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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Versions tested: PlayStation 4
Disclaimer: A copy of this game was provided to RPG Site by the publisher.