May the Good Blood Guide Thee.
It may not have “Souls” in the title, but the legacy is alive and well in Bloodborne. Hidetaka Miyazaki returns to the helm for the first time since Dark Souls (2011) and it’s once again great to see the master at work. Bloodborne takes the design of Miyazaki’s previous work and cranks the creativity and ambition up to 11. If you haven’t vacationed to Yharnam yet…now is a damn good time to do so.
The city of Yharnam is in chaos. The Gothic Victorian era city is famous for it’s special Blood. Yharnam’s blood transfusions contain mysterious healing properties and have become the city’s version of alcohol. Unfortunately, something horribly went wrong and the blood is transforming the citizens into beasts. These lycan beasts must be slain and who is better equipped to do it than you? The journey through Yharnam is just as obtuse and confusing as past “Souls” games, but Yharnam rises above Boletaria (Demon’s Souls), Lordran (Dark Souls), and Drangleic (Dark Souls II). The aesthetic is gorgeous with every location achieving a sense of dread and peril as you slowly creep through. The streets and connected districts of Yharnam are filled with brutal enemies, new weapons and armor, and numerous shortcuts and secrets. The level design of Dark Souls made Lordran feel less like a video game and more like a connected world filled with personality and history. Bloodborne actually improves on this level design and truly feels like a living, breathing city that fell into madness.
Enemy designs are terrifying, brutal, and memorable. The most terrifying enemies are the melting students, the ghastly banshees, and the frenzy inducing Brain Trusts. Bloodborne succeeds with it’s diverse and gruesome boss fights as well. The horrifying larger than life bosses are not only intimidating, but succeed in teaching the player how to play the game without holding the player’s hand like many modern video games. For example, Father Gascoigne teaches a hard lesson to new players unfamiliar with parrying and riposte (Called “Visceral Attacks”). Each fight in Bloodborne is extremely difficult, but the signature multiplayer of the “Souls games” returns to ease the pain…or make things much harder. Using specific items players can participate in Co-op to help one another through a difficult section. However, the choice to participate in multiplayer isn’t without consequences. Other players can invade your world as an enemy and attempt to kill you to take your experience and currency. The invasions have become a lot more reasonable compared to the previous games in the serious. The famous “lag backstab” from Dark Souls is gone as backstabs can only be achieved through a lengthy charged attack, which makes them only useful for stealthy encounters.
At first glance, Bloodborne’s gameplay isn’t much different from previous games within the series. Bloodborne is a third-person action role playing game that emphasizes precision, timing, and crowd control. What differs from previous games is the absence of the shield. Players can no longer hide behind the toughest shield they can find. Bloodborne’s best defense is a good offense. The shields are replaced with firearms such as pistols, flamethrowers, torches, rifles, etc. However, don’t expect to sit back and snipe your enemies as these firearms do very little damage. They (brilliantly) are used to stagger attacking enemies or to lure foes out of their comfort zone. Without many defensive options Bloodborne requires players to act on their feet to the ever changing situation by dodging, timing your strikes, staggering enemies, and the new mechanic of weapon transformations. With a press of a button each weapon can transform into a different weapon that changes the fighting style immensely. For example, the Threaded cane can transform from a thrusting weapon to a crowd controlling blade whip that can stop groups of enemies in their tracks.
Unfortunately, Bloodborne doesn’t have many weapons or attire to choose from, which reduces the experimentation and replay value of character builds from past games. From Software makes up for this with the extremely challenging Chalice Dungeons. These Chalice Dungeons offer new enemies, new bosses, and new loot to obtain. However, the randomly generate dungeons are …well…random. It creates a tough of nails, bare boned “Souls” experience that lifts the frustrating reward system from Destiny. Bloodborne is also filled with many technical issues such as some questlines glitching out and the now infamous long (LoadBorne) loading screens dampen the experience. Many players are also experiencing bugs and glitches that effect enemy AI as well as make the co-op multiplayer fail. Bloodborne requires players to spend a precious material called “insight” to summon co-op help. Unfortunately, many bugs cause players to waste their insight as summoned help either never appears, or takes 15-20 minutes to summon. It’s an incredible test of player patience sometimes to deal with the flawed summon system.
These flaws are minor in the grand scheme of things as Bloodborne is an awe-inspiring experience. One part Gothic Victorian, One part Lovecraft homage, and 10 parts incredibly ambitious. It’s rare to see a game succeed in it’s ambitious scope, but Bloodborne is that rare exception. Gorgeous, emotional, atmospheric, and rewarding, Bloodborne’s challenges await any who wish to open the doors to Yharnam. It’s a wonderful night for a hunt.
Final Score: 9.1/10