The story to Bloodborne is seemingly brief, but yet very deep and meaningful at the same time. That sounds like an odd blend, but it’s one that works remarkably well as you find yourself immersed in its world. I’ll get on to why it works so well a little later into the review, but for now I’ll briefly detail what there is of the plot to begin with. You are a Hunter and upon arriving in Yharnam, you discover that it is a city plagued with an epidemic which has mutated its citizens into volatile, wondering, tormented, demented creatures. Though they may be the least of your worries, because ferocious beasts also plagued the city.
Soon after arriving into Yharnam, you encounter a strange wheelchair bound man going by the name of Gerhram in a realm called the Hunters Dream. Gerhram tasks you with the quest to find a cure for the citizens of Yharnam and to slay the beasts that populate, but the more you venture, the more you uncover the disturbing truth and all that you see before you, might not be what it first seems. A greater power known as The Great Ones lead to the truth behind that plague that torments Yharnam, but will you survive long enough to save the city and uncover the truth? That is the million dollar question.
It’s already established long before you even read this review that you will die a lot in Bloodborne, and it will frustrate the hell out of you. Yet it gives you that “never say die” attitude as you develop a grudge with a particular enemy or area. Some experienced gamers will find the challenges in Bloodborne far less daunting compared to n00b’s of From Software games such as me. The way I personally got round my lack of experience was simple old fashioned grinding, something fans of Borderlands and Destiny will be very familiar with. What this entails in Bloodborne is exploring Yharnam and killing as many enemies as you can without dying via rinse and repeat (to collect Blood Echoes and Vials). This may be considered a tedious approach by experienced gamers, but I found it necessary, especially if I was ever going to defeat that first boss.
Each time you defeat an enemy big or small, you will be rewarded with Blood Echoes, which is essentially Bloodborne’s currency/XP system. The amount of Blood Echoes that you earn, will all depend on the creature defeated, the more challenging types rewards you with larger amounts. You can then travel to the Hunters Dream via The Messenger checkpoints and spend your Blood Echoes as you choose. They can be used to upgrade your Hunter via a very creepy life-sized doll, purchase new items to aid your fight, upgrade your weapons and so forth. However, when you are grinding to save up enough Blood Echoes to get the necessary upgrades, when you are defeated you will lose all that you have accumulated. Though never fear, because if you can locate the enemy that had slain you or the location in which you died, you can reclaim your lost Blood Echoes. Just make it a priority to reclaim them once you respawn.
To aid you in the common fight, unlike the sword and shield gameplay from Demon Souls/Dark Souls, you will primarily have a melee weapon in one hand and a firearm in the other. You can find shields in Bloodborne, but they’re not all that great. Upon starting the game you will be able to choose the weapons (or Trick Weapons as their known here) that you wish to start with (though you can purchase and swap round your weapons later in the game). You can pick from the Threaded Cane ( a whip type weapon covered in blades for long reach), the Saw Cleaver (a more agile blade weapon, handy for those that like to stick and move) and finally the Hunter Axe ( slower than the Saw Cleaver, but can deal more damage).
What’s especially cool about these weapons and the ones you’ll acquire later in the game, is that they have two forms. For example, with a simple press of the L1 button, your melee weapon in most cases will either alter its range and damage, sometimes both. Although when some weapons transform, it may be at the expense of being able to use your firearm in the other hand.
The two firearms that you’ll have the opportunity to choose between at the beginning of the game is the Hunters Pistol (and all-round pistol, perfect for beginners) and the Hunters Blunderbuss (which is like a shotgun, dealing damage at closer range, but not so over longer distances). Throughout the game among many items of interest, you’ll also find some Blood Gems. These can be used to upgrade the two categories of weapons, what perks they bring, will all depend on the Blood Gem used (you’ll also need to spend Blood Echoes too).
Bloodborne also has various multiplayer modes and surprisingly they work very well. The process to access some might be a tad over complicated then it needs to be, via passwords or acquiring certain items and so forth. For example, to call in help from other players to defeat a boss or get past a certain area, you must use the Beckoning Bell. Once rang, you must then track down the summoned players location by listening out for a bell chime. Once found, you will be joined by that player which should give you a helping hand. If you wish to be a saviour and help others, you can signal your assistance by using the Small Resonant Bell. This in particular provided a great moment when I joined another summoned player, to help a Hunter bring down the Blood Starved Beast and it’s fair to say that he got his ass handed to him.
However, when using the Beckoning Bell, you do leave yourself open to potential hostile invaders, which triggers Bloodborne’s PvP mode if you will. In most cases players joining your game will be there to help, but there are some that want to bring you down for some in-game rewards. If you want control as to who joins your game, you can set a password that only allows those who know it to join. Another mode that is present in Bloodborne is the Chalice Dungeons, which are procedurally generated tombs full of traps, enemies and treasures. Now while I did play this mode for a short time, it felt like nothing more than a side-activity and almost instantly I wanted to return to Bloodborne’s main campaign. I guess that once I’ve finished with the campaign and I’ve got some friends to join, the Chalice Dungeons will appeal to me a little more. You can access the Chalice Dungeons by performing a Holy Chalice Ritual at one of the Tombstones located in the Hunters Dream.
You can also leave messages via the use of your notebook. These may give hints to any items of interest or dangers that lie ahead, though they are very vague descriptions. Some may be helpful and some not so, thankfully players can vote as to whether certain messages helped or not, giving you a better indication as to what to believe. You can also view a player’s death if you find a tombstone, I think these are meant to be used as a guide or sorts, but in my case, most of them resulted in viewing humorous kamikaze-like deaths from your fellow Bloodborne player. These are called “Portraits” and the ghosts will appear as Red, you will also come across “Illusions” (white ghosts), which can help guide you in the right direction. The Illusion ghosts can appear direct from the games coding or they can be ghosts in real-time from online players currently exploring the same areas as you.
A clever design that I really love about Bloodborne is how the world is mapped out. As we’ve already established, it’s a harsh world, but you will be rewarded richly if you dare to explore. There is no set path in Bloodborne, the world is very un-linear in that respect as you’re left to your own devices. If you want to progress in the game, you have to explore and venture into the unknown, and that’s a huge part of its appeal. Sometimes you will get inkling as to which direction you should go, but then on the occasion you will see a diversion and its here that you choose whether or not to make a gamble. Do you go the seemingly safer path, knowing that there’s a likelihood of the Messenger checkpoint ahead or do you see what’s around that daunting corner, perhaps at the expense of losing your Blood Echoes?
It’s on these occasions where you might find special items of interest or even better still, find a very clever and well thought out short-cut to that gate which has been bugging you to where it leads for hours on end. Finding short-cuts is actually a key element in surviving in the game, especially if they land near your Messengers and it’s particularly awesome when you find a short-cut that seems to be far away from where you expect it to lead. These moments make me appreciate the work crafted by From Software even more and the level design in Bloodborne is arguably the smartest that I’ve ever encountered.
Some may use Bloodborne’s difficulty as a negative, I won’t, as its difficulty will appeal to various gamers, depending on their personal preference. I’m told that previous games by From Software are tougher then Bloodborne, which I can’t really comment. But what I can tell you is that Bloodborne will test you especially for the first section of the game in Yharnam, even more so prior to the Blood Starved Beast. However after you master the first section of the game, it does become a little more forgiving, though being reckless will get you nowhere and each and every enemy, boss or section has to be well thought out.
Upon release the game did have some painfully long loading times that occurred after each and every death. Thankfully the developers has now released a patch that cuts down loading times from 35-40 seconds and reduced them by 5-15 seconds depending on your current scenario. So if you own Bloodborne, but don’t have an internet connection, then I would recommend taking your PS4 round a friends to download the update if you can. The update has also improved the loading screens that give you information on various items and weapons found in the game, which is a very helpful inclusion indeed.
Visually Bloodborne is a very nice looking game and certainly does not look out of place on the PS4, but when you take a closer look, you can see the immense attention to detail that has gone into the game from the developers. The shear variety of enemies helps keep the game refreshing on the eye and each one is crafted equally brilliantly from the last. You can tell that From Software has spent a great deal of time creating Yharnam inhabitants and this is wonderfully represented for us all to see. The city of Yharnam is also a character in its own right (so too are its outskirts), quite literally the biggest character in the game. Its dark gothic exterior is eerie as it is mesmeric. If someone was to tell you that Yharnam was based off a particular location (God forbid if it was), I doubt many would disbelieve them. It is unlikely that you will come across another game that has such a high standard of creature creation and world design, then you’ll see in Bloodborne. Kudos From Software, Kudos.
Bloodborne is a game with very little voice acting, which some may find a little odd. But it’s a game that doesn’t really need it. From time to time you will get a cutscene, but other than that, most of its story is told through progression. Snippets of information found throughout, some being dialogue given from NPC’s and general exploring will tell its own tale. It’s arguably a slightly odd approach, that’s by no means a bad thing, it’s just not what I’m use to. It adds a layer of intrigue not found in most games, it helps give you that urge to want to know more and learn more of why you (the Hunter) are really in Yharnam, other than slaying demons and finding a cure. This is a testament to a unique method of storytelling by From Software.
Now let’s get on to Bloodborne’s soundtrack, which is sublime. It goes from being enchanting, yet soothing with the Hunters Dream, from being simply epic with the Cleric Beast theme. Bloodborne features a full orchestral soundtrack, recording at the famous Abbey Road and Air Studios in London, and it’s one of the finest soundtracks that I’ve heard in any videogame to date. Being a fan of videogame related soundtracks, it’s very likely that I’ll be picking up the soundtrack myself. It’s equally as masterful as the main game itself.
There’s something about Bloodborne. For years I’ve heard Demon and Dark Souls fans banging on about their beloved games, but I didn’t really take much notice. Most of the time I thought the majority was just snobs, taunting those that don’t like the game, assuming that players didn’t like it due to the games difficulty. And I’m sure many were put off by the difficulty, but at the end of the day, everyone has different tastes for liking or not liking a game, that stems to more than just a difficulty level. Yet during my first 5-6 hours of playing Bloodborne, I lost count to how many times I had died and often so cruelly. The difference is with Bloodborne (and other games by From Software) is that when you die; it’s your own fault. So there’s a level of acceptance in that regard.
It took me SO many attempts to beat the first main boss of Bloodborne (remarkably my DualShock 4 stayed in once piece), but when I finally beat the Cleric Beast, I thought to myself “Ah, so that’s the Dark Souls feeling that I’ve heard so much about”. It was true, the sense of achievement that I had from slaying the beast and from any other boss from there on out, was unlike any other game that I’ve experienced.
The same can be said about some of the areas within Bloodborne, death after death, will at times send you in a fury of rage. I would resist throwing the controller, swearing to myself that I’m done with Bloodborne for the day, yet 5-10 minutes later I’ve dusted myself down, I pick up the controller once more and say to myself “I will not be beaten!”. It’s from this that you get that great sense of achievement when you’ve bested a boss or an area. Bloodborne will likely take you many hours to get to grips with, but I cannot say this with anymore meaning, stick with it, don’t give in to its difficulty, embrace it and defeat it head on.
The gameplay, its immersive gothic world, enchanting soundtrack and sense of intrigue make Bloodborne a Game of the Year contender already; finally I had a taste to see what all the From Software fuss is all about. Bloodborne is not only GOTY material, heck it’s not even just the best game on the PS4, it’s the best exclusive on either of the new gen consoles and it will go down as one of the best games of our time in this new era. Whether you’re familiar with From Software titles or like me new to their games, if you own a PS4, you quite simply owe it to yourself to add the mighty Bloodborne into your gaming collection. This will easily go down as one of my finest gaming experiences of all-time.
+Brutal, but yet addictive gameplay
+Captivating gothic world to explore
+Meaningful levelling up and upgrade system
+Fantastic creature design
+Clever level design, with hidden rewards and smart short-cuts
-Difficulty may put off some