From Software has a legacy of creating extremely difficult games. The King’s Field series, for example, has always provided challenging enemies and an ambiance of horror and dread. The Souls franchise (Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls I and II) were the successors to that legacy and continued to provide extreme challenges and battles that required the player to learn and adjust their tactics and loadout according to each situation. Bloodborne follows this tradition of high difficulty and brilliant world design with new and intriguing themes and enemy designs pulled straight from the stuff of nightmares.
Bloodborne looks stunning on the PlayStation 4 with its great level design, atmosphere, and attention to detail which can be seen not only in the environment, but even on the players’ clothing and weapons. This title more than any other before it, is a true system seller which shows the power of Sony’s current-gen console. It also deconstructs and challenges everything players have come to expect from modern video games.
The story revolves around the player visiting the city of Yharnam to receive treatment for a blood condition called ‘Paleblood.’ When treatment starts, the player experiences a vivid nightmare and awakens in the clinic where the story begins. However, things are not quite right.
Exploring Yharnam, you quickly find yourself embroiled in an event simply called “The Hunt” where hunters scour the city for anyone infected with Beastblood, which causes people to transform into werewolf-like creatures (among other things as the player discovers later on). Of course, the player is mistaken for an infected person and soon has the town’s hunters gunning for them… literally. Ironically, most of the hunters encountered are infected and are in various states of transformation.
Bloodborne takes a departure from previous Souls games in that the player no longer relies on shields or dual wielding blades. Players now have good old fashioned guns to help them fight off evil. Guns add a new strategy to a series which traditionally focused on a combination of dodging, blocking, and offense. Now, players will have to time their dodges and use gunplay to fight effectively. Players can stun enemies and other players (invaders) with a well timed gun shot. This allows them to capitalize with a powerful “visceral attack” which causes great damage. Guns can also provide precious seconds to recover stamina for players who have run out of it after a furious offense.
Combat also allows the player to recover some lost health from an enemy attack if they strike back soon after taking damage. This system (which is sometimes employed by fighting games) provides a “risk / reward” mechanic. Players will have to choose whether to play aggressively and try to recover health, or play conservatively and hang back; relying on blood vials for healing instead.
Bloodborne is a game that challenges you to keep trying. Many have talked about how hard the game (and its predecessor) is and how that is a good thing. But it’s not as simple as just having fun while being killed over and over. Death shouldn’t be viewed as failure, but as another opportunity to overcome an obstacle. Learning from your mistakes and correcting them is one of the most rewarding things in the Souls franchise, and that continues to shine through in Bloodborne.
While most of the combat is challenging, I was surprised to find that a few of the bosses’ AI were easy to trip up. Once I found the pattern to beat them, it wasn’t much of a challenge. However, there are instances where boss battles seem unfairly difficult, especially compared to some of the easier ones (including the final boss battle).
Bloodborne controls well but does not feel quite as tight or responsive as Demon’s Souls did. Sometimes there is a lag in input. For example, the player will notice that when they stop an attack to use an item or dodge, that their character will continue the attack, or will be stuck in a previous delayed action. This happens infrequently however, and for the most part, the controls are responsive.
The ‘Blood’ theme carries over to combat as well. The blood of your slain foes clings to your outfit and you get more and more blood-addled the longer you fight. Returning to the ‘Hunter’s Dream’ allows players to recover, upgrade their weapons and character stats, and visit different regions. One of the new areas players can access are the Chalice Dungeons. These are procedurally generated levels that players can explore alone or with friends to find new types of enemies, bosses, and loot drops.
The music is simply perfect and enthralling. Tracks fit each situation nicely with swathes of the game going silent which just adds to the horror atmosphere. Every piece of music emphasizes the feeling of the moment players are facing. Familiar sounds from previous Souls games permeate the levels, along with new sounds for the guns, and enemies whose sounds range from haunting laughter to screams that will echo in players’ nightmares.
Bloodborne is a great game for any fans of the previous Souls titles or even fans of the King’s Field series. It offers a fantastic open-world horror experience that is robust and challenging. While some boss battles feel unbalanced, the overall difficulty of the game is quite high compared to most games today. This is something that those who seek a true challenge will appreciate.
With a great deal of transformable weapons, a well implemented gun mechanic, co-op multiplayer, and Chalice Dungeons to explore, Bloodborne offers much for players to enjoy. Sony now has a true system seller on its hands.
This review of Bloodborne is based on a retail copy for the PlayStation 4 which was paid for out-of-pocket.