Bloodborne takes place in Y'harnam, an eerie, gothic and ruined city that is supposed to house a remedy to cure the afflictions of travellers who make their way to the city. You take control as one of these travellers who upon your arrival discover the citizens have been plagued by a curse which has turned them into horrifying creatures.
Very few things can be sold solely on a feeling of despair and helplessness. But that’s exactly what From Software’s Bloodborne attempts to accomplish. It is the fourth iteration in the Souls series and while most games would rather feed from the endless trough of rehashed and copied ideas, Bloodborne deviates from that path while still staying true to Souls form. It takes the series a step further by removing the slow methodical combat that players have grown accustomed to and replaces it with a system that rewards players for diving in and fighting through the pain.
Bloodborne manages to take the series in an even darker and brutal direction with some of the most creative and unsettling enemies to be released in recent memory. This is no small feat; beasts have their skin flaps folded over their face, giant spectral beings transport you to nightmarish realms, deranged villagers have been transformed into werewolves and more horrifying abominations riddle the deadly streets of Yharnam. The game is very unforgiving to anyone unfamiliar with the previous games in the series, but with a little perseverance anyone can tackle the strenuous challenges that lie in the depths of Yharnam. Now, that doesn’t mean Souls veterans should worry about the gaming being too easy because you will die, and you will die a lot.
Bloodborne is such a different combat experience that your previous knowledge is rendered somewhat useless in comparison. The combat is fast, brutal and unforgiving – one slip up and you will find yourself back at the previous lantern you’ve rested at. Lanterns are the games way of providing checkpoints and make your journey a slightly easier one. Now I really don’t want to dive too far into boss spoilers as some of these boss designs are truly remarkable and a sight to be seen rather than read about but I will say that not every boss in Bloodborne is fantastic and difficult – you will finish yourself facing off against 1 or 2 bosses that stick to almost the same format as previous games. These bosses will have you strafing in a circle to get behind the enemy and take a swing or two in between boss attacks. Very few games have that same sense of relief and accomplishment you get from “slaughtering” that last boss, but that sense of relief doesn’t last long as you take a deep breath and press on to do it all over again.
At its heart, Bloodborne is an action RPG that pushes through some of the conventional video games tropes. There are no waypoint markers, maps or quest logs. All of your in-game motivation comes from item text, NPC conversations and the general fascination with what kind of abominations lay in wait in the shadows of Yharnam. As you progress through the game you will gain “Blood Echoes”: these serve as in game currency as well as the much needed experience you need to kill the next boss. Dying will relinquish all of your unspent “Blood Echoes” and will require you to run back to the zone you died in to pick up your pool of blood or kill the enemy who has stolen them.
Bloodborne is a very beautiful and grim game – each zone is creepy and filled with the attention to detail players have come to except from the experts over at From Software. This sort of beauty comes at a price though as there are several points where the games frame rate drops or stutters for a several seconds. Loading screens can also take anywhere from 20 to 40 seconds to finish and trust me, you will get to know these loading screens well.
There are a few distractions if you grow weary of the main story of Bloodborne. These distractions come in the form of chalice dungeons, co-op and invasions (pvp). Chalice dungeons provide a randomized tiered dungeon system that sets you off against an array of familiar foes as well as some new boss archetypes not seen in the main story. These chalice dungeons are unfortunately set to a specific level range so it is fairly easy to out level them. The dungeons themselves also offer little in terms of reward; I found myself getting better items and experience strictly from playing the main story – Chalice dungeons are a nice little distraction but honestly provide nothing more than that. The multiplayer component of Bloodborne is much tighter and easier to connect than in previous installments – so depending on your mood, you are able to invade someone’s world and ruin their day or you can simply join in a co-op game and help a player down that boss they have tried ever so hard to defeat.
Bloodborne is the type of gaming experience that every RPG lover needs to have. It’s brutally difficult, has a progression system that fills you with a real sense of accomplishment, and it’s gruesome in almost every way. It is the pinnacle of what From Software has been striving to achieve over the years and they have crafted something to be really proud of. Chalice dungeons and multiplayer may only serve as a slight distraction from the main story, but they are a much welcomed and smooth edition. A few frame rate drops and long loading screens may slightly interrupt the experience, but From Software ensures it will be patched in the coming weeks. I’ve spent over a hundred hours scouring the streets of Yharnam and I can’t wait to dive back into New Game + to do it all over again. Bloodborne is the type of game that only comes around once a generation and From Software should really be proud of this masterfully crafted experience.
This review was written for publication on the GCE by Kyle Fisher
+ Visually horrifying bosses
+ Beautifully crafted city landscapes
+ Tight and brutally unforgiving gameplay
+ Nearly endless replay value with New Game + Options
- Frame rate stutters in certain zones
- Loading screens that range from 20 to 40 seconds