Originally Published for MCM Buzz on the 28th of March 2015
There are many mysteries to be uncovered in Bloodborne, FromSoftware’s unique action-RPG from veteran game director Hidetaka Miyazaki (Dark Souls, Demons’ Souls). But finding out how to put it down is not one of them. Set in a beautiful and densely detailed gothic nightmare, Bloodborne takes its daring players on a journey of discovery that will challenge, consume, immerse and captivate.
The game begins as you might expect, your intrepid hunter finding themselves thrust into a world full of terrifying creatures and wonderful secrets. Once you’ve created your character and chosen your origin, which determines your starting attributes, you’re ready to start exploring, dying, learning and repeating in the fashion that FromSoftware has championed for years. The first thing that’s impossible to ignore is just how stunning the world of Yharnam looks. From the sprawling buildings to the ornate graveyards the entire world could have been plucked from a gothic masterpiece.
In terms of design Bloodborne is in a class of its own. The level design is nothing short of perfect; each area seamlessly folds over itself as hunters battle through the dangers Yharnam has to offer. Like its predecessorsBloodborne is intimidating at first, but once you sink a few hours into its perilous cobbled streets you get a feel for how to make progress, and from then on its impossible to stop searching for that next item, checkpoint or boss. Finding a shortcut that leads back to a lamp or a safe place gives a sense of relief, triumph and added determination to push forward. With each attempt you progress further through incredible sprawling environments learning trap locations, local enemy placement and attacks all whilst gaining blood echoes, which act as both experience and currency in the Hunter’s Dream. The Hunter’s Dream is the central hub of the game, offering a mysterious doll-woman who levels you up, a wizened hunter offering sage advice, a weapon upgrade station, messenger item shops, storage and gravestones that will warp you to one of the various lamp checkpoints placed sparingly across Yharnam’s enormously varied landscape.
The only gripe that comes with this style of play is that in order to travel from one lamp to another you must always go back to the Hunter’s Dream and then back to Yharnam, which initiates the game’s loading screen twice. It’s impressive such an enormous game only has so few loading screens, but they can take up to forty seconds to load. In such a richly detailed game it’s not a deal breaker, but staring at the ominous title of the game as opposed to Dark Souls’ varied and interesting item description screens can seem like a punishment after losing a boss fight a few times. When it comes to the bosses and enemies themselves, however, the inhabitants of Yharnam are so painstakingly detailed their terrifying presence gives an atmosphere unlike anything else. Whether it’s the fast and furious Cleric Beast, a vicious monstrosity that relentlessly attacks your hunter as you scrabble for breathing room, or the horrifying collection of bones and faces that make up ‘The One Reborn’, there is an incredible attention to detail that speaks volumes about the depth of this game visually and mechanically.
This is echoed in terms of story as Bloodborne takes a ‘show but don’t tell’ approach. When traversing through the broken alleyways it’s up to you to find out what’s cursed this land. Item descriptions and the design of the enemies and environment can lead you to some conclusions, but ultimately the game is shrouded in mystery and all the better for it. There is a thrill in discovering the lore behind the incredible world in front of you by delving into it head first that engages the player from beginning to end. The game mechanics are largely the same, challenging you to figure out what items upgrade weapons, how to leave notes for other players and even how to use the multiplayer features. It all takes some time but nothing compares to those wonderful moments when it all clicks.
The combat system makes a bold change from the Souls games, removing shields from the fray and introducing firearms. This combined with the new health regain system, where hunters can gain health back from enemies a few seconds after being damaged, forces players to take a more offensive approach. The result is blisteringly fast strategic combat in which your goal is to hunt the beast before you become the hunted. In true FromSoftware fashion, players wishing to cling to the old ways of hiding behind your trusty shield will find themselves rightly punished. The new aggressive style of play gives a real sense of danger when battling the game’s sinister bosses; one slip up and you’re lunch for a deadly beastie or two (or seven if you run in head first).
In this absolutely enormous adventure it’s difficult to run out of things to do, whether it’s simply exploring until you run into a boss, searching for hidden pathways or scrapping your way through to a new area, you’ll be spoilt for activities in the main game. FromSoftware’s unique multiplayer experience gets an update too. By using up insight points and ringing bells players can call other players for aid, whilst their fellow hunters can help or hinder depending on which bell they ring. The system makes for a high-risk high-reward way to defeat bosses or get past difficult enemies, with hunters you’re inviting both types of players into your world. You can receive invaluable help or be thwarted before you even begin.
The newest feature for Bloodborne is the ability to play through Chalice Dungeons. These procedurally generated multi-tiered dungeons can be accessed from the Hunter’s Dream with the right items and add an entirely new dimension to the game. With the option to tackle your Chalice Dungeons solo or with other players, hunters can delve deep into the underground facing new bosses, harrowing enemies and a number of traps and obstacles that will never be the same twice. These randomised dungeons can be shared between players if theirs has some particularly good loot, and MCM’s own labyrinth was nothing short of incredible. With a challenging variety of enemies and swinging blade traps and three bosses (one on each tier) to face it was exhilarating as you fight your way further into the depths in search of goodies.
Bloodborne really is something special. Unlike many modern RPGs that focus on huge amounts of similar content, (succeeding with only 23 weapons to choose from) Bloodborne places gameplay and immersion above all else to create a truly unique experience. You will die again and again, but because of its incredible design, depth and execution those who dare to soldier on will wonder at its darkest secrets.
Bloodborne is out now for the Playstation 4