Gamers from around the world eventually grew to fall in love with From Software's Souls series. It took a while, but the unmitigated genius of its design would not go uncelebrated for long. Years later and with a little less Dungeons & Dragons and a lot more surreal horror, From Software has accomplished something quite special with Bloodborne. As I have finally inched my way to the completion of this phenomenal game, at long last I feel comfortable with reviewing it. So, grab your saw cleaver and let's slay some beasts!
Bloodborne begins with an unexplained sequence involving some sort of procedure being done to you while you lay there and witness horrifying creatures surrounding your body. You quickly come to the realization that you're a hunter whose job it is to slaughter beasts. However, some of the first enemies that you encounter appear human (or, at least, ex-human) and even speak English as you end their lives. Almost nothing makes sense but that only ends up arousing your curiosity even more. As events unfold, Bloodborne becomes less about hunters versus beasts and more about an abstract series of unspeakable horrors portrayed through disturbing imagery. Even after you finish it, you won't have any idea what you just went through. It's the definition of a playable nightmare and will have you asking countless questions for days after putting it down. Who am I? Who are the enemies that I've slain? Am I a beast? Have I been committing innumerable atrocities? Is the entire game merely a fever dream of a psychopath who's locked in an asylum somewhere? It's questions like these that'll leave you hooked until the bitter end.
Although Bloodborne opts for a horror theme, it isn't necessarily scary. Sure, the odd enemy jumps out at you from behind a corner, but unlike most horror games; you won't tense up at every step. Instead, the horror in Bloodborne is much more psychological and deeply disturbing. Imagery such as demons composed of amalgamated human body parts and weeping women covered in blood are difficult to cleanse yourself of. This unsettling atmosphere is amplified within the journey's darkly lit environments and eerie audio. You'll travel through several medieval towns, castles, and cathedrals; all of which are barren and decrepit. Few locations such as forests, swamps, and plains deviate from the norm, but the unified cohesiveness of the adventure remains mostly unchanged. Creepy sounds including distant growls and off-key singing subtly alert you to the inevitable dangers ahead. As you slash and shoot your foes, the effect of tearing flesh is both gratifying yet distressing. Music only seems to play during key moments as the majority of your quest is carried out in silence. The lack of accompanying soundtrack intensifies the mystery of not knowing what's around the corner. Overall, Bloodborne does an excellent job of establishing atmosphere through its painstakingly detailed graphics and consistently sinister soundscape.
Bloodborne is played similarly to the Souls series. Fighting enemies is akin to dancing where you observe your opponent and move in time to their rhythm in order to avoid being hit while engaging them when they're vulnerable. This time around, combat is more immediately involving and fast-paced. After receiving damage, you can retaliate and potentially gain all of the health that you just lost back if you do so effectively. This push-and-pull dynamic adds a layer of urgency to an already intense combat system. Another aspect that Bloodborne differentiates itself with is weaponry. More often than not, you'll be equipped with a melee weapon and a gun. Instead of blocking attacks with a shield then slashing away, you'll find yourself using your gun to stagger your foes before the slashing commences. Being able to merely progress requires a great deal of skill and patience. The brutal difficulty of even the most mundane encounters may be insurmountable to casual gamers, but the payoff for overcoming the challenge is incredible.
If you expect Bloodborne to deliver the same level of diversity that the Souls series contains then you might be disappointed with what it brings to the table. As previously mentioned, the areas that you'll explore mostly look the same and have little deviation. This ends up making the journey more cohesive but it also feels repetitive at times. Furthermore, with only 25 obtainable weapons, you won't end up acquiring a vast armory collection. However, an interesting mechanic is the fact that weapons can transform on the fly. You can place a sword inside of a giant hammer head to create a massive blunt instrument of death, retract and extend blades, and turn canes into chain whips and swords into scythes. It's pretty impressive what your small arsenal is capable of. Of course, you have a multitude of methods to level up including attaching gems to and upgrading weapons, handing over your earned blood echoes (that act like souls), equipping accessories known as runes, and purchasing new sets of armour. That being said, the possibilities for character creation in earlier From Software titles were a lot more advanced whereas Bloodborne is restricting in comparison. This results in being unable to create characters such as magic users and over-armoured "tanks". Instead, most characters only end up being slight variations from each other.
Bloodborne features some extra content besides just a single player adventure. You can cooperate with a couple other hunters by summoning them with a bell. This is a great way to tackle the incredibly challenging bosses and it creates a spirit of comradery even though you may be playing with strangers. Whenever a "sinister" bell is rung, players can invade your game and try to end your life. This multiplayer system is certainly usable but it was much more robust and intuitive in the Souls series. If you want to take a break from the main quest, you can perform a "Chalice Ritual" to create a randomly generated dungeon to explore. This is a fantastic way to add replay value since traversing the unknown is something that From Software's fans are prone to love.
One thing about Bloodborne that persistently made me frustrated throughout the journey wasn't the high degree of difficulty but the general confusion of what to do in certain situations. Almost nothing is explained to you in-game which would be perfectly fine if such abstract feats didn't have to be tackled so frequently. There's a great deal of moments that fit this description but I'll just go over a few. The first is simply not knowing where to go next. At times, you get keys and unlock doors to advance which is fairly straightforward, but other times the moon changes colour then a new path in some arbitrary location suddenly opens. If you didn't use a guide then you would have no choice but to run around the entire game world leaving no stone unturned merely to progress a bit further. Another irritating moment is when you forgo some missable content for no logical explanation. At one point, I entered a forest and for some reason that made a character disappear from their location only to become hostile much later in the game. Why would taking a stroll in the woods affect someone who's miles away? Finally, sometimes you die without knowing why. In one area, I kept being inflicted with "frenzy" which takes large chunks of your health away. After reading a guide, I found out that this was caused by a small orange glowing window in the distance. How could I have possibly known that? Moments like these are inexcusably annoying.
Although Bloodborne may have a deficiency when it comes to variety and plenty of indefensibly irritating segments, the overall sense of satisfaction in the deeply deranged world will surely and slowly sink its teeth into you until the wee hours of the morning.
- + The disturbingly haunting world is brilliantly crafted from start to finish
- + Brutal yet ultimately satisfying challenge
- + Chalice Dungeons add tons of replay value
- - Lacks diversity when it comes to environments, weapons, and character builds
- - Plenty of confusing moments make reading a guide necessary in order to progress