From Software, the company that nobody knew were any good until Demon’s Souls came out, or perhaps more accurately, Dark Souls came out. Better known as a developer of decent but rather average games seemingly one man has turned the company into a fan favourite. Hidetaka Miyazaki has directed a few Armored Core games but more importantly has directed Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls and now Bloodborne, an exclusive title for the PS4. After Dark Souls 2 made for a great game but was ultimately a disappointing retread of the original without Miyazaki at the helm, can Bloodborne hope to challenge two of my favourite games from last gen?
If you’ve enjoyed the Souls series before then you’ve probably already bought Bloodborne or at least don’t need any convincing. This is a great game, no doubt. There are some problems that I’ll mention later but there’s no reason not to play it if you know it’s your type of game already. For others I’ll try to explain as best as I can, things may get complicated.
As with the Souls games, Bloodborne is an action game first and foremost. Yes, there are character levels and weapon upgrades but the bread and butter is attacking with R1 and R2 whilst dodging with circle. If you can get this down then you’re sorted for the entire game, certainly people have beaten previous Souls games without levelling at all. I wouldn’t recommend it but it shows it’s more skill based than a numbers game. Unlike previous Souls games however there are no shields to cower behind (there is one actually but it’s basically a joke from the developer) and you have a gun in your left hand. The gun can be used offensively but ammo is limited so it will predominantly be used to interrupt enemy attacks to open them up for a powerful Visceral attack (very similar to a parry and riposte when using a shield in Dark Souls). As you have no shield spacing and dodging are your only forms of defence, but as if to encourage you to attack even more you now have a regain system where when you’re hit you have a chance to get that lost health back by landing some attacks of your own. It’s classic risk/reward stuff.
To help you further every weapon in the game has two modes. Generally speaking the default mode will be a smaller but faster weapon to maximise damage when you’re in close, whilst pressing L1 will change your weapon in some way. The Saw Cleaver seen in most of the footage building up to release is folded over in its default state and opens out to allow for much greater reach at the cost of some speed. The Threaded Cane on the other hand is a simple cane but becomes a whip with a tap of L1. You can also tap L1 mid combo to swap in and out of each mode to keep attacking using the most effective mode at that time. The combat is just as enjoyable as any Souls game but the changes add pace to the combat and those Souls players that liked to turtle up behind a shield and heavy armour will have to change their style of play if they’re to succeed here. Similarly magic users won’t find much to make them feel at home, Miyazaki wants you to get up close and personal.
There are items that allow you to call for help from other players and help other players in co-op so if you are having trouble you don’t have to give up. There is even a password in the options file that allows you to force a connection with friends which is a nice touch. Invasions are also back so other players can come into your game and attack you, but now this is only possible if you ask for help/are already in co-op or in specific gameplay areas where an enemy will beckon invaders to your world until it is dead. It’s a much smarter opt in system than the previous games had and if you really don’t want an online component then you can simply play in offline mode from the main menu.
So why the change from swords and shields? Well for one Bloodborne isn’t inspired by European knights as with the Souls games. Instead you play as a Gothic beast hunter, walking cobbled streets on the night of ‘The Hunt’. Beasts have taken over the town of Yarnham and beyond and your character is an outsider who slaughters your way through all of them. As with the Souls games the story isn’t given to you straight as things are kept purposely vague but depending on how interested you are you can piece bits of lore together through the items you find and their descriptions. The community are already trying to work things out and coming up with theories as you’d expect.
The world of Bloodborne has a hub where you can level up and do your weapon management and warp to any lamp (bonfire for Souls players) you’ve lit up to that point but the rest of the world is completely cohesive bar a couple of areas you warp to through portals. It’s still fun running around an area for ages, getting to a door, opening it to see that it leads to somewhere you’ve been before, creating a shortcut and allowing you to bypass a lot of areas you’ve already explored. It might not sound like much but as with the Souls games any little bit of progress is a victory as death can come quickly and frequently so being able to get back to where you were quickly is a blessing. All items and world interactions are saved constantly so when you die you only risk losing your blood echoes (your currency for levelling and buying things) but you can get these back by returning to where you died and picking them up or killing a near by enemy that may be holding them.
Speaking of the world, the game takes place over one (very long) night and a lot of areas look the same or similar so the variety isn’t as strong as you might expect coming from Dark Souls. There’s no real Anor Londo moment where the game’s aesthetic blows you away. The design work is great and at times the game looks incredible but thinking back now it’s difficult to remember which location leads to another which even after all these years I still can with Dark Souls. In contrast some of the enemy design is superb. At one point almost every new enemy I encountered made me mutter “What the…” under my breath as my mind tried to make sense of what I was seeing. There are a lot of beasts, and From Software are obviously proud of their hair/strands of cloth tech as you see it on almost every boss but there is variety on show.
As well as the samey environments there are other negatives unfortunately. Load times are absolutely terrible, at least thirty seconds each time you load into an area, including when you die. They are apparently working on a patch for it but it remains to be seen how much they can do. Once you’ve loaded in and are walking around there are zero load times so it doesn’t effect the gameplay, it’s just a lot of down time if you’re warping around or dying a lot. I’ve also had problems with areas not loading in as fast as I’m running through them so I have to wait around at the seam for the world to appear or worry about falling into the void of an unloaded level.
Also, and this may vary from person to person, there doesn’t seem to be as much content as I’d expect from a Souls game. There’s a lot here for sure, including optional areas and bosses but the end of the game just appeared out of no where. There are the optional Chalice Dungeons which I imagine are made to pad out the game but I personally found these to be very dull and not rewarding enough. Throughout the game you’ll find chalices which you can use with specific ritual items to create dungeons. Some are random, some are made by the developers, all are made of the same blocks so after the initial excitement of seeing a new location and monsters that quickly fades. If you’re looking for a challenge then the Chalice Dungeons are where you’ll find it as they house the hardest bosses in the game (some not seen in the main game, some stronger repeats) and it can be fun overcoming a particularly challenging foe but the dungeon itself is nowhere near as interesting to explore as the areas in the main game.
Other than that Bloodborne also suffers from the same problems Souls players have put up with since the beginning with frame rate drops and camera issues. Do any of these negatives make Bloodborne a bad game? Not at all. Whilst playing through the main quest I could not stop, discovering new areas, going back to old ones to realise things had changed as I’d advanced the plot, I blitzed through it in a matter of days and loved every minute. My interest started to wane a little as I played some of the Chalice Dungeons but even they became more interesting as they got more difficult, though not something I intend spending much more time with.
Simply put, in my short time owning a PS4 this is the first game to truly take hold of me like a great game should. It’s probably the first time since the original Dark Souls that any game has had this power, which is high praise indeed. To me, it’s not quite to that standard. I prefer the knights to the hunters, there’s less weapons and armour to choose from and the NPCS were more interesting in Dark Souls but it’s very, very close and will vary from person to person. Only time will tell where exactly Bloodborne falls in the Souls game scale but right now it’s easily above Dark Souls 2, probably on par with Demon’s Souls. Which means it’s fantastic.
+ Cohesive world
+ WTF enemy design
- Not as much variety in environments as you'd expect
- Chalice dungeons can be rewarding but are ultimately dull