Japanese developer From Software sought to revitalize a older method of game design back in 2009 with the release of Demon's Souls. They had it in their minds to release a throwback to a time when games were more unforgiving than hand-holding; titles that let players organically discover the world and figure out what the game wants of you in order to move forward, without overtly stating the objective. On top of that, the core gameplay was incredibly punishing. Never punishing for the sake of punishment, but rather immensely challenging because it demanded your focus.
Demon's Souls quickly became a cult hit, ushering two spiritual successors: Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2. Carrying on the same formula, the Souls games have served as a reminder of the games of old and how authentic challenges in a game's design shouldn't be confused with a difficulty slider.
For the new generation, From Software has gone ahead with another intellectual property of the same structure, as an exclusive for the Playstation 4. At its core, Bloodborne is very much a Souls title, however there are some fundamental differences that in many cases offer a more finely tuned experience.
You begin your journey creating your character with a decent level of customization. Similar to the Souls games, players can also select classes that offer different base stats. Veterans of From Software titles will come to realize that these don't really matter in the long run as players can potentially end up with the same results if done properly. However it offers varying degrees of challenge for types of players right off the bat. Those who may be unfamiliar with these types of games or who are looking to start off with a more advantageous build may look to classes that start with better Strength and Endurance.
After you complete your initial customization and spend about 4 hours thinking of a name, you are then sent into the world, undergoing what appears to be a blood transfusion. Awoken from what only seem like nightmarish visions brought on by the operation, you find yourself alone in a clinic. As you travel downstairs you see a werewolf - the very figure you thought was of a fevered mind, standing between you and your exit. You are unarmed, and you do not stand a chance. There is no question that you will die, but this is only the beginning. Your death takes you to a place called the Hunter's Dream and serves as your central hub and base of operations.
You will die repeatedly, and the forced death sequence at the beginning serves to highlight this fact. And it's a staple with every type of these From Soft RPGs. This instructs players to come to terms with the idea death does not necessarily mean you lose. Instead, understand why you died and use it as a learning experience. It can certainly be frustrating, as you will be penalized with the loss of your acquired Blood Echoes (the game's currency) should you die, and like past Souls games you have one chance to reclaim them. Dying a second time will result in you losing them for good. This may seem too torturous and too masochistic for most and you may be immediately turned off, however those willing to invest in the trial and error and those looking for a very rewarding experience may find this is exactly what they're looking for.
Much like the past Souls games, Bloodborne is still an Action RPG at heart. The combat has most certainly received an overhaul that now rewards brute force and has an emphasis on pro-active and offensive tactics. The Brute system in place is known as the Regain System, and is a very welcome addition that can encourage players to think on the spot and take a necessary risk to heal in a pinch. Upon taking damage, that amount of health will remain an orange-yellow bar next to your red health bar. This appears only for a certain amount of time before disappearing for good. Utilizing the short window of time you have, you can decide to inflict damage on your enemies to reclaim lost health. This rewards players who fight rather than flee. This is a very welcome addition to the gameplay, and a nice change of pace from the typical wait-and-see combat style we've come to know of the Souls games - often more defensive in nature.
The weapon system is a hybrid of melee and ranged weapons. You have the option of starting out with your choice of one of three primary weapons: The Saw Cleaver, Hunter Axe, and Threaded Cane. Each weapon has an ability to transform into a second state, offering more gameplay variety. The Saw Cleaver is a good balance of quick short ranged attacks, unfolds like a gigantic scalpel and extends it's range. The Threaded Cane is less powerful but more agile, and transforms into a bladed whip for quicker attacks and the Hunter Axe is slightly slower than the cleaver but more powerful, and extends for added range. Firearms are your ranged weapons and can potentially drive back multiple enemies and do massive damage at close range. You will find additional weapon types throughout the game, and can equip up to two melee weapons and even two firearms - granting you the depth of toggling between each without needing to open a menu. Transformations can also be done seamlessly mid-combat. It is worth noting that weapons can be strengthened and upgraded inside the Hunter's Dream using Blood Echoes.
Blood Echoes are the game's currency, and you acquire it with every enemy you slay. You can spend the blood echoes to advance your character and upgrade their stats, or acquire new equipment. One interesting thing that is not present in the past Souls games is that enemies near your last death can actually absorb your Blood Echoes, forcing you to face off and defeat said enemy. They will be easy to identify as those enemies will have their eyes glow.
Another new addition is the Insight system. It is the level of inhuman knowledge a player has attained. As your level increases, players will experience different things like new enemies appearing where they hadn't before or attack patterns changing. Insight points are gained from defeating bosses, talking with NPCs, using certain items and other methods. Insight points are required every time a player wants to use the Beckoning Bell to start a multiplayer match.
Multiplayer remains asynchronous as were the previous From Soft games. Instead of leaving bloodstains on the ground, players can use their Notebook to leave messages behind for players to find. Developers may also leave some hints from time to time, adding to the community and general feel of interconnectedness. Aside from this there is also co-op and PvP modes to participate in. To start in PvP your insight level must be at 30 or higher, and as previously mentioned, using the Beckoning Bell to host a co-op match requires one insight point per use. Finally, Chalice Dungeons are a network of ruins and dungeons that are procedurally generated, full of enemies, traps, massive bosses, and can be played with up to three people cooperatively or against each other in PvP.
Bloodborne's visuals are quite enjoyable to behold. The world is dripping with a dark, seedy atmosphere, and the creature designs are the right kind of twisted. It's definitely not a showcase title, as the game's structure and larger design does come at the cost of higher polygon count models, but at the very least levels and characters - aside from their faces - are nicely detailed. I've noticed some asset pop-in that can be quite noticeable as it can potentially be large objects like buildings, but these are few and far between. The framerate does have some noticeable dips. Consciously locked at 30 frames, Bloodborne will stutter when there are large numbers of enemies on screen, or too many characters are animating at once. For the most part, it's stable, however I wish those who aim to lock a framerate at least ensure it's rock solid, otherwise I'd rather they sacrifice other aspects of visual fidelity like a game's resolution to ensure the fluidity of the gameplay doesn't suffer from a design choice.
I have been immersed in the mysterious world that Bloodborne has offered. It tests me time and time again, though I keep coming back for more. Like From Software's previous titles, it can be very unforgiving, but in its genuine challenge lies a rewarding satisfaction. With great improvements to the core gameplay that offer different tactics and strategies, multiplayer modes that look as though they will be as enjoyable as the other titles, and that much needed explorative game structure that remind us of the games that encourage you to play the game as opposed to going through the motions, Bloodborne is a stellar exclusive for the PlayStation 4. It may have its technical drawbacks and hitches, but the total package more than makes up for its struggles.
|Organic gameplay structure that doesn't hold your hand.|
|Regain system is a much appreciated addition.|
|Much deeper combat than previous titles.|
|Not recommended for those who can't take a beating.|
|Framerate can stutter in heavy places.|
|Certain objects either flicker or pop in.|