presented. Once you settle on a look, you select your characters origin which will determine what kind of a hunter you will be, and each one has advantages and disadvantages over another. During my time with the game, I experimented with different origins and experienced surprising results in how my character behaved. After your creation is complete, you are given a blood transfusion that begins your new life as a Hunter. After a few unsettling visions, you move through the clinic searching everything until you face your first enemy, a giant werewolf. You do not stand a chance in this fight, and you are destined to die here — there is no way around it. It is the first (but definitely not the last) time you will see the words ?You Died? plastered on the screen. When you awaken again, you find yourself in ?The Hunter?s Dream?. A sort of hub world where you can access shops to buy necessary items and armor, increase your stats and fix/fortify your weapons. Before we dive into everything The Hunter?s Dream offers, let?s get to the heart of what Bloodborne is, and that?s exploration and combat.
Bloodborne is an action RPG at its core. Exploring your environment and engaging in combat is encouraged around every turn. By exploring every nook and cranny you can squeeze into around Yharman, you will find vital items and weapons that will aid you in the many battles that await you. Items like Blood Vials that can restore your health, to Molotov fire bombs and oil lamps that can drastically change the flow of battle if used in the right way. For example, when facing a large, fast moving monster, a few firebombs MAY slow it down and decrease its health, but throwing an oil lamp to cover the monster in oil and THEN throwing a fire bomb will dramatically increase the damage you deal. After you are victorious in battle, you collect a pure form of currency called Blood Echoes. These will help you purchase new armor, items and weapons in the Hunter?s Dream, and they can also be used to increase your stats and fix up your current weapons in the workshop. Collecting these means progress, so you have to pick up as many as you are able. Since this is a Souls game, any tactic you use to progress comes with its risks and there are times where fighting just isn’t the right answer.
Sometimes exploring and finding an alternate path may be beneficial for your survival, as there are many instances where mobs of enemies can surround you if you are not careful. Occasionally, you may come across a lantern near a door; this is an indication that someone on the other side may offer you some help or advice. Sometimes though, they only offer pity or mocking. When you are just starting out with your adventure, you will die, repeatedly, for what seems like every five minutes of play. Expect to see that wonderful phrase ?You Died? more than not as Bloodborne is not a game that holds your hand and tells you what to do around every corner. You also do not have save states where enemies you have killed remain dead when you perish. Every enemy you have slain will respawn upon your death or re-entering the Hunter?s Dream Hub world. Also, every item you have used and every Blood Echo you have collected will be gone after you die, so you MUST be cautious when using anything up in your inventory. One bright side is that you can recover lost Blood Echoes if you return to the place you last died and either find them on the ground, or kill an enemy that may have stolen them. If there is an enemy that has your echoes, their eyes will have an evil glow, giving you a hint as who to go for.
Now, going back a bit to discuss what the ?Hunter?s Dream? can do for you. When you experience your first death at the hands of the werewolf, you will awaken here and this is where you will learn your controls by reading notes that come out of the ground. It is also where you will be given your first two weapons and your Hunter?s Notebook. While exploring, you will come across bright lanterns that act as gateways back to the Hunter?s Dream so you can acquire new weapons, armor and skills. Remember though, once you pass through into the dream, every enemy you have previously slain will return like you were never there, so if you are not careful, you may trap yourself in a bad situation. Once your insight reaches a certain level (after a few battles and some exploration within Yharman) you can visit the Abandoned Doll and give up Blood Echoes to increase your stats. The stronger you are, the better your chances in battle, so be sure to use the Doll as often as you can. The Hunter?s Notebook is essentially a tool you acquire which provides players with online interactions throughout Bloodborne and can be used to leave notes for other players that may be having trouble in the same area. Notes are limited to pre-selected words and phrases that can be combined to make a viable hint. Upon reading these, you can vote them up if they helped you, or vote them down if it was just nonsense. Having the Notebook also allows you to interact with the graves of other fallen players, so you can see their last moments of life and try not to make the same mistakes.
Online play is not limited to just leaving notes either, as there is a vast multiplayer aspect offered here as well. From the Hunter?s Dream, once you find a Chalice (through normal gameplay) you can complete a ritual at one of the altars, giving you access to the ever changing ?Chalice Dungeons?. These Dungeons are randomly generated and are full of traps that lead to instant death and giant boss monsters that will be relentless in their quest to kill you. You battle waves of enemies and avoid traps to complete each dungeon and earn special weapons and items, as well as engage in PvP modes once the insight level of your character reaches 30. In PvP, you have to kill the host of the game before he/she reaches that area?s boss. I wasn’t able to spend too much time with the competitive aspect of Bloodborne prior to launch, but from the little I played of it, I had a fantastic time hunting my opponents and slaying them.
Chalice Dungeons can be uploaded and downloaded to and from the game?s servers so players will have an almost endless stream of challenges available. Co-op multiplayer is also offered for the main game and Chalice Dungeons once you find a Beckoning Bell in The Hunter?s Dream. Using the Bell costs you one point of Insight, but it can be regained if you and your team manage to kill the boss enemy before exiting the game. There are some areas where NPCs can even assist you in defeating the boss if you are having trouble — these NPCs aren’t just fodder either, as some can deal nasty damage to the enemy and tip the scales in your favor. Keep in mind that accessing the Chalice Dungeons, PvP and Co-op modes of play take a while to access, as they require special items found throughout the game, and gathering these items may be a bit more difficult for some players.
Bloodborne’s visuals are gorgeous and striking, and From Software really seems as if they are pushing the PlayStation 4 hardware to an extent with smooth animations and overall creepy looking environments. Even though most of the time, it feels like you are being hunted, you just can’t help but walk slowly through the streets and caves just to admire your surroundings. Character models and monsters alike all look absolutely terrifying and can even cause a few jump scares while you are engaging them. The audio presented really fills in the feeling of being alone and outnumbered in hostile environments. There is not much in-game music in Bloodborne, just mostly ambient sounds of monsters as they moan and scrape their weapons on the ground behind them, along with the crackle of burning torches and bonfires surrounding you.
Everything you see and hear really makes you feel like you are part of what?s going on and gives you the sense of ever increasing danger, and I recommend playing with headphones in a dark room for a truly creepy experience. The controls in Bloodborne may seem a little odd for an action RPG, but after a short while, you will get the hang of them. Pressing the options button will bring up your inventory and allow you to equip weapons, armor and items, but it does not pause any of the action. Make sure if you need to open these menus that you are not engaged in combat or even near an enemy as they will kill you while you are stuck in a menu. Clicking the R3 button will act as a lock on for battle and this is an absolutely vital tool to use, especially against fast moving or larger mobs of monsters. Locking on allows you more controlled dodging so you don?t get turned around as much as you would just dodging normally. Since you can?t block attacks like the Souls series, dodging is another vital gameplay control that must be mastered. Traps can come out of nowhere and even some monsters can ambush you from the shadows, so you must always be ready to dodge at a moment?s notice. The L2 and R1 buttons are your normal attacks with the left and right weapons (usually a gun and a melee weapon). L1 can transform your melee weapon into another form, if that weapon has one, that can offer more range and sometimes more damage against an enemy. R2 is your power attack with the melee weapon, and while it?s powerful, it can take longer to perform leaving you open to attack. Like I said, some of the controls may take some getting used to, but with practice you’ll be fine with the standard setup.
As expected, Bloodborne is a very difficult game, but it doesn’t punish you because it was made to punish, it simply requires your full attention to make any progress. Players of past Souls games know what to expect with the level of difficulty, while new players may seem overwhelmed after the first few deaths. Keep in mind that there are no impossible areas in Bloodborne, everything can be conquered, you just have to think and focus on what you are doing.
Instead of holding your hand and telling you where to go and what to do every 5 minutes like many other action games, Bloodborne simply puts you in a hostile world and lets you decide how to survive only providing you with the bare necessities along the way. For some this might seem like an impossible task, although others may see it as a great challenge to overcome. It is true that some players may feel that making any progress is far too difficult, I felt the same way when I began playing, but trust me this is not a game you want to skip. Don’t be scared to try it, Bloodborne is a wonderful addition to the PS4 library and I cannot recommend it enough.