A few years ago an online gaming friend recommended a game called Dark Souls but warned me that it was quite a challenge and perhaps unlike anything I may have played previously. It was produced by a Japanese software team, From Software, under the leadership of Miyazaki San, a game designer of growing repute, he assured. Undeterred, I found a second hand copy and set to … 150+ hours later (spread across a few months and yes, I know, slow time but I like to have a good look around!) I completed it and almost immediately I started it again. I was hooked.
In my opinion Dark Souls is a masterpiece of game design, setting, innovation, storytelling and offers an unparalleled level of immersion. Bloodborne is in a very similar vein to that title but significantly ups the game in terms of it's overall design and in particular the newer faster-paced combat system. I will avoid spoilers and just try to outline the basic premise, world and mechanics.
- Bloodborne is a natural successor to proven “Souls” formula and is a third person action orientated RPG.
- Evolving story which keeps you gripped all the way through
- Amazingly detailed and thought provoking world built as individual levels with interlaced areas that open out as you explore
- Fast paced combat that will challenge even the most tough and durable gamers
- Co-op and PvP modes for online play
- New “Chalice Dungeons” provide further, procedurally generated, arenas for online play
- It is difficult but ultimately very rewarding [personal choice]
Key negatives (when being extraordinarily picky!):
- Loading screen
- Moving between levels can only be via the Hunter's Dream
- Minor clipping issues and very occasional frame rate drop
- It is too difficult … [again, personal choice but you can always sell your copy early for someone that appreciates a more cerebral challenge which is how I got into it …]
Blood has replaced souls this time around and is a recurrent theme throughout the game. It acts as a basis for most of your leveling up efforts in the central area called the Hunter's Dream. The world of Bloodborne is made up of different levels which are themselves a complex web of interwoven paths. The more you explore the more you will begin to open short-cuts between areas within levels. You can immediately warp to and from the Hunter's Dream using lamps and must always use it as the intermediate step when wanting to move between areas. This is being touted as a minor negative as the loading screen takes around 40 seconds. Personally, the game is so demanding, at times, it is actually quite a relief to have a moment of solace before diving back into the mesmeric misery that is the game itself.
As you begin to explore you soon realise that the game is literally jammed packed with information that begins to expand the world and tell the story. This is usually referred to as the lore of the world. Knocking on doors (look for incense burners) can sometimes initiate encounters with NPCs and discoverables can be hiding under breakable boxes or in dark corners and so, Bloodborne encourages you to look around and soak up it’s world. Each piece of beautifully detailed lore begins to slowly build the story of Bloodborne which is a key element of the game. You do not actually know what is going on in Bloodborne until you start playing it which is one of the aspects which I personally, enjoyed most with previous From Software offerings. Incidentally, the story is very dark and will surprise you.
You begin the game as a lone hunter and set forth on your adventure in Yarnham, a wonderfully dismal Gothic (Victorian London) town that is blighted by the most terrifying epidemic of beasts. Note that Yarnham is only the start of your adventure and you will travel far and wide as you slowly work through the campaign. Expect 60–80 hours for the first play through (yes, I know, but I told you I was a slow coach!). The world of Bloodborne is one of contrasts. It is a ghastly environment yet it has an alluring beauty and has had real passion poured into the design. Graphics are top notch and From Software has really begun tapping into the extra power of the PS4. The whole place has an eerie creepiness which is detailed exquisitely throughout. It really is astonishing to stare into the distance from the top of a ladder and know that you can (and will) ultimately make your way to that place at some point during the experience. As noted earlier the world is made up of contrasting levels and I guarantee you will be staggered at the thought which has gone into creating a fully fleshed out environment which invariably links back in on itself. After battling through an area you will suddenly push open a gate and find yourself right back you where started but this time you have a perfect short-cut for moving on at a faster pace!
Bloodborne combat is very much more intense than earlier Souls games. It encourages and rewards aggression, even to the point of repaying lost health if you counter attack quickly enough after being tagged by one of the numerous opponents in the game. Hiding behind a shield and poking with a sword is simply not an option. Most enemies have reasonable AI and will pursue you if they hear or see you. You can, however, creep up behind them using stealth, if you wish. Stealth appears to be a key tactical option this time around and especially in the earlier parts of the game. As with all Souls experiences combat should be undertaken carefully. Some enemies take longer to figure out than others but there is usually a key to prevailing against them which you will need to figure out for yourself. Charging in will usually lead to you being mobbed. Each time you die, and die you will, you will know why you died! Most of the time it will be because you were reckless and therefore, die you should! There are also some horrible traps but look for notes from other players that have already succumbed to guide some of your choices. Bloodborne does not have a huge number of weapons but they do have interesting and varied move sets and can also be upgraded and enhanced in the Hunter's Dream. Guns are also now available in Bloodborne but their primary use, I have found, is as a parrying weapon to break up your opponents attack and provide a riposte chance. You can also charge attacks and modify your weapon, mid-flow, depending on your requirement i.e. One on one in a confined space or crowd control in more open environments.
Bloodborne also has further online features such as PvP and co-op. Players can also see and contribute to the experiences of other players by reading and leaving messages (I find this aspect invaluable). Further, it now has a feature called Chalice Dungeon which provides a platform to procedurally generate levels that can then be saved and shared online. I have not gone too far into the online experience as yet but would imagine it will take on a further dimension and extend the life of the game markedly. So-called “Speed Runners” have also started adding yet another dimension to the game's growing community (really not my thing but there if you want to try).
If you enjoyed the Souls series or you want a thoroughly demanding yet super-rewarding challenge that is rich with detail and invites you to explore, then Bloodborne could be for you- Most reviews are suggesting Bloodborne is technically superb, is very challenging, is creative and fresh, has significant production merit, is excellent value for money and has lots of re-playablity potential (via Chalice and PvP), I would tend to agree. After a few false starts for the consoles recently as other so-called triple-A titles fell way short of some (or in some cases, all) of the above points it is refreshing to finally get a game worthy of the current-gen console. Bloodborne is quite simply, stunning, enjoy!