If Dark Souls was the game that really set my wants for my gaming future, Bloodborne was the game that listened to that advice and kicked it up to 11. Coming off of the success of its predecessors Dark Souls 1 and 2, Bloodborne took everything you expected from a Souls game and turned it completely on its head and dunked it a bucket of werewolf blood. The difficulty and the trial and error style of gameplay was still there, but everything was so much faster. Enemies moved quicker to close distances and attack you, dodging was now a fast sidestep instead of a roll to the side, and there was the introduction of the health regeneration from attacking. If you took damage from an enemy, you could recover a little bit of it by doing damage to an enemy. This often led to me trying to get in a sneaky extra hit and getting answered with an axe to the face. These things drastically changed how, at least I, approached this game. No longer could I tank a hit and react with an attack. No longer could I hold up a big ass shield to absorb the damage. Everything you did had to be crisp and reactionary.
While I was going through college, I played an insane amount of Dark Souls for the 360. You can probably find some rough draft of the Dark Souls review from Fatality Gaming somewhere on my computer. While that review never came to fruition for me, I was completely hooked on the Souls series. I put around 400 hours into one of my characters from Dark Souls, another 100 with my magic character. I had a lot of free time in college, ok? When Dark Souls 2 came out, I hopped right onto it, buying it at first for Xbox 360 then again buying Scholar of the First Sin for PS4. While being a noticeable change from the previous game, that didn’t hinder how much I liked it. I was absolutely chomping at the bit to play another Souls game.
Then I see the headline for the new game, called Bloodborne. Huh, this didn’t look like the other souls games. Huh, the main character has a gun. I was kind of turned off by it at first, but took the plunge anyway when it came out. I haven’t looked back. Yes, many of the things were very different between Bloodborne and the rest of the Souls series, but the changes that they did make made the game feel fresh and new. It was like a breath of air. They moved more into the horror aspect of the game and away from the typical adventure style of the previous games. There were gigantic werewolf monsters that would pick you up and crush you, giant elder gods from an H.R. Geiger wet dream, and space aliens. Literally, like little blue men with big heads.
I tore my way through Bloodborne the first time, with Chum Cannon and his Ludwig’s Holy Blade carrying me throughout the game. After I was done with him, I figured “what the hell” and jumped immediately into New Game Plus. I played through the game again on New Game Plus, this time using the aid of a walkthrough that I bought.
This really opened my eyes to how many things I missed the first time around. I missed most of the NPC questlines and finished all those the second time around. I missed the entire area of the High Choir and Ebrietas. I missed finding all of the Umbilical Cords and unlocking the true final boss and the “good” ending. There was so much more to the game that I even realized. I felt like a complete idiot. “How could I have missed this entire area?” was said a few times.
Then I decided to make a new guy and take on the DLC and some of the other side quests in New Game. I cleared through the main game EZPZ. Then I decided to take on the Chalice Dungeons. The Chalice Dungeons were dungeon crawling little side quests that gave you rare items and weapons in exchange for certain items. First one: cake. Second one: simple. But then I got to the Defiled Chalice. The Defiled Chalice was a regular style of chalice, with a dungeon you crawled through to get to a final boss but with one little tidbit. You had half health. This brought me to the edge of rage with one boss: The Defiled Watchdog. Holy shit, I have never been so tested by a boss in any of the Souls games. He was quick, he had a ton of health, and he could one shot you with his weakest attacks. I died somewhere in the 40-50 range before I was able to beat him in one perfect, lucky run. This was one of the only times while playing this game that I was on the verge of saying “Fuck it” and turning off the system.
After throwing myself at the wall for a few days in the Chalice Dungeons, I threw myself into the Old Hunters DLC. I can safely say that this DLC added more to the base game than any other DLC has added to a game before. FROM usually does pretty well with their DLC. The enemies were all relatively fresh, the bosses were challenging but not impossible, and it gave you the two best weapons in the game: the Boom Hammer and the Whirlygig Saw. The one is a hammer that you can charge up to create an explosion upon hitting an enemy. The other is literally a giant sawblade attached to a stick. That weapon is the Crown Jewel of the Souls series weapons. The way that you can just hold out a giant buzzsaw in front of you and walk into enemies is almost comical.
Everything about Bloodborne just works so well together. From the deep and horrifying story and setting to the snappy, fun controls. I could write all day on this game and say nothing but positive things, but we do have to try and keep the word count below a short novel. I’ll sum it up with this statement: this game did a large amount for shaping my video game wants and I’m sure that if you give it a try, it will for you as well.
Despite the fact that so many of my friends were fans of the series, I never had any interest in Dark Souls. None. Never considered playing them. The only thing I knew was they were really tough and you die a lot. Why the hell would I wanna spend my free time getting my shit kicked in!? I didn’t see the appeal at all and refused to even give the series a shot.
Well, after Steve played through Final Fantasy VII, it was my turn to play one of his favorites. I prepared for the worst, especially when the first Dark Souls was brought up. I couldn’t wait to spend half my time staring at a “You Died” screen. But instead, Steve settled on Bloodborne. Made by the same company, FromSoftware, it’s apparently a little bit easier. But that’s like saying eating your own shit is a little easier than eating someone else’s. Doesn’t really mean a whole lot when the bar is set so high. I had to man up though and prove my worth
I popped that disc in and made my character.
Then I set off
Bloodborne reminds me of an old school game, but for a modern audience. There’s customization, pretty graphics, a big world to explore… Things that are expected in the 21st century. But at its core, it’s got a lot in common with old NES games like the first few Mega Mans. You’re thrown into a universe without much backstory with nothing to fall back on but your own skill. The game doesn’t coddle you. You’re thrown to the wolves (literally, in this case) immediately, learning to play almost on the fly. There’s that trial and error element, where every death is a lesson. You may lose your blood echoes (both currency and experience points), but you’ll learn from your mistakes. While there IS a story, it’s so loosely told that I never really picked up on anything. It’s definitely gameplay driven, much like what kids grew up with in the 80s. Just, ya know… With a few more pixels.
Exploring Yharnam, the city Bloodborne takes place in, with no real guidance reminded me of another game: Shadow of the Colossus. I didn’t know exactly why I was wandering around or where I’d end up, but I was always on the look out for a fight. While not as diverse as SotC in terms of how the battles play out, Bloodborne has a wide variety of bosses. Some require different strategies, but typically all you have to do is avoid their attacks and hit them like normal enemies until they drop. The battles may not be cinematic, but they’re far from not being entertaining
Bloodborne is one of the coolest looking games I’ve ever played. The setting and enemies really shine. If you tossed Victorian Gothic architecture and H.P. Lovercraft into a blender, and added maybe a tiny, tiny bit of Doom, Bloodborne is what you’d get. A desolate, hopeless world filled with beautiful structures and horrible creatures who want nothing more than to see you dead.
A lot of games that I play struggle with enemies. It’s like everything you kill looks the same. Just because one zombie-looking thing is carrying a knife, it doesn’t make it a totally different enemy than one that doesn’t have one. I swear enemy designs somehow got worse as graphics improved. I grew up with old PC shooters. Doom, Heretic, and Duke Nukem 3D all had great enemy designs. All totally different from each other . Then somewhere along the way, developers decided they only needed three or four unique enemies and a few bosses. Bloodborne has none of that nonsense. You’ll come across, among other things, giant boars, werewolves, incredibly irritating jumping worms, assholes who throw huge boulders like they’re Tom God damn Brady, and, shockingly, Jeff Goldblum in The Fly.
Not to mention a number of amazing looking bosses
The Gothic architecture fits the tone of the game really well. It’s fairly creepy to begin with, but when paired with statues of bizarre, grotesque creatures, it gives something of an almost surreal atmosphere. Like a horror film from the 20s or 30s.
In most games, the enemies and the player aren’t on a level playing field. You run into goons and jobbers that might as well be walking experience points. Six guys trying to kill you? No biggie. They’ll all drop dead in a hit or two. The only real threats are bosses. In Bloodborne, everything is a real threat. The first enemies you run into can kill you with a three-hit combo if you’re not paying attention. Likewise, you can kill them with a three-hit combo. Trying to fight a mob of enemies is a death wish, not a walk in the park. You’re not an all-powerful God in their world; you’re an equal. When you take something down, especially a boss, it’s fulfilling
What makes it work is that it’s fair. When you die, more often than not, it’s your fault. You made a mistake and paid the price. Only a few times in the 30-plus hours it took me to finish Bloodborne did I feel like the game was being cheap. On top of the fairness, making a mistake isn’t the end of the world. You can recover all of the blood echoes you lost by returning to where you died (sometimes they’re on the ground, sometimes an enemy in the area has them). It’s not the impossibly difficult, rip-your-hair-out game people make it out to be. It’s tough, but fair.
Final Fantasy XIII is the poster child for bad layout designs in modern games, but it’s far from the only offender. If it’s not full-blown open world, just about everything released over the past decade or so is essentially just a hallway. A long hallway with a few side rooms here and there, but a hallway nonetheless. Nothing to explore, nowhere to roam. Just walk in a straight line until the end.
Bloodborne rarely pushes you in any set direction, letting you make those decisions. It’s not a gigantic open world, but there are plenty of paths to take, leading to different areas. When you inevitably get stuck on a boss and need to grind, instead of running in circles in the same spot, you can head to a totally different area. You’re gaining blood echoes to spend on improving yourself so you can get past that boss, and also making progress in the game. Rarely do you have to monotonously fight the same enemies over and over again
The Not So Good
From what I’m told, the story and lore in Bloodborne are both great. I wouldn’t know though because nothing is explained in any straight forward manner whatsoever. If the plot was just something simple, that wouldn’t be a big deal. Putting together a story can be fun. But after beating a boss midway through the game, suddenly it’s revealed that there are giant invisible alien monsters crawling all over the buildings and I’ll be damned if I can understand why. That… is a hell of revelation. And those little bright blue mushroomy looking aliens? They look like they stumbled into the wrong game! They look nothing like anything else in Bloodborne. But there they are
I know the alien things are important. I know they’re there for a reason. But I have no clue what it is. Honest to God, I learned more reading the Wikipedia page on Bloodborne than I did my entire playthrough. I picked up on a few things here and there by talking to what few NPCs there are and reading little notes scattered throughout the world, but they’re cryptic and usually only a sentence long. I explored pretty thoroughly and didn’t rush through areas. There were apparently a few optional bosses I missed, but I can’t imagine the fog would suddenly clear if I’d found them. At least not enough to put it all together.
Every once in a while, while fighting for my life, I’d hit up on the d-pad to heal. Well, triangle is how you heal in Bloodborne… I used up to heal in another game. I think The Witcher 3. So I pressed the wrong button out of habit, what’s the big deal? Up does literally the opposite of heal you. It increases the strength of five bullets at the expense of THIRTY PERCENT OF YOUR HEALTH. If it was ANY other button than up, things would have been totally fine. But it was… And it frustrated the hell out of me
And another thing that was more a minor annoyance than a legitimate hindrance. Locking on to enemies is essential. So is knowing your surroundings. But when you’re locked on to something, the latter becomes impossible. The right analogue stick (which would normally control the camera) switches targets. Not a massive issue, but suddenly switching who you’re attacking mid-battle when you’re just trying to check what’s behind you can get you killed.
Bloodborne’s a great game that fuses the old and the new. Old-school difficulty and level design with modern graphics and customization. It’s tough as hell but fair and satisfying. As good as the gameplay is, the visuals somehow steal the show with some of the coolest looking enemies and scenery I’ve ever seen. I may not have had any clue what was going on from beginning to end, but playing never felt like a chore. I wasn’t playing because I couldn’t wait to see what happened next. I played because it was fun. And isn’t that why we play video games?