Bloodborne: The Old Hunters Review
Bloodborne is considered by many to be the first "killer app" on the PS4, and for good reason. Hidetaka Miyazaki and his team at From Software have a habit of creating ripples in the water of today's AAA game industry -- if ripples were tidal waves meant to crush players into the ground that is. Yes just when everyone thought they had mastered Bloodborne, the first major expansion is here to remind us just how puny we are. Bloodborne: The Old Hunters brings a greater challenge than before, a plethora of new content, and catapults an already amazing game even further into the realm of excellence.
As with all the DLC expansions From Software has released for the Souls series, The Old Hunters is much more difficult than the base game. I decided to enter the DLC with my most powerful character that was about half way through a New Game +4 playthrough. In my own ignorance, I expected to blow through The Old Hunters with relative ease with my over-leveled character. My confidence was shattered about 10 minutes into The Old Hunters as several standard enemy types tested my mettle more so than most bosses in the base game.
To put it bluntly, The Old hunters is difficult, very difficult even. The first boss you encounter is arguably the hardest From Software has ever produced. This very review is over a week late because I had so much trouble defeating the final boss of the DLC. Normally I would not discuss difficulty so much as I believe there's so much more to this game than the difficulty pushed in the marketing. It's important to stress however that you should at the very least complete everything in the base game before attempting The Old Hunters. This expansion is made for the most dedicated of Bloodborne players, and is meant to be endgame content so don't go in ill-prepared.
As a bit of a heads up, if you plan to jump into The Old Hunters on a new game +2, 3, 4 and so on; just know that it is ridiculously tough. My experience on new game +4 was that nearly every boss killed me in 1 or 2 hits with most of their attacks, whereas the bosses in the base game dealt nowhere close to that amount of damage. I'd almost recommend starting a new character, that is unless you enjoy tearing your hair out of course!
Though despite the difficult battles found in The Old Hunters, it is in some ways more forgiving than Bloodborne is as a whole. In the Souls games and the base game of Bloodborne, part of the challenge of defeating a boss was making it through a zone with enough supplies to take on the boss effectively. Demon's Souls in particular had the habit of putting you through massive gauntlets between the closest archstone and the boss.
However in The Old Hunters, almost every boss has a lantern very close by and in one case it's literally right outside the boss' fog door. The placement of items is very much in the players favor as well. One of the bosses has an enemy right outside its fog door that drops 5 blood vials (the primary healing item) every time it's killed. It's almost as if From Software knew that these bosses were incredibly difficult, so they didn't want players to face half of a level before inevitably attempting a boss again. It's a kind gesture, but ultimately I think it dilutes boss fights to a degree. Part of the reason people love these games is the sense of satisfaction that comes from overcoming great adversity, and when you make it easier to get back to bosses, some of that is lost.
If you are curious as to whether or not The Old Hunters is either a short small slice of DLC or a full on expansion, it is thankfully the latter. My first playthrough latest around 20 hours, and I didn't even get all of the new weapons or defeat a particular hidden boss. In total there are 5 additional bosses, 4 new locations to explore, 16 new weapons, and an assortment of new armor sets. There's a lot of content in The Old Hunters - the numbers don't lie.
A big criticism of Bloodborne when it came out was that there was not that many weapons, especially compared to Dark Souls, even though all of the main hand weapons had transformable states and very imaginative designs. As mentioned earlier, The Old Hunters adds 16 new weapons to the game, and each is as overflowing with creativity as what is in the base game. To explain the functionality of each one would give away the surprise, so I'll just talk about my personal favorite: Simon's Bowblade. The first state for this weapon is a fast one handed blade, and when you transform it, it becomes a small bow attached to the wrist. The way you can tether combos together with this weapon is a real delight, hacking away at a foe then dashing backwards to hit them with an arrow at a distance. Some fans were concerned when the first trailer for Old Hunters came out and it featured this bow weapon and a shield, as the staple of Bloodborne has always been aggressive in your face combat. Thankfully all the new weapons are unobtrusive to the experience.
The new environments in the expansion are among the very best in the game. Each one is incredibly dense and littered with an almost frightening amount of hidden paths and areas. Make sure to really take your time and explore, as it is very easy to miss out on a lot of interesting content if you just bolt through the main campaign. Most of the new weapons are quite off the beaten path in particular, so a keen eye for detail should be employed at all times.
Probably the biggest upgrade from the Dark Souls series to Bloodborne is the score. Not that the soundtrack for Dark Souls was bad, far from it, but it's hard to compete with the choir and orchestra that composers had at their disposal this time around. The Old Hunters music is just as wonderful as anything in the base game. The track 'Ludwig, The Accursed & Holy Blade' in particular is just a stellar piece that really amplifies the tension of the situation you find yourself in when it plays.
Where The Old Hunters falls short though is its failure to address some larger problems that Bloodborne has had since launch. For one, the game is still plagued with some truly terrible framerate issues, particularly in co-op. This may be an issue with the engine itself, but regardless it's a little inexcusable for the game to still be dipping into the single digits at times.
To add to that, the resonant bell system used for co-op is still far too slow. One of my favorite things to do in Bloodborne is to help new players with difficult situations, but if you choose to help others (or need help) you'll spend a lot of time just sitting around waiting for the matchmaking system to pair you off. It's quite a shame these issues are still in the game after all this time.
Doing a review for one of Hidetaka Miyazaki's games is probably far more challenging than anything thrown at you in the games themselves. Part of the allure of a title like Bloodborne is the mystery around every corner, and it's hard to not gush about all the horrors you encounter. So all you really need to know is Bloodborne: The Old Hunters is for enthusiasts, the kind of player that's pumped hundreds of hours into the game already and is frothing at the mouth like a wild beast for more. If you weren't into Bloodborne at launch, The Old Hunters wont change your mind. However if you spent many a night on the streets of Yharnam, then you'll be right at home in the hunter's nightmare.