The next iteration of death.
Five hours in, still in the starting area. I finally had grinded up enough to tackle the first boss. My death toll was already in the double-digits. The shortcut to my prey was unlocked, but first I had to make it there.
This is the best description of my first true venture into From Software’s masochistic series. I have only dabbled in past titles, but have always wanted to truly understand why players cannot seem to get enough of them. Bloodborne is the latest “kill the player relentlessly” simulator and is also just happens to be a PlayStation 4 exclusive. It is also the first title since Demon’s Souls to axe the “Souls” moniker gamers have become so attached to. Fear not though, all of the trademarked punishment of the series is fully intact.
Newcomers to the series will get how it all works right from the start. After a creepy cut scene involving some highly questionable blood transfusion and even creepier alien-like creatures surrounding me, I woke up in a room with no weapons or explanations. Next thing I know a giant creature blocks my path, and kills me. This is just the beginning.
Price I’d Pay: $59.99
Multiplayer: 1-3 co-op, online invasions from other players
Dying is inevitable in these games, it is learning how and what to tackle that makes them so addictive. It took me several hours, but I finally found a rhythm, then I got cocky and I died, and died, and died. This is the loop that defines Bloodborne.
Like previous Souls games, Bloodborne carries over a lot of the same mechanics. Enemies now drop Blood Echoes when defeated. This is the main currency in the game. It is used to purchase new items, level up my character, and even fortify and repair my weapons. Fortifying them also requires another item, but they are well worth finding as over time weapons degrade and become less effective. Blood Echoes are carried around until used, and if killed players drop them all, much like previous entries. I could still run to my place of death to recover them, but now enemies can absorb them, meaning I have to kill that specific enemy to retrieve my precious currency.
It is the risk/reward system that makes playing so tense. Having thousands of Blood Echoes on my person at any given time is stressful, but also necessary, as I progressively leveled up, it became more and more expensive to increase my stats.
Combat in Bloodborne takes on a new twist. There are no shields, so defense is not really as much of an option. The focus here is instead on offensive tactics. Sometimes enemy attacks leave an orange part of my health bar that I can recover if I am quick to strike back. Again, like everything else in the game, it is risk reward. Jumping in to attack before their attack animation is complete can end up in disaster.
Weapons also play a large role. I could wield one weapon in each hand, including a firearm that was great for crowd control, but does very little damage. I could also extend weapons with the tap of the L1 button, giving them slower attacks, but longer range. Light and heavy attacks still exist, but throwing in the gun and being able to switch from short to long range mid-combo opens up a whole new level of possibilities. Of course it all depended on my endurance how many strikes I could land before having to back off.
There is a decent variety of weapons in the game as well. Some of the two-handed ones found later on really pack a punch, while the whip is one of the coolest additions to a game in a long time. The combat feels slightly faster than previous Souls games, but it still puts priority on animation, and takes some time, and patience to get used to.
Everything feels like a Souls game here – the lack of direction, the excitement of exploration and discovery, the pain of defeat. It all combines to create an experience unlike any other. Not having massive experience it was certainly daunting for me. Coming in not knowing what all to expect, having to figure the mechanics and systems out is part of the fun, but it isn’t for everyone. One mistake, one wrong turn, and it almost feels like a reset at times. It can be frustrating. For example I accidentally attacked an NPC early on, which kept me from buying items from them, and also being able to visit that area of the game due to them being much stronger and faster than me. These are the realities players have to live with in these games.
Online returns in similar fashion with both invasions and co-op available. The only real change here is the new password system, which allows players to restrict who can join their game. I was also able to choose whether or not to play online from the outset, which is great for someone who doesn’t want to deal with other players invading and decimating their progress.
The co-op portion remains the biggest draw, and while it feels like trying to wrangle some of the bosses to get into games with friends, the Chalice Dungeons are totally worth it. These mammoth areas provide unique experiences and massive boss fights with friends. Nothing is more satisfying than taking down these enemies with your buddies, and I only wish there was a more streamlined way to accomplish it, because it truly is one of the highlights of the entire experience.
Jumping to PS4 also brings some significant visual changes to the series. The new Victorian-esque areas feel like something out of Nightmare Creatures. The enemy designs are also just as disturbing and peculiar as in past games. Giant rats, wolfmen, and massive pigs only scratch the surface of macabre creations From Software throws into this game, and the boss designs are still second to none with massive creations that fill screens and hearts with terror. The design in the game is just fantastic.
I also loved the little touches such as the ambient audio (there is a download for the Gold headset specific for this title) including the dark soundtrack and the fact that my character slowly becomes covered in blood over time. One minor gripe I had is with the frame rate that takes dips here and there, making some areas a little jarring. Outside of that though, the design finally gets a chance to shine on the new hardware. Loading times are also an issue. Dying comes naturally, but the wait to get back into the game is distressing. Well over 30 seconds most of the time, which really slows down the pace. This is one gorgeous and disturbing visual showpiece.
Bloodborne is the next step in the Souls series, and the new, faster combat system opens up some new ideas and scenarios. For those that never could grasp the series, this new entry is not going to change your mind. It still represents all the previous games with the same difficulty and non hand-holding it has come to be known for. Still for those with patience and dedication, Bloodborne is the first truly must-own title for the PlayStation 4.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.