This gem in particular is extremely hard for me to critique; Bloodborne is so massive in scope and presence that it’s almost too daunting for me to analytically approach it, but its unrelenting challenge and downright punishing nature deserves to be praised. Bloodborne will be marked down as one of the most challenging and rewarding video games of all time; it’s an idiosyncratic experience that will either make or break you. Bloodborne brutally tests the player’s insight and reflexes; with a deliberate lack of guidance, plenty of mistakes will be made and plenty of gruesome deaths will undoubtedly ensue, but it’s this “no risk, no reward” mentality that makes Bloodborne such an unbelievable experience. Despite the alluring appeal of its demented but gorgeous world, and viscerally strategic combat, understand that Bloodborne is not an experience for the faint of heart. It will continuously beat you to the ground, and once you feel stable and things are manageable, it will revert to beating you, again and again. The path of Bloodborne is not an easy one, but I implore you to stick with it, for your time and effort will be rewarded and its uplifting feeling of satisfying relief is a sensation like no other. Yes you will die a lot, and yes you will get frustrated consistently, but this experience is a trial of your patience and skill. Truly overcoming the insurmountable obstacles that are bosses, in and of itself, is a gratifying accomplishment. This is a game about learning from player error, overcoming the unfeasible odds, and continuously striving to live for just another minute. This is Bloodborne, and it’s bloody fantastic.
Mirroring a Victorian Era London-esque environment, Bloodborne is set in an imitable gothic city called Yharnam which reeks of animosity and deformation. Its atmospheric but downright eerie nature is masterfully detailed and never fails to send chills down my spine. The iconic scenery and dreary atmosphere are captivating enough to warrant a purchase. The modern gaming industry arguably caters toward the safe and familiar; rarely will a game cast its experience in a unique, gothic-Victorian setting and that’s why Bloodborne is a welcomed breath of fresh air. Very few games manage to authentically creep me out in the manner that Bloodborne did; from the horrifically detailed monsters ripped straight out from your nightmares, to the exquisitely haunting sound design, Bloodborne’s impeccable presentation is an ode to the classic treatment of the horror genre. The art direction boasts a slight realistic approach but traces of the fantastical are apparent, especially with the grotesque monster design. Environments are well crafted and extremely detailed but some character models are less impressive; textures aren’t as crisp and are unfortunately fairly flat in certain cases and it’s because of this beautifully realized world that these lesser detailed characters stand out ever so slightly. Amongst its technical frustrations, Bloodborne is also incapable of keeping a steady frame rate during certain instances and contains some of the worst load times to be found in modern gaming. As if the game’s insane difficulty and penalty for death wasn’t enough, you’ll be greeted with a nice 40 second load screen every time you bite the dust. These excessive and gratuitous load times most definitely hinder the overall experience as they forcefully pull the player out of, what is to be, an immersive experience. Luckily, From Software and Sony have confirmed that they are currently looking into these infamous loud times and will patch them to provide a smoother, concrete experience. All technical negativities aside, Bloodborne is a sight to see and its animations are no less impressive; animations are slick, smooth, and most importantly extremely satisfying. Weapon transformations in particular are visually gratifying and add an additional layer of excitement when unlocking a new murdering tool. Bloodborne’s excessive use of blood and gore plays an imperative role and is symbolically and practically weaved into its core. Thematically, blood is the main crux of the over-arching narrative; certain medical practices and select affliction cures are only made possible through Yharnam’s excessive use of blood. It’s that very medical advancement that causes the very plague that renders Yharnam to its current decrypted state, similar to the tragic dystopia that was Rapture in 2007’s Bioshock. The story takes on a supporting role and is arguably nonsensical and non-existent; it simply adds purpose to the player’s actions and drives the gruesome hunt forward, nothing more, nothing less. It’s convoluted, disjointed, and by the end of it, you’ll undoubtedly scratch your head and contemplate as to what just happened.
Despite my personal qualms with its narrative, Bloodborne wholeheartedly makes up for any presentational issues with its amazing gameplay as the two complement each other fairly well. The combat, for one, is agile and visceral, noticeably faster than the meticulous combat of the Souls’ series, and the game’s heavy emphasis on exploration is staggering as a plethora of hidden secrets, pathways, items, and shortcuts are just waiting to be discovered. All the weapons are nicely varied and for the most part, no two weapons feel alike; since each weapon has a transformed state, it feels as if you’re getting two weapons for the price of one. Unlike Demon Souls and Dark Souls, your hunter is unable to equip a shield, rendering you defenseless. Instead, Bloodborne heavily encourages you to dodge constantly, as it is the only true way to avoid serious damage. To even the odds, Bloodborne implemented a new risk versus reward element called the health regain system, which allows players, within a small time frame, to recover portions of lost health by striking back at the enemy. Bloodborne also has its own form of a counterattack which is an imperative combat strategy. Just before an enemy’s attack lands on you, retaliating with a well-timed gunshot will leave the enemy staggered and will open a window for a visceral attack. Visceral attacks are immensely powerful, with the capability of finishing an enemy in one hit, and can even regain a vast amount of health if you build your character correctly. These two crucial elements greatly highlight the core experience of Bloodborne: this is a no risk, no reward experience. This should be a given, but Bloodborne is extremely punishing so be prepared to die, a lot. Whether it be a simple enemy, a hazardous trap, or a reckoning boss, everything will try to kill you and most of the time, they will undoubtedly succeed. But through constant death and repetition, you’ll pick up on enemy patterns and weaknesses and through time, you will gain the upper hand and triumphantly overcome whatever obstacle that stood in the way. The main purpose of Bloodborne is to traverse the dangerous landscapes of Yharnam and slay the infested monsters to escape this endless Hunter’s Dream, awaking this nightmare. These bosses are absolutely brutal and will instantly obliterate you if you are too reckless. Trekking to a boss can be quite the arduous journey as it could take anywhere from 15-40 minutes and if you were to die before reaching the boss, you would respawn at the initial lamp (checkpoint). Luckily throughout your journey, you’ll discover and unlock shortcuts which vastly shortens the time to reach the menacing boss, easing the pain significantly. These shortcuts are cleverly woven into the environment and have to a Metroidvania tendency as they are inaccessible until you’ve delved further into the current nightmare. Lamps are used as checkpoints and claiming they are scarce is a severe understatement. Apart from the initial lamp, the next checkpoint is unavailable until the boss has been defeated, which means there is no checkpoint available between the initial lamp and the boss and it’s safe to assume that you won’t be defeating that boss any time soon; that is why unlocking the shortcut is imperative and will save you an absurd amount of time. Another addition to its punishing quality is Bloodborne’s ubiquitous use of Blood echoes. Blood echoes are gained by defeating enemies and act as experience used to level up, as currency to purchase any item or weapon, and are used to fortify and repair weapons. Since everything primarily uses blood echoes, you’ll have to conservatively think on how to efficiently use your hard earned blood echoes. Word to the wise though, whenever you die, you lose all of your blood echoes. If you are able to reach the location of your death, you can regain your lost blood echoes, but if you were to die a second time trying to retrieve them, they will be lost forever. And since blood echoes are pretty much used for everything, this can be downright frustrating. It may seem that I speak all of this in a negative connotation, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Playing Bloodborne is always a risky experience and it constantly kept me on edge as I could either return to the Hunter’s Dream and cash in my blood echoes or I could satisfy that addictive itch and audaciously accumulate more. I’ve already said this at length, but it’s a no risk, no reward mentality. Having so much to lose is what makes the experience worthwhile, that’s what makes each death so tragic, but also makes each victory so satisfying. Truly overcoming the odds and defeating a boss after countless hours and sleepless nights is a gratifying accomplishment and few games manage to emit the same rewarding sensation that Bloodborne nails so immaculately.
Similar to the Souls’ series, Bloodborne has a very unique online multiplayer integration. You can summon other players to help even the odds and assist you on your journey, creating a great cooperative experience. However, when waiting for a friendly player to be summoned, you leave your game open to players who’ll invade your world and hunt you down, which lead to some extremely tense encounters and thrilling PvP action. Alongside a phenomenal new game plus mode, Bloodborne ups the ante with Challice Dungeons which are optional, randomly generated dungeons that vary in difficulty and depth and contain optional bosses that drop additional items and equipment. These dungeons add a great sense of replayability to an already massive experience and I recommend diving into one with a friend for some great co-op fun.
Bloodborne is definitely not a game for everyone, hell the first few hours are excruciatingly difficult and the first few bosses are arguably the toughest, but there is no denying that Bloodborne is a phenomenal game and a true achievement in gameplay design, tried and true challenge, and creating a successful reward system for player independence. Bloodborne doesn’t hold your hand and walk you through the basics step by step, it throws you in a pit and leaves you on your own to fend for yourself and to learn as you grow. If you’re on the fence with Bloodborne and feel that its difficulty is too daunting, just understand that it’s all indeed manageable. I have never actually played a Souls game before; I’ve watched plenty of gameplay videos but never gave it a go for the slower combat and medieval setting personally turned me off. I easily put in over 80 hours into Bloodborne and it is arguably my favourite game on the PlayStation 4. The story may be far-fetched and nonsensical, and the game is undoubtedly relentless but it’s also one of the most rewarding, if not the most rewarding game I have ever played. The Gothic Victorian environment is gorgeous and impeccably detailed to the bone, and the monster designs are squeamishly good, mirroring the classic horror designs of Dracula or Van Helsing. Although the music is heavily underused, the overall sound design is perfect; every slash, scream, and tear sound gruesomely satisfying. The visceral combat is satisfying beyond belief, and the boss battles are amongst the most tense and memorable in gaming. For those of you who’ve started Bloodborne already and are on the brink of giving up, I implore you to stick with it. Constantly level yourself, learn enemy movements and use them to your advantage, and explore all of Yharnam’s nooks and crannies to unlock hidden goodies that ease the pain ever so slightly; be smart, be patient, and I promise that you will be rewarded. Bloodborne is an unrelenting, arduous journey, but one worth taking.