After my twentieth death in the very first open area of Bloodborne, I knew I was experiencing something special. I was frustrated and yet enthralled, and kept coming back to try again almost in spite of myself. It is in this addictive and immersive gameplay that From Software’s latest ‘Dark Souls’ style PS4 game truly shines.
Bloodborne straddles the fine line between difficulty and reward perfectly. The learning curve is steep, especially if you have no prior experience of this kind of game, but each time you make it slightly further or survive slightly longer, the sense of achievement is unimaginable.
Like its predecessors, gameplay forces the player to focus on one-on-one combat, avoiding damage and balancing the risks of new dangers with potential rewards. Enemies are fast and ferocious in their attacks, deal huge damage and death is an ever-present threat.
In most games, when you die over and over again it’s easy to criticise the mechanics of the game as being at fault. Encountering scenarios such as this often wholly anger me until I rage quit and take a significant break from the game; it is something unusual, unlikeable and unexpected. However in Bloodborne, death is a core mechanic of the game. And it teaches the player this early on- only upon first dying will you access the Hunter’s Dream, a safe area for levelling up and upgrading equipment.
Each time I died in Bloodborne, I had little to blame but myself. Rushing into new areas, getting too greedy or simply miss-timing attacks is enough to see yourself massacred at the unrelenting hands of your enemies, and the game constantly reminds you of your vulnerability from the first area to the very last.
Bloodborne awakens you into the monster-infested town of Yharnam on the night of a hunt, and throws you in at the deep end with little explanation or direction. The story is not the game’s focal point. Indeed I found myself hours into the game without much further idea of what was going on than at the start. But this is almost part of the mystery and horror surrounding Yharnam. It makes exploration and progression even more rewarding as new tidbits of information are revealed to the player.
Graphically, the game looks stunning. The gothic horror setting is atmospheric and beautifully rendered, and attention to detail is staggering. The horrific creatures are genuinely frightening, from ravenous werewolves and lumbering, mutated giants to pitchfork-wielding mobs out for blood. In a game that is so dependent upon timing, responsiveness and visual cues, it’s great to see fluid combat animation. It leaves a sense of security and responsibility in the player- that when you die, it was your mistake and not the game’s. This is built upon by fantastic sound. An eerie score accentuates the howls of distant creatures and the crazed laughing of Yharnam’s hiding residents as the town falls to pieces around them.
If you’re a Dark Souls veteran, Bloodborne will likely feel like treading familiar gameplay paths, albeit in a different setting. It does, of course, owe much to its predecessors, and the experience is undoubtedly easier having played From Software’s previous games. However there are a number of significant changes that make the game still feel fresh. When you die, enemies can absorb your Blood Souls, meaning not only must you return to your place of death, but you must often times defeat the very enemy that slaughtered you last. Unlike this generation’s other ‘Souls-esque’ game, Lords of the Fallen, I was unable to just sprint in, grab my lost experience and jump out again to avoid a fight and make a bee-line to the nearest checkpoint.
Furthermore, the ability to regain health by landing an attack within a time window after taking damage forced me to be less defensive and take more risks in order to survive. This has come under fire from some Souls fans as making the game much easier; however this was not my experience. Instead, it caused me to approach combat scenarios differently, and made the experience more fresh and challenging.
Whilst it may seem daunting, the game is also a fantastic (if punishing) introduction to this addictive sub-genre of game. If you’re looking for a game without challenge, Bloodborne is most definitely not for you. However if you are looking for an immersive, brutal but ultimately rewarding gameplay experience, you won’t find a better game than Bloodborne on the current generation of consoles. Embrace death, and happy hunting!