Platforms PlayStation 4 Genre Action Role-Playing
Developer FromSoftware Publisher Sony Computer Entertainment
It was only last year I put over 100 hours into Dark Souls II. It was one of the most frustrating gaming experiences I have ever had, but at the same time it was one of the most rewarding. Balancing both of these aspects is no easy task and FromSoftware’s follow-up for the PlayStation 4 once again nails both features well. Souls fans and those having their first taste of this gaming formula will both find an extreme satisfaction within Bloodborne, that few games can provide.
Bloodborne begins with your death. Yes, there is no better way to signify the challenging journey ahead of you than making it impossible to survive your first encounter. It is a sly recognition that this adventure isn’t for the faint of heart. There is no mistaking that Bloodborne will rip you to shreds when you least expect it.
Before you suffer your first death, players are able to create their character. I found the character creation suite was a little lacking compared to most RPG’s, with only a small selection of facial features and items to choose. Players also get to determine their opening statistics by choosing their Origins. What you choose here will determine your opening stats, but these can always be altered every time you level up. Instead of Souls being used to level up your character, Blood Echoes are the new form of experience. If you die holding a large amount of Blood Echoes, they will be dropped at the location of your demise; which is common knowledge to Souls fans. The key difference in Bloodborne is that enemies can pick up these dropped Blood Echoes, meaning that you not only have to make it back without dying to retrieve your lost Echoes, but you must slay the beast who stole them. It’s a small change but adds a new heightened intensity when retrieving lost experience.
Players will use their Blood Echoes to upgrade their character within the hub world, known as the Hunter’s Dream. This is your one safe haven away from the horrors of Yharnam, where you can upgrade and repairs items, purchase items and much more. This is also where Lanterns (replacing bonfires) will transport you when fast travelling within the main world. Unfortunately lanterns do not allow fast travel from one lantern to the next. In order to travel around the world players must continuously travel back to the Hunter’s Dream to travel to new areas. This is an odd decision and it adds a tedious nature to exploring the world, which always requires an extra few steps more than it should.
Players will spend their time within Bloodborne exploring the world of Yharnam. This place is suffering from a disease, which can turn its inhabitants into gruesome beasts. This is where your character comes in, a Hunter tasked to hunt down the evil and destroy it. If you have played a Souls game before the narrative delivery won’t be a surprise, almost every piece of the narrative is vaguely described and open to interpretation. NPC characters throughout the world will deliver vague statements, with the same poor voice acting qualities of previous Souls titles. Those looking for an epic narrative experience will find Bloodborne lacking. It expects the player to make the extra effort to read item descriptions, find notes throughout the world and piece together what the land of Yharnam is all about. Souls purists will love this lore discovery, but those who found the lack of story odd throughout Dark Souls II won’t find an improved narrative experience throughout Bloodborne.
The prized jewel in Bloodborne’s crown is the combat. There are slight variations to the combat players experience in Dark Souls II, which provide a faster and more agile combat system. Instead of equipping a sword and shield, players are able to wield one physical weapon and one firearm. At first the change is drastic, but it doesn’t take long to understand the finer points and advantages of having both weapons. There were dozens of times when quick gunfire saved my life, or a brutal attack from my transforming weapon was able to destroy numerous foes. Bloodborne rewards an aggressive mindset, after being dealt damage from enemies there is a small window of time when a counterattack will see that health return to the player. This emphasis on always staying on the front foot and establishing dominance in battle is excellent, but it must be balanced with an impeccable watchful eye on your opponent. Learning an enemy’s attack pattern is almost half the battle, a well timed dodge can leave your opponent open for a barrage of attacks. Though the combat mechanics seem slight at first, there is a depth to combat that will see skilled players truly feel like an unstoppable force.
Bloodborne’s range of weapons and armour seem drastically smaller in comparison to Dark Souls II. I kept my main weapon that was given to me at the start of the game throughout the entire experience, with upgrades and the ability to add gems to your blade it was simple to rely on one weapon throughout the adventure. As for armour and different attires these barely exist, each set of different clothing offers only slight statistical differences from the last and these items are not able to be improved in any way. The lack of depth in armour feels out of place and once I found an attire I found visually appealing, I didn’t pay much attention to any new clothing items I found. With the upgrade system in place for weapons, the ability to improve armour sets would have been appreciated.
Having a strong combat system is excellent, but the enemies you slay have to provide a great challenge; and happily Bloodborne succeeds. These enemies are vicious, with each different variation of enemy possessing their own unique attack pattern. Not only does their move sets greatly define each enemy, but the visual construction of these foes has to been seen to be believed. These are some of the most visually frightening creatures I have dealt with in gaming for a long while, with some amazing audio design added to further emphasise their creepy nature. These enemies range from high pitched laughing witches, large towering reapers, grotesque dogs, crows with dog heads and dogs with crow heads; these are some truly sick minded creations and I wouldn’t have it any other way. These creatures fit brilliantly into the dark and ominous world of Yharnam, though lacking a large visual variety in comparison to Dark Souls II. The ominous use of colour makes the world extremely intimidating. The use of dark colours fits the intimidating gothic nature of Yharnam and help further emphasise a terrifying atmosphere.
Though a visual splendour, boss fights are where variety seems to have gone missing. Most of the bosses within Bloodborne look amazing, but the strategy used to defeat each of these encounters are fairly standard. I found each boss encounter can simply be won with the same strategy – simply wait for an attack, dodge and then exact your revenge. Due to fact the same strategy can tear down most boss encounters without any trouble, meant these encounters felt lacklustre. Though I didn’t hate boss battles throughout Bloodborne, they did feel lacking in comparison to the challenging creatures found outside of these encounters.
Multiplayer works in a similar fashion to past Souls titles, players can summon other players to help them in battle, help other players themselves, or invade another player and destroy them. Teaming up with other players to take down a difficult boss, or simply helping out another player who was struggling is an amazing experience. FromSoftware does an outstanding job at once again providing some of the most genuinely entertaining multiplayer experiences, which have helped me find almost a dozen like minded friends due to the bond that was shared when taking down a tough enemy. Each player wants to succeed and although it may have started out as a means to earn more Blood Echoes, it quickly turns into a battle of epic proportions with an unknown ally by your side. I love the multiplayer experience in Bloodborne, but it is far from perfect.
Summoning players into your game revolves around Insight, these points are used each time you ring your bell in order to bring forth another player. The problem is every time you ring the bell a point is spent, even if that bell doesn’t find another player, or something else goes wrong. It’s unfortunate that Bloodborne will punish and retain these Insight points if the summoning is unsuccessful, even if the problem was due to Bloodborne itself. The waiting times for summoning as well as helping other players is extensive, there were only a few times when these instances worked quickly. It’s also frustrating when playing online. When your internet connection suffers from any issues Bloodborne will throw you back to the main menu. It’s not a huge problem as you can always play offline if you choose, but when wanting to experience the online functionality it’s frustrating that Bloodborne will kick you out of the experience instead of simply moving you offline.
Bloodborne also tries to add longevity to its gameplay experience, aside from the New Game + option within the main campaign. Players can enter the randomly generated Chalice Dungeons. These dungeons can be played alone or online. As the name suggests these dungeons are dark, lonely and fairly uninteresting to the eye. There are unique bosses to be found within its walls, new items to collect and enemies to defeat, but I found there wasn’t much incentive to keep playing. Bloodborne players looking for any excuse to play more Bloodborne will love these bonus dungeons, but I personally found there wasn’t anything interesting or alluring to keep me playing.
If you didn’t like Demon Souls, or Dark Souls, I doubt Bloodborne will change your opinion on this gaming formula. Bloodborne requires an extensive amount of commitment to truly appreciate what it provides, which requires a lot of experimentation and deaths along the way. Players without the patience to handle the brutal difficulty will find Bloodborne doesn’t shy away from killing you without warning if you make a mistake.
Though I did find the intimidating visual experience did damper my enjoyment when playing lengthy sessions of Bloodborne, it’s incredibly hard to deny that this is one of the best PlayStation 4 exclusives to be released thus far. FromSoftware may have kept the main backbone of the Souls series in check, but the slight alterations will please fans who said the series was too slow, and will be an enjoyable alteration from what Souls veterans have come to expect.
The recent patch also greatly improved the extended loading times previously hampering many players experiences. Making what is outstanding game, even better.
Excellent aggressive combat system.
Visually terrifying character design.
Rewarding multiplayer experience.
Boss Battles – One strategy fits all.
No quick travel between lanterns.