“A hunter is never alone.”
That’s a line found in From Software’s latest title Bloodborne, and it’s often used to convey a sense of camaraderie as you explore the game. What does this have to do with the review? Nothing. I just thought it would make a good intro. Hit the jump to read something actually related to the review.
Right from its reveal, PS4 exclusive Bloodborne has been met with extreme hype. Ask any gamer what games they’re looking forward to in 2015, and it’s almost a guarantee that Bloodborne makes the list.
The game kicks off with your character – a Hunter with amnesia – waking up in the city of Yharnam. The city fell to monsters some time ago, but it’s also the only place that has a remedy to the mysterious illness with which you’re afflicted. In true Souls fashion, the story unfolds organically and needs to be pieced together from many in-game sources. The world tells the story, not the game.
If you’re coming into Bloodborne as a fan of the Souls series, then the first thing that’ll hit you is how different the game is. There’s a new regenerating health system, where swiftly attacking an enemy that hurt you will give back your lost health. It’s faster, more skill based, rewards boldness, and the long-establised Souls tactic of turtling behind your shield will only get you killed.
This sped-up gameplay affects a great deal. RPG stats are easier to understand, weapons and armour won’t encumber your character, and enemies die fairly quickly. The game feels like a very tactical and smart action game, and less of a hardcore RPG. One problem with the gameplay is the jumping mechanic. I’ve complained about Dark Souls II‘s jumping, and it’s only gotten worse. It’s imprecise and unintuitive to pull off. Luckily, you only need to jump to reach treasure.
Another change is in the parry-and-counter system. Instead of using a shield or weapon, enemies are stunned using a well-timed shot from your firearm. The timing is more intuitive to learn in Bloodborne than in the Souls games, and it’s easier to incorporate this tactic. However, this limits your firearms to being close-range tools and destroys their use for sniping. Regardless, blasting a wolf-man with a round of buckshot while he’s in mid-air is endlessly satisfying.
Another great strength of the game is its world. From Software has always created excellent worlds for the Souls series, and Bloodborne‘s may be their best yet. The architecture alternates between 19th century Gothic designs and small, filthy hamlets in swamps. It’s a creepy aesthetic to say the least, and you’ll find yourself carefully investigating all the statues for lurking enemies. The levels are also surprisingly large and filled with shortcuts and secret areas, but the twisting streets and foggy swamps constantly reduce your line of sight, adding a sense of claustrophobia. The verticality of some levels also means that enemies will often be firing at you from above, which forces constant situational awareness. Exploring is one of Bloodborne‘s pillars of gameplay and you could spend hours mapping out a single level. The only problem with the levels is their long loading times, but From Software has promised a fix for this.
Everything in Bloodborne feels meticulously crafted. Enemies are horrifying, and disfigured, lanky monsters rove the map in mobs. The more humanoid enemies even shout at you, calling you a monster, or otherwise taunting you. Bosses aren’t limited to the “big man in armour” type that filled Dark Souls II.
Weapons and armour are also pretty kickass. The weapons were clearly designed by someone who loves their job, each one looking distinct and handling uniquely. Weapons have two settings, toggled by pressing the L1 button. Some get longer, or deal heavier attacks, or electrify themselves, but each requires practice and mastery. The armour is great too, and displays some awesome cloth physics.
Part of the appeal of the Souls series is the difficulty, and that is certainly present here. The smoother gameplay and faster attacking makes this the most accessible one of the lot by far, but the game is constantly trying to surprise you. Boss battles are triggered with no warning to keep you on your toes, some enemies spring ambushes, and others will transform into new shapes and develop new attack patterns. Where Dark Souls II played it safer and more formulaic, Bloodborne constantly keeps things unpredictable.
Its difficulty is best handled as a team. Summoning players for jolly co-op is handled differently in Bloodborne. One player rings a bell as an invitation, and any player who has rung a corresponding bell will be summoned into their world. It’s more passive, and another player could pop into your world any time after ringing. The community is also very helpful, and the message system is back in full swing. Here’s some advice: read the messages! They’ll save you from being smeared on forest floors by swinging log traps. Speaking of community, no-one invaded my world throughout all my sessions. It’s certainly possible, but for now everyone seems focused on helping each other slay beasts.
Obviously, the game is gorgeous; lifelike animations, realistic physics, and high levels of detail blend in with stellar graphics to remind gamers exactly what the PS4 (and current-gen) is capable of. The frame rate dips slightly in a few areas, and noticeably during co-op, but is consistently good otherwise. Music is employed very atmospherically too. Interestingly, it usually only plays in boss battles, and the creepy silence builds the tension while exploring. Because of this, exploring a level with music keeps you on edge even more, like the Unseen Village (please don’t make me go back to the Unseen Village).
Bloodborne does so much right. Gameplay is improved, the world is immersive, and the level of challenge is high. It shows that From Software clearly listen to their fans and know exactly how to deliver what they want. Not even the terrible jumping, slightly long load screens or occasional frame rate drops can mar what is a stellar experience. The game is a masterpiece, and it’s clearly currently the best reason to buy a PS4.
Now I’m off to try beat the Unseen Village again, wish me luck…