Bloodborne – Review

Title   Bloodborne
Developer  From Software
Publisher  Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform  PlayStation 4
Genre  Action RPG
Release Date  March 27th, 2015
Official Site

Bloodborne, the latest creation from the hive mind at From Software is a game that grips you from the opening cinematic and then doesn’t let go for a very, very long time. It achieves its goal as a recreation to pour hours into in a way that I’ve not seen a game do for quite some time and, amazingly, it does all this without a single map marker, side quest or overall ‘goal’ being placed in front of you at any stage. The lure of Bloodborne’s secrets, its inhabitants and its general atmosphere is enough to ensure that only those who oppose or dislike with all their person will succeed in not being caught in its tantalising snare.

To talk about Bloodborne’s story would be to almost miss the point, because it’s largely your interpretation of what is going on around you that feeds most of the narrative. There is a loose story at play here: a city in ruins, an affliction morphing man into beast, a very peculiar fixation on blood, and just what are all the creepy angel statues littering the streets – I get an itchy trigger finger with every passing memory of Doctor Who‘s Weeping Angels. As I said, there is a story here, but to fixate on the lack of narrative directly fed to you would be to do the world a disservice. You’re expected to explore, interpret, question, both wander and wonder in a manner I’ve seen in few games in recent memory. Little bits of story are drip fed to you over the course of what promises to be a very engaging and involved experience but, for the most part, you’ve not got tons of detail pushing you along.

The opening steps of the game maybe familiar to anyone with previous experience in From Software’s creations – create your character, check some stats and then away you go. There really is zero direction, for the most part, and it’s both off putting and incredibly rewarding in equal measure. No map, no objectives, no sign posts – nothing other than your sense of intrigue and exploration. Games like Fallout 3 and Far Cry, while massively different, could learn plenty from Bloodborne by allowing the player to play the game and worry less about them missing all the good stuff. That said, this may well provoke a backlash among people used to having hands held and anyone who gets the shakes at the thoughts of not really being sure if they’re on the right path or not.

Part of that fear is both alleviated and stoked thanks to the incredible level design, which is, quite frankly, outstanding. It feels like an evolution of the Metroidvania model that has been polished to perfection over the years. How all these different spaces, hubs, levels and little areas connect together is mind blowing, and I would quite happily purchase a framed picture of the entire level structure broken down into different parts just to see the finished product in all its glory. You never really feel like there is a dead end or a lack of places to go – Yarnham (the world in which the game takes place) is beautifully constructed – a living and breathing metropolis that is both multifaceted and closed off in equal measure. In order to make things much easier on themselves, players will have to explore and create shortcuts between long stretches of enemies, traps and bosses. Connecting two points via these shortcuts and discovering the vital lanterns (checkpoints) will be key to survival. Thanks to the level design, I never resented a wrong turn, getting lost or wondering where the hell I was supposed to be going – it was all part of the experience.

Gameplay also fares well, providing some heart-stopping combat and excellent role-playing elements. Time is split between exploring the various areas of Yarnham and returning to the Hunter’s Dream, a place where the player can level up and buy weapons, among other things. Exploring Yarnham, as I’ve already said, is quite the event in itself but it isn’t as easy as just going out for a stroll and taking in the sights. Yarnham is a land in decline, filled with some truly horrific beasts, both natural and supernatural, to combat, and only the strongest will survive. If the level design was the bread to this sandwich then the combat is the filling and From Software have provided plenty for players to get their teeth into – there is a ridiculous amount of fun to be had with the fighting. It isn’t something you should assume you’ll ‘get’ or become proficient at overnight – some of my worst losses have come when over confidence and a lack of focus set in. Each battle becomes a test of determination and concentration, where there is no room for merely hacking and slashing, and the rewards for winning these battles can be found both in the game and in the relief that washes over you.

Killing enemies will result in a donation of ‘blood echoes’ which can be spent on gear or levelling your character. The only problem is that death will cost you all of your current blood echoes, meaning that you must return to the place of your death to find them, provided an enemy hasn’t swallowed them up and doesn’t need defeating in order to retrieve your haul. Things get even harder when you consider that the game asks a lot of you in terms of exploration, and returning to the safety of the Hunter’s Dream to spend said echoes will cause all enemies to respawn. It’s a very clever system that asks you to balance risk and reward right from the start. Luckily, you do have skills to help you, although even these come at a cost. The perfect example is your gun, which does relativity little damage, but can stun even the tallest of foes if they are shot at the right moment – usually before they’re about to cave your skull in with a giant hammer. Learning the tricks and tells of every enemy will be the key to unlocking the true satisfaction of Bloodborne.

This game needs to be learned, its systems respected, and each individual enemy is a test of mental agility. You’ll be asked to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your build, your weapon, the enemy, their weapon and how their abilities may change the more of their health they lose. If all this sounds far too in-depth or not fun, trust me, as someone who hasn’t played a From Software game before, it isn’t. Having respect and learning how these systems all work together is as much fun as mastering them.

Other elements of the game are at play in a way that I can’t fully explain in a review, given the sheer volume of how they interact with each other. Insight, for example, is a value earned by fighting bosses, exploring new places and interacting with other players via the multiplayer. Insight changes how the game plays when it reaches certain levels, possibly making it easier or harder, depending on the value. Furthermore, Insight can be used to purchase certain weapons and armour, but is also spent to call in friends and internet strangers for help using the Beckoning Bell. It is also the reward for slaying players when you invade their games using the Sinister Resonant Bell. The fact that no-one is really too sure exactly what Insight does, just goes to show how much faith From Software has in its community, and just how driven the community is to explore and understand this game. When was the last time you heard about a developer not explaining about a game’s system? It’s almost like they want us to experience it all for ourselves… madness.

Throughout my time with Bloodborne I’ve been taken aback by just how jaw-droppingly gorgeous it looks, both in motion and during cutscenes. It’s not often I can say that a game looks dirty, but Yarnham looks like a world that is infected with something far darker than we can really appreciate. Most of it is a horrific sight to behold but it has impacted me as strongly as Resident Evil 4 did when it was released on the Gamecube, looking as grim and unforgiving as Bloodborne actually is. The character models are superb, the enemies scream, squeal, snap and click in a way that is truly horrifying. There are so many little touches – the way giant axes impact the ground and cause sparks and dust to fly up, the way my coat flaps when I’m travelling down stairs, the way blood, guts and poison fly off enemies as they come barreling towards me – all of this mixes into a truly devilish cocktail of death and pain that you probably shouldn’t fall in love with, but which you secretly lust over when no-one is looking. When it’s at its quietest, Bloodborne could be described as serene, beautiful and maybe even pretty. This would be a fallacy though, because there is just something so perverse about this world that to describe it as beautiful just feels wrong.

The music is something that Bloodborne lacks, for the most part, but I don’t mean that as a negative – there is little music playing generally but it doesn’t hurt the (very thick) atmosphere at all. Instead, music chimes in at certain times, usually during boss battles where you will die time and time again. That music is well paced, enjoyable and the sound generally is of a high quality. The voice acting is good and they’ve nailed the weighty noise behind every gun, sword and explosion.

Finally, what is there to keep you past Bloodborne’s story? Well, that alone is going to take up a fair chunk of time; I’ve experienced plenty in the last thirty hours and I’m not even close to the end, probably because I’m just so captivated by it all. Even when I do finish, there is New Game + and Chalice Dungeons. Chalice Dungeons are procedurally-generated areas that replicate the challenge of Yarnham, and are allegedly supposed to be places underneath its vast city. These range in difficulty and provide new areas to go hunting for echoes and items. Amazingly, although each area is brand new when it is generated, old layouts are saved and can be uploaded for friends, meaning there is possibly an infinite amount of content for people to try out. If you tire of this, though, you can spend your time inviting friends to your game or joining theirs for some co-op fun (which can also be done in the Chalice Dungeons).

Failing that, you can invade other people’s games and totally ruin their fun by carving them into little pieces. I’ve played with friends and have also invaded games – both are excellent and I get a very shameful thrill out of barging into someone’s game and ruining their day. As someone who is a perfectly lovely gentlemen in reality, I find my desire to invade other people’s worlds and kill a source of constant enjoyment.

I could go on talking about Bloodborne and this review has done nothing more than scratch the surface of what this game is actually all about. It’s certainly something that you have to stick with for a few hours to really appreciate how it works, and were it not for the community I would have struggled for much, much longer. The thing that makes this such a special game is that you can see the hours of dedication that Hidetaka Miyazaki and his team have poured into getting this experience exactly right. It’s a wonderful game on a console that needed a killer exclusive – it now has one.

  • Demands more from the player than most games currently on the market.
  • Amazing level design
  • Engaging and immersive gameplay
  • Looks incredible
  • Plenty of content for even the most dedicated of fans
  • Load times can be a pain

But who gives a dusty fuck about load times, right? You want to know what I'm doing when the game is loading? I'm getting a drink because I've been sat at my desk for the last three hours playing Bloodborne. Don't let the loading times put you off and don't let the challenge put you off, either. I'm the wrong person to ask if this is the right point to enter From Software's library. It was for me but it might not be for you. If you're not sure either then research it or rent it - but for the love of god try it either way (and try it for more than an hour).

This industry churns out games by the truck load, and games that are actually special or have any meaning are certainly few and far between. This game asks you to learn about its systems, learn about its world, to explore the dark corners, explore what you can do as a player and as a character. What are your limits? What are your skills? When do you push forward? When do you retreat? When do you spend the echoes? When do you return to the Hunter's Dream? And just why is everyone so fascinated with blood? Need to find out? Yeah, me too - I'll see you in Yarnham.

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