The “Souls” series is famous for its unrelenting punishment and oh-so-satisfying gameplay. With this spiritual successor, brought to you by the series creator Hidetaka Miyazaki, Bloodborne breaks free of the careful approach of its predecessors in favour of a faster-yet-familiar combat system in a harrowing, gothic setting. And the game comes with that same tough difficulty too, so much that I’m worries about not surviving this Bloodborne Review.

Rather than have a huge story segment, this game doesn’t necessarily need that. All you need to know is, in Bloodborne, you’re thrown in to a world of monsters and the men in the process of becoming them.

Look and Feel

Those familiar with the Souls series will recognise the art style. It is distinctly Souls-like, make no mistake, but in a much darker setting than we’ve seen before. The choice of a gothic aesthetic fits very well in the ruthless savagery that Bloodborne would have you run a gauntlet through. The jump to next/current generation in the form of Playstation 4 has also provided a graphical boost, and it’s apparent from the character models, equipment, lighting and animations.

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Everything goes above and beyond that of what we’ve seen in previous iterations. Given how populated the world is, it’s a wonder they were able to maintain such an impressive graphical display. Couple these fine visuals with a haunting soundtrack and the occasional groans of a frankenstein’s monster-like beast as he bashes against a giant metal door, and you can’t help but appreciate the atmosphere created by the team as a result of their attention to details.

Enemy design is something many of us look forward to in the series, and Bloodborne doesn’t disappoint. From huge monstrosities, like the Cleric Beast, to a 3-on-1 hardcore match against the Shadow of Yharnam, each feels unique and their designs are often a disturbing marvel.

For all of the grim, despair-inducing surroundings, there is levity on occasion. Particularly at the Lanterns – this game’s version of bonfires – where you’ll always see small skeletal minions praying to the lit lantern. You can assign different headwear  to these little buddies. It’s not a big deal, but its a moment of calm in a chaotic landscape.

Gameplay

For many, this will be the first game of its type to be experienced. It’s the first on a new generation and thus, we’ll go over the basics. In Bloodborne, you create your character and are dropped in to a world where nearly everything is your enemy. You’ll acquire a variety of weapons and firearms that’ll help you combat the threats you face, but it boils down mostly to your reflexes.

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The ability to dodge and parry your opponents is essential to survival, and learning their attack patterns is the key to victory. You’ll increase in level and strength by defeating the aforementioned enemies for “Blood Echoes”, which you’ll exchange back in your hub-world for upgrades to various things. Your weapons and firearms, too, can be upgraded with a combination of Blood Echoes and specific items you’ll come across as you scour the landscape. In short, Bloodborne is the very definition of trial-and-error. You will die, you will dust yourself off, and you’ll venture out once more to surpass your last attempt.

If you’re a veteran of the “franchise, for lack of a better term, Bloodborne swiftly pummels you with its new approach to combat. It’s not that there’s a major revamp of the style you’re used to, but rather that it’s a great deal faster than the games that led up to this. You are rewarded for quickly striking back against your enemies after you take a hit with the opportunity to replenish health by doing so. This is a first for this series, and it makes the pacing a lot quicker without easing up on the difficulty. I found this to be a welcome change, so much so that going back to either Dark Souls or Demon’s Souls is very difficult, despite them both being great in their own right.

What struck me as jarring at first was the decision to remove magic from the game. I’d always played with an “Intelligence” build and this game doesn’t allow for that style of play. An hour or so in, however, you understand that magic simply wouldn’t fit in to this  world. For as much as their doesn’t seem to be a deep story, there’s a tremendously deep lore that only keen hunters will find. Thus, I found myself respecting this decision rather than lamenting it.

It helps a great deal that the variety of melee weapons are vast and the combat is so satisfying. Each weapon is transformable with a click of the L1 button on your game-pad. This can turn your one-handed heavy axe in to a two-handed polearm with a much greater range on the attacks at the expense of losing your long-range option in the form of your firearm.

 

Firearms are a new feature, and essentially the replacement to magic, in Bloodborne. They utilise quicksilver bullets and serve mostly to interrupt enemies swiftly in the event that they close in on you and your melee attack would take too long to pull off. This grants a shift in dynamic wherein, as a series veteran, you’d be used to mostly avoiding your opponent to create an opening, here you’ll often find yourself waiting for that perfect moment to shoot a fist-full of silver in to a werewolve’s chest as it’s about to slash your face out of existence. The tension created in these scenarios is unlike anything I’ve experienced before in a game and can result in the grandest of joys and the deepest of sorrows depending on your timing. That said, it’s often-times far more rewarding to transform your trusty melee weapon if you learned your enemy’s attack pattern and just dodge to bring about a swifter end. Nevertheless, the firearms play their part at crucial intervals and are a worthwhile option from Blunderbuss to Repeating Pistol.

Whilst the combat is the most rewarding element of the gameplay, I thoroughly enjoyed the exploration of Yharnam in Bloodborne. You’ll come across locked gates and doors throughout your journey, and eventually you’ll find yourself on the other side of them, opening the way to shorten your journey to a particular destination after you inevitably become crushed by an unexpected enemy. It’s rarely obvious, which makes it all the more joyous when it happens.

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Bosses in this game are tough. Sometimes proving too tough for the average hunter, and thus you have the usage of resonant bells. These bells allow you to call in a real-life co-op partner amidst the many playing online to take on whatever area you’re in. This enables you take down tougher enemies with less difficulty, but make no mistake, this isn’t easy mode. There’s always the chance you’ll get wiped out if you don’t pay attention, and even then, sometimes it just happens. The co-op element merely serves to ease the burden if needs be.

If you’ve done all there is to do. If you’ve conquered Yharnam’s most difficult beasts and consider yourself a Bloodborne deity, why not try out the Chalice Dungeons? These dungeons are procedurally generated, meaning that each time you initiate it, it’ll never be the same as it was. They provide unexpected challenges and are deliberate in the fact that you cannot learn them in the same way you would Yharnam itself. You’ll find great rewards, such as powerful weapon upgrades, in the depths of these many Chalice Dungeons, but they’ll beat you black and blue for it as you do. Consider it “end-game content” for those that have beaten the game.

If that’s not enough, New Game Plus always amps up the difficulty to the point where even the beginning of the game can be a challenge regardless of your knowledge of the enemies attack patterns.

It’d be foolish of me to leave out the most important aspect of Bloodborne: it’s a very hard game. It’s not about “if” you’ll die, but rather “when”. You will lose, time and time again, and go up against seemingly insurmountable opponents to the point that you may just throw the pad away and finally go outside for some sunshine, but I implore you not to do so. Not only is going outside terrible for your health, you’ll be missing out on one of the most rewarding experiences in gaming if you’d only persevere.

Every boss has a weakness, and most of the time, that weakness is simply you knowing what to do. I delved in to Bloodborne at release from start to finish. I was incredibly excited for the game, as evidenced by my alpha preview article, and it both exceeded my expectations as well as banished any reservations I had for the spiritual successor to a beloved franchise. Having gone back to it for a review, as at the time I was not assigned to do so, I can say with certainty that it more than deserves your time above almost all else there is on any platform.

Overall

Bloodborne is the pinnacle of From Software’s efforts thus far in my opinion. The faster pacing ensured that I never felt out of the action for too long, but somehow it maintained that nervousness in me that had been instilled via there prior creations. As much as I’d love to be a Sorcerer / Wizard once again, being a Hunter in Yharnam was a treat I’ll not soon forget, and a nightmare some will never wake up from.

Bloodborne
Review Format: PS4

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