Hunt. Or be hunted. The once sprawling city of Yharnam is nothing but a place of nightmares and horrors, but, this doesn’t stop you. Every step can be your death and every encounter only brings you closer to it. Despite the terrible things that might happen, Yharnam and the world of Bloodborne is a place worth delving into; that is if you have the skill and the courage to brave the dangerous.
As the protagonist you are mysteriously compelled to Yharnam in search of something. Unfortunately, to enter the city and trek through it as safely as can be, one must have Yharnam blood. This is where your journey begins. You wake up after having undergone a blood transfusion and you must escape the clinic lest you be killed by the creature that roams inside. No matter if you survive or not, you end up in the dreary locale known as the Hunter’s Dream. Is this in the mind? Or is this real? The Dream acts as your hub and as you progress through Yharnam, you’ll find yourself returning to strengthen your weapons, equip new trinkets, enhance your abilities, and more importantly to rest as it's your safe haven.
The story of Bloodborne is even more obscure and mysterious than its predecessors. You have no idea why you’re here, you don’t know why Yharnam’s citizens cower in fear or why dangerous beasts and people roam the streets. The only thing you can do is explore from one alley to the next in hope of harvesting Blood Echoes from defeating enemies: your primary resource to power up and purchase items. Each enemy you slay will give you Echoes, but you must be careful how they are used. Everything in the game is based off of this one currency: leveling, forging, and purchasing. If you are defeated in the field of battle then you lose all the Echoes in your possession. Luckily not all hope is lost as you can travel to where you were last slain to retrieve them. Die before you reclaim them, however, and they are lost forever.
Bloodborne is an unforgiving game forcing players to always keep their wits about. Those experienced with the Souls games will find that the game treads familiar territory. Enemies hit hard and you must use every single combat mechanic in your arsenal. However, while the Souls games offered a variety of ways to play with its numerous items and stats to manage, Bloodborne streamlines many things and even removes some elements that made the Souls games special. However, it’s not to the game’s disadvantage. Bloodborne is not a Souls game and you should not treat it explicitly as one. For all intents and purposes, Bloodborne is a highly-volatile action RPG that rewards players largely on their offensive capabilities more than anything else.
One instance of the offensive philosophy found in Bloodborne is the Regain system. While you can use Blood Vials to heal yourself in the middle of combat, the game also gives you the opportunity to strike back at your opponents to heal if you’ve been struck. The opportunity to heal is not long and if you focus too much time dodging and defending then you’ve lost your chance already. Attacking to recover is a very powerful and useful tool at your disposal but it’s also a double-edged sword as it can leave you vulnerable to a counterattack. Bloodborne is effectively rewarding those who take advantage of their situations and punishing those who can’t.
The pace of the fights also have increased as well. Instead of dodging to roll, you have the ability to strafe without compromising your fighting posture. The ability to connect your dodging maneuvers with offensive abilities is a welcome addition. Not only that, but dodging offers numerous frames of invincibility and can save your skin quite frequently. The game never feels too difficult as a result and you feel like you’re always in control of your character.
A game about combat is nothing without a sick arsenal at your belt, and rest assured, the deadly weapons you uncover offer a variety of ways to kill. Unlike Bloodborne's predecessors, weapons don’t come by frequently. However, the armaments at your disposal are customizable to a great degree. Want a poison scythe? Go right ahead. Looking for an electric spear? Sure! There are fewer weapons to uncover because each weapon has a deep level of customization using gems that you pick up throughout the game. Effectively, you are selecting a weapon not because of the stats or effects it offers but because of the moveset it allows. If you’re looking to hit hard all the time, then a greatsword is for you. However, instead of continually finding new greatswords to swap out your old one with, you will be constantly upgrading a singular weapon. The weapon you choose to wield is truly your partner and it defines your playstyle rather than it dictating how you play.
These weapons are not so shallow that they only offer two different types of moves like the Souls games. With a single button you are able to change the form of your weapon. A sword can easily transform into a greatsword, or a scythe, or a whip! Using weapon swap is quintessential to the game’s combat system as it can help hit hard, but slow, against larger foes but fast against a nimble enemy. The Saw Cleaver for instance has an extremely short range and doesn’t offer much when it comes to staggering enemies. When you do change its form, the short range saw becomes a long cleaver that dishes out heavy AoE attacks, which is much more useful against a large enemy mob. Bloodborne keeps players on their toes as they must assess combat situations at all times.
To further complement the offensive philosophy of the game, the off-hand is replaced by a long range firearm (though there is a single shield in the game as well). Guns don’t deal massive amount of damage but they offer offensive support through stunning and knocking enemies off balance. To prevent spamming you must keep a careful tab on the amount of ammo you have on hand, and each gun will have different amounts of ammo it will use. At the very best, guns act as a suppressor that keep enemies at bay or to disrupt their movement. It’s not a necessity to defeat the enemies in Yharnam but it’s welcome nonetheless.
Armor is synonymous with defense and while the game does sport a selection of attires to choose from, there isn’t much differentiation from one to the next. Each armor will give a boost to defense and resistance, but you aren't giving many options to upgrade them. Armor only serves to deck out your character visually for the most part. While this may seem disappointing, the absence of focus on armor only accentuates the game design’s offensive philosophy.
One of the ways that Bloodborne has slimmed down on its predecessor's complexity is through the amount of items in the game. Just like how there are few weapons in the game, the amount of usable items is also low. While this may seem like a detriment, this trimming of inventory is actually implemented perfectly. The types of items you can use use in combat feel varied and thoroughly practical, almost like the assortment found on Batman’s utility belt. While there may not be a lot of individual items to choose from, the fact of the matter is you’ll only be able to use a few in the heat of battle.
All the weapons and trinkets and armor at your fingertips doesn’t mean a dime if there is no enemy to go up against. As you trek through castles, forests, and cliffsides, the enemies that block your way are numerous. They hit hard and players will need to get acclimated to their attacks if they hope to survive. Brute forcing your way through an area is certainly an option, but the AI will make sure you’re not slacking. What is ultimately disappointing about the enemies sprawling throughout is the lack of variety. By the game’s end you’ll realize that there were only a handful of enemy types in your path and they didn’t pose much of a threat on their own.
What can be deadly is when enemies gang up on you and here's when the game is quite a challenge. Walking into an unsuspecting area only to be mobbed by a a pack of dogs is infuriating to be sure, but these encounters work to make sure you’re moving forward cautiously. If there is anything to be learned from engaging enemies in Bloodborne: patience and caution leads to victory. In the end, the enemies aren’t simple punching bags as one wrong move can spell death, and that’s how it should be.
Outside of the normal foes, the real challenge you will face are found in the game’s creative and - most of the time - massive bosses. There is a large pool of boss monsters and they all feel different from each other. It’s advised that you take control of the battle using the various mechanics at your disposal. For instance, the gun is extremely useful for humanoid bosses as you can initiate a Visceral Attack, a high-damaging counterattack. Other bosses will have gimmicks that require you to learn patterns and approach the fight differently. These encounters are largely unique and each foe will approach combat in its own way, making each fight a gratifying one. Bloodborne’s standout moments are definitely in these creative battles, and while some bosses are notably more difficult than others, they each fit well as a good change of pace when you’re trodding around Yharnam.
Chalice Dungeon is the most unique addition in Bloodborne that brings a new level of exploration not found frequently in RPGs. After you receive your first chalice, players have the ability to set them on an altar to create a randomly-generated dungeon unique to you as a player. The dangers inside number in a variety of enemy combinations, bosses, and traps but you can conquer these horrors with other players. Chalice Dungeons add a new sense of exploration, and a continued one, especially since you can share your Chalice Dungeon layout with your friends. The dungeon layouts are endless. The more friends you have, the more you have to explore. Unfortunately, and due to the nature of randomness, the dungeons don’t feel unique. They are more a means to an end when it comes to exploring. However if you’re looking for an exhilarating area with dangers to overcome with friends, then you will find it here.
One of the most defining elements of Bloodborne is the use of asynchronous and synchronous online gameplay elements that creates a more lively world. The stains of blood give a brief visual insight of the last moments in another player’s life. Often times this can be a boon as it can help you avoid your untimely death. On the flip side it can be frightening to know that you could very well die in the same manner as you’re unsure of what is truly coming your way. Players will also invade your world to hunt you down but at the same time they can come to assist you against powerful bosses. Interacting with players live is always refreshing especially when you know you’re not tackling a difficult journey alone.
Visually, Bloodborne isn’t the most impressive on a technical level but from an artistic standpoint it’s absolutely fabulous. The gothic buildings rise from the ground and oppressively look down on you. The castles and towers feel hauntingly creepy. At its core, the visual style of Bloodborne exhumes a style of the Victorian and Gothic times like no other games before it. To say that the game is artistically stunning would be a great disservice. Having said that, the game doesn’t push the console to its limits. Everything looks nice and crisp with the occasional bad looking texture here and there. The lighting feels realistic but unfortunately the reflection from liquids scattered on the floor doesn’t look as great. All in all, Blooodborne looks for the part of a new generation of consoles even if it takes quite a while for the game to load from zone to zone.
Bloodborne is a game that will grip you for months due to its tight gameplay mechanics and engrossing world. The weapons that are enjoyable to use offer numerous replay sessions and the unending capabilities from interacting with people online through the Chalice Dungeon will further increase its longevity. As phenomenal as this game is, it isn’t without problems. The game’s lack of enemy variety and challenge at many points in the game may disappoint Souls veterans. Whether you’re looking for a game that truly defines the pinnacle of the Souls series or the first true must-have next-gen PS4 game, then Bloodborne should be in your hands. Welcome hunters, to Yharnam.