Genre: Action role-playing game
Release date: March 24, 2015
Night has fallen over the city of Yharnam. A pale moon sheds its light on gothic spires and blood-soaked streets. Madmen, drunk on bloodlust and fire, roam the dark alleyways, searching for beasts. Off in the distance, a guttural shriek can be heard from the old church, a cry from a beast that used to be a man, but no longer. The Hunt is on, and Yharnam will not awaken until blood has been shed.
Bloodborne was developed by From Software and Sony Computer Entertainment's Japan Studio. Much like From's earlier work, Demon's Souls, Bloodborne is a Playstation exclusive, only appearing on the Playstation 4. With over 50 hours put into the game through multiple playthroughs, I can confidently say that Bloodborne can be considered one of the PS4's best games, and the best exclusive currently on the system at the time of writing.
Bloodborne is inherently similar to From's Demon's Souls and Dark Souls series, a group of games that rely heavily on careful progress and player skill. The controls are nearly identical, the mechanics are similar, and even the layered world feels like it could have easily been pulled from a Souls game. The difference lies primarily in the setting and the speed of combat.
Yharnam is a gothic city that is home to "blood ministrations," or the use of blood in healing. Long ago, studies on ancient creatures led to the creation of healing blood. Blood healing erupted across Yharnam, as it healed numerous ailments that were previously thought untreatable. Visitors from across the land came to Yharnam to heal their ailments. But the healing blood was a double edged sword. With its healing effects, the blood began to twist people, turning them into beasts. This beast plague spread like wildfire, turning the once peaceful city into the home of monsters.
The player arrives during the Hunt, a nightly ritual that seeks to quell the tide of beasts roaming the streets of Yharnam. Unfortunately, the player will most likely die soon after taking control of his/her character and awaken in a mysterious realm known as the Hunter's Dream. Within the Hunter's Dream, players are tasked with joining the hunt and taking up the mantle of a Hunter. There are dark forces at work in Yharnam, and it's up to the player to discover what evils truly hide in the darkest shadows.
While it may seem straightforward, it took me an entire playthrough to piece together that much of the story. Bloodborne doesn't like to reveal its secrets, choosing to let players discover the story on their own. Much of the story lies in the descriptions of the items you obtain throughout your journey. Reading their descriptions often leads to insight into why you're fighting or, occasionally, what you're fighting. While I greatly appreciate the hands-off approach to storytelling, I know there are others who would rather the story be less obtuse and a bit more self-explanatory.
That goes for everything in Bloodborne. Casual players starting the game for the first time will discover a steep learning curve and little-to-no tutorial. The very basic controls are explained, but that's it. Equipping weapons, leveling up, complex attacks and more are not explained at all, leaving players to trial-and-error their way through the opening few hours of the game. Leveling can be particularly harsh. Defeating enemies earns the player Blood Echoes, which are used as both experience points and currency. Much like the Souls series' titular souls, blood echoes are lost upon death. If players fight their way back to where they died, they can reclaim their echoes. Dying again means losing them forever. Fans of From's previous work on the Souls series will feel right at home, but Bloodborne may be a little too daunting to new players.
Combat in Bloodborne is phenomenal. Players can equip two weapons at a time - typically a main bladed weapon and an offhand gun. The main weapons are called 'trick weapons' due to their ability to change mid-combat into another type of weapon. For example, the saw cleaver transforms from a short blade to a long, extended saw. The Threaded Cane transforms from a spiked cane to a bladed whip. The best of all however, is the lovely Kirkhammer. It starts as a shortsword but transforms into a massive hammer by slotting the sword's blade into the hammerhead. While I didn't use the Kirkhammer very often, its existence alone makes Bloodborne worthwhile in my opinion.
Trick weapons are your primary damage dealers as guns play a radically different role in Bloodborne. They act as a way to parry enemy attacks and open the enemy up to a devastating Visceral Attack. Right before an enemy barrage hits, shooting will often stagger it and give the player time to heal or do some serious damage. Some attacks can't be parried however, which is where the dodge comes into effect. When locked onto enemies, players can quickly sidestep or dodge roll away from attacks. When dodging, the player is granted a brief moment of invincibility, making well-timed dodges a necessity late in the game.
Learning how to use your weapons effectively is one thing. Learning when to use them is another. Each enemy in Bloodborne has different attack patterns and attack timings. To be successful hunters, players need to observe their enemies for any weaknesses and capitalize on any openings. For example, attacks with slow animations leave enemies open for a gun parry; fast enemies can often be sidestepped and visual weaknesses (such as exposed bones) can be attacked, often leading to the enemy staggering and giving the player an opportunity for a Visceral Attack.
The fast-paced combat combined with some truly creative bosses help create some of the most intense gaming experiences I've ever had. My first fight against Father Gascoigne stands as one of the most memorable fights I've had in a video game. After multiple playthroughs, fighting Gascoigne is a cakewalk, but that first fight is faster and more intense than any boss I can remember. I died within the first 30 seconds of the fight. So I tried again. And again. After six unsuccessful battles, I finally managed to fell the Father on my seventh try. As the words PREY SLAUGHTERED appeared on the screen, I set the controller down and felt a wave of satisfaction roll over me. These are the moments that make Bloodborne great.
Bloodborne carries on the Souls series' unique multi-player mode. Bloodborne is primarily single player, but players can leave short notes to one another in the world. These notes can be used to point out treasure, warn of ambushes or, for the particularly devious, lead the player into a trap. Other players also leave behind bloodstains when they die, which shows you their last moments. These bloodstains can occasionally give insight into upcoming traps, and they are almost always fun to watch.
Along with the notes and bloodstains, players can use an item called a Beckoning Bell to call other players to join them. The visiting player can only stay in the world for so long before leaving, so multi-player cooperation is typically found around major boss battles.
Ringing the Beckoning Bell also opens the player up to invasions from hostile players. Fights with Invaders are often intense, fast-paced battles of skill that tests the limits of your ability. When I was invaded, the invader and I fought neck and neck for a few minutes, neither of us giving ground to the other. On one such occasion, bullets were flying and a few lucky sidesteps saved me from taking a cleaver to the chest. I was lucky when one of my bullets hit its mark mid-attack, the invader staggered to one knee and my blade ended the fight in dramatic fashion.
Multi-player is a great addition to Bloodborne, and it adds another level of depth to an already deep game. Seeing the hazy specter of another player fighting through the same struggles as you brings a sense of camaraderie. Bloodborne is a tough game, but everybody's fighting through it together.
Bloodborne is a deeply demanding game that rewards skillful play. Defeating bosses and progressing in the game is an absolute blast, and the world is beautiful and full of history. Unfortunately, the story has a tendency to be obtuse at times, and the tutorial is severely lacking; but these faults don't take away from the satisfaction of playing the game. As an example of how enjoyable the game can be, I finished my first playthrough and immediately fired up New Game+, eager to continue my adventures in the twisted city of Yharnam.
Patient and determined gamers will find Bloodborne to be a deep, rich, and often punishing game to explore. But every victory makes braving the harsh streets of Yharnam all the more worthwhile.
+ Beautiful world
+ Exciting and enjoyable combat
+ Innovative multi-player
+ The Kirkhammer
- Obtuse storytelling