With the monumental cult and critical success of both Demon’s and Dark Souls, director Hidetaka Miyazaki has certainly carved out quite the brutal niche with his blend of punishing, yet rewarding gameplay that harkens back to a time when games relied much more upon skill and patience. The Playstation 4 exclusive ‘Bloodborne’ hopes to carry the established formula over to the current generation; providing yet another proving ground for those with the willingness to accept failure and learn from it.
There are a great number of differences between this and a ‘Souls’ game; whilst not all of them are initially apparent, they certainly set Bloodborne apart from its spiritual, DNA ridden counterparts. The first similarity you’ll notice is the character creation screen; despite the sheer dominance of intimidating numbers, new players will simply do well focusing ideally on strength and endurance for the time being. Veterans on the other hand will know the relative unimportance of some stats, and how to compensate for the occasional lowly attribute. Experience, in more ways than one, is key. After you’ve struggled for half an hour googling a suitably Gothic name, you’ll be set to go; chest puffed out and determined not to be killed by the first enemy you encounter…
The bad news for you is that Bloodborne has other ideas up its sleeve. You will likely die in your first fight, mainly because you’ll be fighting an enormous hound with just your bare mitts. Thankfully, this is just one of few ‘helping hints’ from the developers to put the idea in your head early on, that you will not only die often, but that you should learn from your mistakes. If all goes according to their sadistic plan, you’ll awaken in the only safe haven in the game, the spectral realm of the Hunter’s Dream. Enjoy the peace and tranquillity whilst you can, as there’s soon no choice but to venture out into the unknown with your tail stuck firmly between your quivering legs.
Much akin to Bloodborne’s spiritual predecessors, other players can leave daubing’s of text behind in order to help, trick, or in the case of the start of the game, placate others. The starting, gloriously Gothic section of Yharnam is designed to break you. In the immediate opening of the game, enemies shamble alone or are at most grouped in twos, get past this bit however, and you’ll hit a wall. Barely 15 minutes into the game will you encounter a monolithic grouping of enemies that goes well beyond double figures. Scrawled across the floor are encouraging messages of perseverance that will likely do nothing to put your mind at ease, despite how right they are. Get past this section for the first time and you’ll have a feeling of accomplishment unlike little else.
If you do go for the manly/brave/stupid approach of slaughtering everything in sight, it’s actually a remarkably unspoken tutorial of how to intelligently take on a diverse pack of enemies. However, instead of the game helpfully explaining exactly what to do in each scenario, you’re left to your own wits and grace. Trial and error will undoubtedly be little consolation at the start, but you will subconsciously improve and get better to a point where you can comfortably get through fifteen or so torch wielding madmen in minutes not hours. Much like the Souls’ games before it, your gathered experience will be dropped on your first death and lost for good should you die again before reclaiming it too. A quick cheeky tip being that if you can’t find your stash of Blood Echos, it’s worth looking into the eyes of nearby enemies, as that may well indicate who’s wandered off with them…
Aggressive play is actively encouraged in Bloodborne due to the alterations in mechanics. There are no shields, armour penalties or sarcastic circle strafe bouts in Bloodborne; instead, you’re much more nimble and nippy on your feet. Where once you would be wise to play passively, it’s now much more visceral, especially taking into account that you can recover a small amount of damage taken should you attack an enemy (with a melee strike) in the following short window. That’s not to say it’s lost the rewardingly punishing difficulty it’s famed for, it’s just played at a seemingly quicker pace. Dodges, rolls and sidesteps are your best friends now. You’ll not only still have to memorise enemy attack patterns and adapt to new scenarios, but also master the new weapon and combo system too. Your chosen weapon can transform at the touch of a button to help adapt to different styles, often at the expense of speed. Wielding the shorter ranged option however, lets you also equip a gun. Before doubts arise regarding how overly powerful these are, I’ll state straight away that they’re often at their best when used to interrupt an enemy attack. You may well find and acquire more powerful variants, but their limited ammo and surprisingly useful close quarters ability ensures you won’t be performing any 360 no-scopes anytime soon.
Despite the synonymous thoughts of difficulty with a game like this, it would do Bloodborne a disservice not to delve into the architecturally fascinating world of Yharnam and its inhabitants. Whilst by no means the best looking game on the market in terms of fidelity and frame rate, the attention to detail and general artistic design more than makes up for any minor shortcomings. The layout is designed in such a way that you’re mostly funnelled along a fairly linear path, of course with many an offshoot hiding both beasts and rewards, yet without feeling constrained. The lack of checkpoints is gracefully handled by shortcuts back to previous areas, giving the feeling of both progression and it conforming to a hub-like world where everywhere is interconnected. Enemy designs, whilst rarely fundamentally unique, are always well thought out and artistically stunning; needless to say, boss designs are often the highlight.
Whilst it may not be the longest RPG in a single run, there’s plenty to keep you occupied both before and after you’ve seen the credits roll. On top of the excellent new game plus system, there are also the somewhat undersold multiplayer offerings in the form of procedurally generated dungeons filled with bosses, treasure and hordes of enemies. These ‘Chalice Dungeons’ can be played solo, cooperatively with a few people or even competitively. The game’s invasion system returns with a risk/reward mechanic too, using a consumable, players can receive assistance from nearby others to assist with bosses and the like, at the expense of potentially allowing an unwelcome incursion from another player. Should you wish to, there’s also an offline mode to safely guarantee you’ll be playing alone.
Once more, Hidetaka Miyazaki and his development team of From Software have created another punishingly addictive piece. Yes, it’s still not going to be for everyone due to the inherent difficulty level; and it does come with a few minor irritants such as when you die, you essentially have to sit through two loading screens, but it’s worth it. Bloodborne is a game where you’ll die to frustrating circumstances, attempt to blame anything but yourself, and still look forward to trying it again. It’s designed to punish you at the start, to make you learn, adapt and struggle. Get past the beginning section a few times and you’ll struggle to turn it off.