Developer: From Software
Publisher: SCE Japan Studio
Platform: PlayStation 4
Genre: Action RPG/Death Simulator
From Software are one of the most successful developers whose primary branch of games are aimed almost exclusively for a niche crowd. A veteran studio with an incredibly impressive pedigree, From Software are best known for their more recent games, the Souls’ series, or more precisely for their excruciating difficulty. While not part of the same universe as the Dark Souls games, ‘Bloodborne’ is most assuredly a successor, at a glance indistinguishable. Trust me when I say that’s not a bad thing. I don’t want to pick it apart and compare the two games, so I’ll leave it at this; Bloodborne is a perfect mix of the new and the old, familiar yet strange – perfect for both newcomers and Souls’ veterans alike.
The city of Yharnam is undergoing a Hunt, an event which see’s Hunters take to the streets to cleanse the city of an epidemic that has turned most of its citizens into beasts and unspeakable terrors. Actual plot details are scarce, most lore and narrative delivered exclusively to those seeking it, through dialogue, optional exploration, cutscenes and a good helping of putting two and two together on your own. There’s been little in the gaming world as engaging as discovering, discussing and deducing all the hidden bits of story and lore of From Software’s games with fellow players over the years.
This isn’t a game with objective markers or a players diary. You’re left to your devices, and must figure out the mysteries of your dark prison on your own terms. That’s the beauty of it all honestly, it’s so refreshing to not have your hand held. You’re thrown right into the thick of it, and must fight for your survival – and fight you will. The city of Yharnam holds more than its share of creatures, nasties and things that go bump in the night. Werewolves, insane humans, mutilated and indistinguishable towering monstrosities, the list goes on. Half the battle is working up the wits to step into the next area for fear of whats awaiting you. The other half is making it back there after whatever it was has ripped your limbs from your torso and stained your pants.
Combat is fast and responsive in Bloodborne, the player expected – or is that needing? – to go on the offensive at every turn. With no block button, or effective shield, in sight, Bloodborne is all about getting up close and personal and causing some damage. In a game where every enemy is well capable of killing you in a hit or two, it adds a bit of a risk/reward equation, and when coupled with the ability to regain some health by causing some damage of your own in the few seconds after getting hit, turns the combat system into a constant struggle of quick thinking and quicker acting standoffs. Patience doth have no place here!
While quick and constant, there’s still a huge degree of strategy and skill needing to go into combat. A great feature are the games ‘Trick Weapons’, which can transform into entirely different versions of themselves. A longsword can become a towering greatsword, or even a hammer. A cane can become a bladed whip. A boy can become a man. It’s mastering these weapons that will earn you victory, able to be transformed on the go and even mid combo. I found that while I spent most of the game mastering and upgrading a particular weapon I favored, certain bosses showed a little too much resistance to it, and I was left having to try to use a weapon I had no real experience wielding and without upgrades.
That actually adds to the game’s quality, forcing us to weigh up what we need to focus on or if we should be sharing the love. There’s so much fine tuning available to you to get the most out of the game’s mechanics, too much to jot down here. But know this; no matter what you think you’re packing going into a fight, there’s always a better combination of factors. There’s no be-all, end-all weapons, armors or abilities. It’s all in the eye of the beholder, and I think that’s what makes this game an absolute masterpiece. You will never have the advantage, yet with some experience under your belt, you’ll never have the disadvantage.
The melee combat is some of the strongest I’ve seen in an RPG, and definitely one of the more thoughtful. But I was quite disappointed in how the gunplay was handled, after being sold as if a major part of the game or a viable option for players wanting to focus on it. It’s nothing more than a complement to your melee abilities, and aside from being used to open up for one of the game’s strongest melee attacks, is essentially useless. I feel that From Software’s next RPG to utilize firearms will be a big step up, and hopefully doesn’t have them just thrown in as an afterthought.
Its strange to call something so unnervingly dark, depressing and bleak beautiful, but there’s little other way to describe the world From have created for Bloodborne. The game is visually stunning, it’s entirely engrossing and detailed. The large, interconnected world can be explored at will, you can head in any direction you please if you’ve the ability to unlock it or even reach it. You can skip right ahead to later bosses if you think you’re up to it. But you’re not only rewarded in-game for taking your time and doing all you can, but Yharnam is just such a treat to just take in on its own. Modeled as a Victorian-Gothic metropolis, Yharnam takes cues from numerous European cities, with touches of a steam-punk influence and a good dose of horror. It’s a frightening, tense place, but the painstakingly detail the developers have put into its every nook and cranny makes for an awe-inspiring journey you can’t help but appreciate.
For what little there is, the voice work here is very good. But it plays second fiddle to the ambient tones and the musical score, which both excel as pitch-perfect examples of what a game like this should deliver. The whole sound package just ties right into the atmosphere that the graphics have gone to great lengths to build. If the visuals are the foundation of the city of Yharnam, the audio is the coat of paint that seals the deal. Bloodborne is a game that has everything working together in unison, each part playing off one another’s strengths, the result of which is a game of essentially flawless design.
Co-op and PvP are present, but not all that much of a deciding factor. The way the game is setup, players have to figure out all the mechanics and details on their own, so forgive me if I make a mistake here. From what I’ve seen, co-op is only available until you have beaten the boss for the area, which disables the use of your friendly-summoning item. So make the most of calling to others for a helping hand while you can, because as anyone who’s played through a Dark Souls game will tell you, it’s a lot more comforting to have a friendly sword by your side. There are a few opportunities for offline players to summon help, also, but they’re restricted to certain places. Still a definite must for the tougher bosses, though!
The only really hindrance the game has is unforgivable load times. A recent patch has helped a little, but still on loading and every death (and there’s a lot of those…) you have to stare at the games logo for far too long. We’ve been promised a fix, but in the meantime, prepare for some lengthy waits. The thing that irks me is that straight after death I don’t want to sit there and look at a loading screen – I’m on edge, I’m eager to kill something. Being given time to reflect is just plain angering. Let me back in there!
Bloodborne is a triumphant achievement for From Software and Sony, nailing the appeal and true quality that a console exclusive needs. A lot of thought has gone into every part of the game, and the development team have brought their A-game to the table, working everything together into an almost flawless package. A peerless RPG that hopefully spawns Sony a long-running IP, and us gamers more violent, challenging and indefinitely rewarding gaming memories.