In an industry flooded with games that treat players like they’re made of glass, Bloodborne sets itself apart with From Software’s tried and true formula of risk versus reward. If you’re not familiar with recent From Software titles like Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls, then let me try to describe what sets these games apart. From Software has built a series based on game mechanics that force the player to develop their skills, lest they never progress. Every encounter with an enemy needs to be approached with caution, as complacency is a big killer in these games.
Bloodborne is set in the decrepit city of Yharnam, a city plagued by a terrible disease that transforms man into beasts. It’s clear when you first step into Yharnam that this is a city in trouble. The streets are littered with coffins and the streets seem bare, save for the roaming patrols of men that have begun down the path of transformation. Their limbs have lengthened, their bodies have grown more hair and they are instantly aggressive towards the player. The reason for you being in Yharnam is as vague as the story in any other From Software game. The intro cinematic would have you believe you came to Yharnam seeking a cure, as the city is famous for its use of blood for healing. As you make your way through the world, provided you have a good eye, you find several notes scattered about that provide glimpses into what’s going on. You can also glean some information on backstory from reading item descriptions, but even if you manage to find all the notes and read all the item descriptions you still have to fill in some gaps and speculate. While I’m used to this from other From Software games, I felt like there were more gaps in Bloodborne than other titles.
The combat in Bloodborne took me a while to adjust to. My play style in Dark Souls is to build a strength-based character and hide behind a shield, which is not possible in Bloodborne. Instead you have to learn to time your dodges well, or to use a gun to parry an enemy’s attack just before the point of impact, in order to put them off guard and leave them open to a visceral attack. One thing I felt was executed well was to allow players to use visceral attacks on most bosses, which means if your timing is good, you can make some boss encounters much easier on yourself, but if your timing is bad, then you’re left with no other option than to suffer the consequences. However, the great thing is that if your timing is poor (like mine is), you can still defeat bosses with relative ease by mastering the dodging, so you’re not stuck if you master one technique and not the other, which caters to different play styles. One thing I will say about the boss fights is that I found most of them pretty underwhelming. While I’ve played all the Souls series, I’m far from a pro, and I found that I was killing a large amount of the bosses in one or two attempts. The odd thing I found was that one of the most challenging bosses was at the start of the game, which sort of distorts the scaling of difficulty.
One thing that From Software does really well is dangle hope in front of you, only to take it away in the blink of an eye. In order to achieve this, items present themselves as glowing yellow objects, so you can usually spot them from a distance. Usually the good stuff is off the beaten path and requires some exploring. Other times, items will be sitting in an empty room just waiting to sucker new players into an ambush. In previous titles, it was worth risking your life for that mysterious item, as it could be a kick-ass new weapon or armour set, but in Bloodborne, I didn’t feel the need to collect everything, as most of the weapons and armour sets can be purchased from a trader. This was a pretty big disappointment to me, as I love exploring new areas to find more loot and the lack of payoff took away that sense of enjoyment for me.
All the weapons in the game are well thought out and function in different ways. Bloodborne employs a sort of transformation mechanic, which transforms your weapon and its function. This can mean transforming a short-range cane into a long-range whip, a quick shortsword into a big slow hammer, or a curved blade into a scythe. This mechanic adds a great element, as it allows for some experimentation to find what works best for the player. The two different modes usually have different ranges and attack types, and once I found which worked best for me, I started to tailor my play style to the weapon I was using. In general, From Software does a great job of limiting a weapon’s use by the environment you’re in. For example in Dark Souls 2, you couldn’t use a wide-swinging greatsword in a tight corridor, as the blade would get stuck in the walls. Unfortunately, Bloodborne isn’t as stringent in collision detection, which makes for some very frustrating and cheap deaths. There were multiple occasions where I was being hit clear through a fence, another where a boss was able to swing his arm clean through a tree, and I was hit directly through a large gravestone in one of the midway bosses on more than one occasion. This was really disappointing to me, as it seemed like such a poor oversight and a bit of a step backwards from previous titles in the series.
One of the new features is chalice dungeons. Once you’ve progressed through the game to a certain point and collected the right items, you can delve into some pre-generated and randomly-generated dungeons for more of a challenge, and may even discover some items that you can’t get from the main game. While this can serve as a welcome distraction if you’re frustrated with the main story (or if you just want to grind for some levels), I felt like there wasn’t really a point to them. I ran through a few dungeons and didn’t really get much enjoyment out of them.
If you’re having a hard time getting through an area, you can summon another player for help once you obtain a certain item. This can be a great help for new players, or even for seasoned players who are struggling with a boss fight or swarms of enemies. It works in a similar way to the Souls games, in the sense that it costs the summoner an item to ask for help, and they only get half the reward for killing a boss. There is a difference to PvP, however. During my time playing Bloodborne, there were only two sections in the game where I was “invaded,” and they were two of the last areas in the game. I must admit, as soon as I realised that I was in an area that I could be invaded in, I immediately felt tense. In a way, it put me off my game knowing that another player could appear in my world at any point and undo all the progress I had made. I felt like I rushed through those areas and didn’t really explore for fear of being invaded. To me, this is a much welcomed change, as I hate being invaded by another player when I’m trying to make my way through the story.
Bloodborne is another great title from a developer that has solidified themselves in a niche market. The game is not without its flaws, but if you loved the Souls series then you will love Bloodborne. The more aggressive play style and the diversity of the new weapons makes Bloodborne different enough from the Souls titles that it feels like a new game, but the core mechanics are familiar enough that an experienced Souls player will feel right at home. I look forward to watching the lore videos as they start to crop up, as it’s always interesting hearing how someone else interpreted the story.