Quick FactsBloodborne-cover-819x1024.jpg

  • Platform: PlayStation 4.
  • Suggested Platform: PlayStation 4.
  • Developer: From Software
  • Genre: Action RPG
  • Release Date: 3/24/15 (NA)
  • Why Play It?: Tight combat, challenging yet rewarding difficulty, interesting enemies, fantastic atmosphere and setting.
  • Why Skip It?: Not for the faint of heart: It’s difficult. If you’re not a fan of Souls-like games, or a story that isn’t in your face.

From Software, known most notably for their Armored Core and Souls series’ are at it again in Bloodborne. One of my friends got Bloodborne around release time, and showed it off to me a few times. Having played a little bit of Demon Souls and completing Dark Souls, I admit I was a little underwhelmed at first glance. I thought to myself, “this is exactly Dark Souls with a new coat of paint”. The sound effects seemed the same, the HUD looked identical… I figured From was just riding on their own coattails. But then, I picked up Bloodborne for myself in November instead of Star Wars: Battlefront (GameStop had a pretty sweet deal: brand new for $20 instead of the usual $40). I still didn’t end up starting Bloodborne though until a few weeks to a month ago though, but once I did, I was blown away. I had unfairly written off Bloodborne despite it being more or less a clone of another game on this list, Dark Souls. I’ve only beaten it once so far, but I do have 2 more characters that I’m playing with now. I’ve now done everything there is to do in Bloodborne and the DLC, and so I’m updating this review.

After you’ve created your character of choice, Bloodborne opens up with a eerie cutscene of some man giving you something called “blood ministration” a supposed cure of the beast plague that haunts the town of Yharnam, turning people into mindless beasts. The main character is now marked as a Hunter (of beasts) and learns that it is a “night of the hunt”, a perfect time for a Hunter to go cleanse the streets of the beasts of Yharnam. The night will last forever unless the nightmare and plague is stopped at its source, so the Hunter heads out on a lengthy journey to do just that, learning about the interesting history of Yharnam and its inhabitants along the way. The rest of the story is kind of hidden, though, and you may have to piece together a lot yourself, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a fantastic underlying story behind Bloodborne. Like the Souls series, much of the story is hidden in item descriptions and even just in the environments themselves.Bloodborne-_20150318103940.jpg

The gameplay of Bloodborne is nearly identical to Dark Souls. The combat is tight and is heavily based on how well you can manage your stamina. Most actions, like running, rolling, and attacking cost stamina from your stamina meter. If your stamina meter depletes entirely, you will be unable to perform any of those actions and may potentially put yourself in a tight spot. For example, you use all your stamina up on attacking a monster, but when it winds up, you didn’t leave any left for you to dodge out of the way, so you’re going to take a hit, potentially killing you. A big difference between the combat in Bloodborne as compared to Dark Souls is the speed. In Dark Souls, you learn to guard and play things safe, doing damage when you see an opening and blocking a lot. In Bloodborne, the combat is more heavily focused on out-maneuvering your enemy and reacting quickly with your gun to set up parry opportunities. There are a pair of shields in the game, but it’s quite clear they don’t really want you to use them. Unlike Dark Souls, Bloodborne (mostly) forgoes the shield mechanics in exchange for a gun mechanic. When an enemy winds up for an attack, you can fire your gun from your stock of ammunition, and if timed properly, you can stagger the enemy and go in for the visceral attack, dealing heavy damage. There are many different guns with different stats, such as a spread shot, or a gun that fires two shots at once. Also, if you run out of bullets, you can always sacrifice some health for a quick 5 extra shots, taken directly from your own blood. Some Souls fans may have a tough time adjusting to Bloodborne‘s combat.

Bloodborne is hard. Each encounter is a challenge. You can’t necessarily hack and slash your way through enemies in this game. You have to strategize. For example, early in the game you see a mob of mindless part human, part beasts, far enough away to not notice you. If you rushed in, you’d almost definitely be outnumbered and overpowered. Instead, you can use pebbles to hit just one enemy at a time, only alerting one monster at a time, and being able to take them out one-by-one. Some enemies can be sneaked up on, leaving themselves open to a charged power attack which you can then follow up with a devastating visceral attack. Most enemies have specific tells to their attacks, and if you fire your gun at the precise moment, you can stagger them and finish them off with a visceral attack. Each enemy has its own strategy for you to figure out.

In Dark Souls, you could put your shield away and wield your weapon with two hands to increase your damage output, but lower your blocking effectiveness. In Bloodborne, each melee weapon can transform, giving it a unique ability or wider reach. For example, you can pull the handle out on your hand axe to transform it into a pole-arm. There is even a fencing sword with a pistol on it as a second function. This makes finding and using new weapons and their abilities fun and exciting. Each weapon is unique, cool, and fun to use, and the DLC, the Old Hunters, only continues that theme with it’s 14 new weapons.

You’re going to die a lot in Bloodborne. Again, like Dark Souls, progress in Bloodborne is focused on finding checkpoints (lamps) and finding elaborate hidden shortcuts to the boss. That way, instead of having to fight through 20-50 enemies to get to the boss each time, you only have to toe with 2-10. As you kill enemies, you’ll collect Blood Echoes used to purchase new equipment and level up your stats. When you die, you drop all your Blood Echoes at the spot you died and return to the previous lamp. If you can make it to your Blood Echoes without dying, you’ll retrieve them, and sometimes enemies will pick them up, their eyes glowing purplish. Killing that enemy will retrieve your Blood Echoes. If you die again, however, you’ll lose those Blood Echoes for good. This can lead to some pretty frantic and sometimes frustrating situations.Bloodborne_Alpha_PlayStation_4_gameplay_screenshot.png

Instead of dealing with a limited number of healing items per checkpoint like Dark Souls, Bloodborne takes the Demon Souls approach, having many healing items (up to 20, unless you equip a rune stating otherwise) on you at any one time. They won’t heal you completely, but you’ve got a much bigger stock and pretty good chance of finding some on enemies as you explore Yharnam.

Just like Dark Souls, Bloodborne features the ability to write messages from a selection of canned choices and warn other players of upcoming challenges or show them a treasure they might have missed. Rating other’s notes as “fine” as opposed to “foul” will heal them to maximum health on the spot, encouraging helpful hints.

As is typical in Souls games, Bloodborne also features both co-op and PvP modes as well as in-game factions, rewards, and leaderboards for playing along with those features. When you feel like you need help with a boss or an area, ring your Beckoning Bell to resonate  with (search for) up to two other Hunters who have rang their Small Resonant Bell to invite them into your world for assistance. If the boss of the area has been defeated during co-op, everyone will receive rewards and the co-op will end. Opening your world to co-op, however, can also opens your world to invasion and PvP. After ringing your Beckoning Bell, a new enemy can appear somewhere in your world and ring a sinister bell that opens up your world to invasion. If you kill this enemy, it stops invasions, but while you’re hunting it down, an enemy Hunter who has rang their Sinister Resonant Bell can enter your world and take you and any allies you may have accrued out. PvP matches can be exciting, and the winner often gets a decent reward.

Chalice Dungeons are completely optional (but not if you want all of the trophies in the game), but are generated dungeons, unlike the main game, which are wide, over arching areas. To access Chalice Dungeons, you’ll need to collect at least one chalice from the main game and a number of ritual materials to call the dungeon into existence. There are two kinds of chalice dungeons, Root Chalices, which are randomly generated (including the loot within) and story Chalices, which are the same every time. The Chalice Dungeons revolve around finding a switch which is usually guarded by a tough enemy, which opens the way to the boss area. Chalice Dungeons often have optional areas for you to find new treasure, loot, and ritual materials so you can make more Chalice Dungeons. Each Chalice Dungeon is 3-5 floors deep, with a boss on each floor, and some have special challenges such as only having half of your max health, or buffing enemies to make them hit even harder. Chalice Dungeons are optional, but provide great end-game content for those who really want to min-max their characters and take on some of the greatest challenges that exist in Bloodborne.

After I beat Bloodborne a number of times and got the platinum trophy, I decided to go buy the Old Hunters DLC. And wow, was I blown away. Knowing the streets of Yharnam like the back of my hand after multiple playthroughs of the main game, the new areas in the Old Hunters really freshened things up for me and gave me one hell of a challenge. Each of the 5 new bosses were tough, interesting and provided a challenge, and each area was as beautiful and unique as I’ve come to expect from Bloodborne. Fighting old Hunters and what had become of them in the Hunter’s Nightmare was fantastic and any fan of Bloodborne should absolutely pick up this expansion. The 14 new weapons are also very unique and fun to use.BB_Aug132014_01.jpg

One of the biggest things that really sets Bloodborne aside in my mind as being a fantastic game is the presentation and setting. Everything just really comes together. From the Gothic streets of Yharnam, littered with coffins, to the dark graveyards in the middle of the woods, everything just looks fantastic. My first few hours were spent walking and never running because I felt as though there was just so much to see. The monsters are terrifying and gruesome, from an enemy made entirely of corpses to an amazing battle between a man who just can’t hold his beast-hood in any longer. The music is dark, orchestra style, often with Latin lyrics and fits the theme of each boss brilliantly. It really gets you amped up and in the zone. Each boss is an awesome fight and you feel a real sense of accomplishment once you complete an area.

I think that’s what makes souls-style games so great. They are just so rewarding feeling. The challenge is real, tough, and sometimes, almost feels impossible, but once you finally manage to down the creature that gave you trouble, not only are you rewarded usually with loot and a brand new area to explore and do it all again, but the actually feeling is indescribable. There’s nothing quite like finishing a tough boss with a visceral attack, or managing a kill without any help of other players or NPCs. Bloodborne is an amazing game that I think everyone should play.

May the good blood guide your way.