Ok, it’s only fair that I start this review with a confession. I haven’t completed Bloodborne. At TwinStick Gaming we do endeavor to play a game to completion before offering our insights (in some cases, we may even acquire all trophies or achievements before giving you our perspective). However, there are hundreds of reviews from veterans of the Souls series out there, telling you how Bloodborne is Dark Souls 2’s ‘spiritual successor’ or the important ways that Bloodborne differs from the Souls games of the past. These reviews will bring you the nuanced inner workings of the stats system and tell you about the lack of encumbrance penalties and a hundred other things you may not understand.
I thought about writing my Bloodborne review after I cleared the game, but realise that could take me an exquisitely long time. So should I even be writing a Bloodborne review? Well, given that I approached this game with nervous trepidation – and am a total newcomer to the series with no previous knowledge of the series in any meaningful way – it occured to me that many of you may be in the same position of wondering if this game is right for you? So, yes, my position is a valid one. My review will take my perspective in the context of everything else you may have heard, or read, and perhaps tell you if this game is right for you: the newcomer.
Developed by From Software, Bloodborne is a game that needs almost no introduction. An action/adventure/RPG that either has people champing at the bit to play it, or gazing at its grisly beauty from afar, assuming it will be too hard for them. I WAS in that second camp, assuming I would suck at it – as I’m a decidedly average skilled gamer. However, Bloodborne is also a PS4 exclusive, of which there have been precious few and so I decided to pony up the coins and take a chance.
Graphically, it as every bit as gorgeous as people say, but in this age of HD quality trailers, ‘Let’s Plays’ and video reviews, you already knew that. It looks better when you’re the one in control – somehow the responsiveness of the controls brings the dark and dissonant world to life in a way that videos just don’t do justice.
I really need to impress on you, the newcomer, something that became abundantly clear within my first 2 hours and fifteen minutes (the specific timing will become clear shortly). Bloodborne is EVERY bit as hard as they say – HOWEVER, if you’re like me, it’s probably not actually as hard as YOU imagine. Make no mistake, I was scared of playing this game, as punishingly difficult games are not really my thing – or so I thought – and the thought of just not being able to get anywhere on a £50 game depressed me. Thus, in my head this game was going to be impossible to get into, impossible to finish, impossible to enjoy.
It IS hard. Hard enough that literally the first baddie I came across killed me – right in the face. I awoke in a different place than I expected as the game, for the first but not only time, introduced the fact that dying – is a mechanic. It’s part of the game. Once you accept that, it opens the door to more potential enjoyment.
Now, to explain the specificity of that timing by way of anecdotal evidence. For the first two hours of Bloodborne, I hacked, slashed and dodged my way down one street. Repeatedly. Every time I went down the street, I learnt something new. It might have been the location of the enemies,what a red lantern outside a door means (Not that! this isn’t GTA you know!) or that taking on three enemies at once at my skill level will lead to a swift death. I also learned to effectively use the dodge when taking on a single enemy and defeat him taking no damage at all, I learned that my short attacks were much quicker but less powerful than the long attacks and that I could cure myself with either blood vials dropped by enemies or by quickly attacking the enemy that had hit me to gain hit points back (the hair of the dog approach). I learned that my blunderbuss gun did no damage at all, but DID stagger my opponent leaving them open to a devastating attack from my saw-cleaver (the weapons in Bloodborne are varied and lethal once you get the hang of them).
I also learned that along with a red ‘health’ bar, I had a green ‘stamina’ bar that was drained when I did anything other than walk around, but refilled quickly when I walked or stood still. Granted I learnt this when I jumped into a fight with two baddies, mashed R1 like I was playing God of War, ran out of stamina then stood there like a pudding while they took me apart, but learning is learning!
I had to learn this, because the game doesn’t tell you anything. It doesn’t tell you who you are, where to go or what to use, you just figure stuff out as you go. This was very old school, but also very interesting to me. As a 32 year old gamer, I remember when all games had these kind of ideals and all stories were this vague. The mantra I adopted (both then and now) was that as long as I was dying in new ways each time, I was making progress.
Upon dying, your character is returned to the hub part of the world know as Hunter’s Dream. Here there are no enemies, but just as many secrets to discover. One of these secrets was the fact that I could buy and sell goods from what looked like a bird bath in a far off corner. It was around hour two that I made my greatest – and perhaps most important discovery to date.
As well as dying, you can also return to Hunter’s Dream voluntarily at one of the games seldom seen lamps. You can collect ‘Blood Echoes’ from fallen enemies and then use these like a currency for developing weapons, buying items (and levelling up your character, but I didn’t know that yet). When you die, you lose all your Blood Echoes and all the enemies reset. When you choose to return to Hunter’s Dream, yes the enemies all still reset, but you get to keep your Blood Echoes. So at hour two, I had a pocketful of echoes and returned to Hunter’s Dream to buy some fancy new equipment for my hunter. I bought a whole new outfit (the starting one is terrible) then decided to sell my old clothing for a few extra Blood Echoes. In doing so, I accidentally sold the pants I’d just bought back to the bird bath. Cursing my self, I then sold the old pants I had so I could afford to re-buy the new pants! When I went back to re-acquire my new pants, I discovered that was impossible.
I now, at 2 hours in, had a hunter with no pants. This was comical to me. But also frustrating. I’d spent two whole hours on this game achieving precious little and now had no pants. I could see no indication of if or when new pants would become available and wasn’t sure I wanted to continue this adventure in a pants-less manner?
I had three options. A) Sell stupid game I suck at back to the stupid store I got it from and never play another stupid souls game in my life. B) Carry on, pants-less. C) Start again. It was late, I was annoyed, but I decided to start again.
My experience the second time through was completely different in a way I would not have noticed had I not sold my pants by mistake. I was significantly better at the game. Having gained experience of how the game world works, gotten used to the controls and learned a little of the area I was in, I steamed through what I thought was ‘the first two hours of the game’ in about 15 minutes, getting myself to the same point, with better equipment, more Blood Echoes AND pants!
With my new found sense of confidence, I pressed on and discovered even more about Bloodborne’s mechanics. And another misconception was revealed. The idea that every death sets you back to your last save. This is only partially true. When you die, you’ll return to the last lantern you ignited or visited, the lanterns you use to travel to and from Hunter’s dream. You’ll have lost all your Blood Echoes, all the enemies will have returned to the area, but not ALL of your progress is gone. Bloodborne doesn’t use instant checkpoint saves like other games, it uses shortcuts instead.
What this means is that as you battle along, you’ll find doors that are locked, switches that won’t operate, etc. At some point as you progress, you’ll find a way to open that door (like a key, or appearing on the other side of the switch) this will give you a quicker way back to the lantern and, conversely, a quicker way to progress next time you die. This keeps the game challenging, but fair.
Likewise, boss fights don’t reset either. Once you kick the ass of the First Cleric or something such, that sucker stays dead. The hundreds of henchmen and two wild and giant wolves sadly DO reset. This actually turns out to be another crucial mechanic. See, when you meet a boss that just keeps ripping you apart, you can use the resetting underlings to grind out a bit of experience, replay a few sections and store up your Blood Echoes until you can level up your character and increase your health, stamina or skill with weapons (this works great through remote play if you have a Vita! Bosses are another story though, make sure you take them on playing on your PS4). Gather better equipment and upgrade your weapons, collect a full compliment of Blood Vials (you can store up to 20 on your person and 99 in Hunter’s Dream). Now when you return to fight that boss, you’ve got a much better chance!
My experience of Bloodborne is that it isn’t just hard, it is challenging. This means that when you progress you actually feel like you have accomplished something. When you discover a shortcut, you feel like you just through yourself a life-line and when you beat a boss and light the next lantern – giving you permanent progress, you feel like a king!
There are no other games that have left me feeling this accomplished before finishing them in a very long time. The fact that you are given a world to discover and never given a hand to guide you or an arrow telling you where to go is actually a refreshing change for modern games. Triple-A games are seldom given much credit for taking any chances these days and it’s not hard to see why. It’s also becoming very clear why people are making such a fuss about the Souls games –because they do.
Has Bloodborne inspired me to go back and play the other games in the Souls series? Honestly, probably not. However, I am hopelessly addicted to the challenge and experiences I’m having with Bloodborne. I have fallen in love with its world, its challenge and the fact that I’m required to use some of my own imagination to really flesh out the story of my hunter character. I haven’t finished Bloodborne, I’m not likely to for a very long time, but I’m enjoying existing in the world of Yarnham (well, city really) so much that I know I’ll be very sad to see this game come to an end.
Is Bloodborne for you? Only you will know that, and you’ll only know for certain by playing it. My advice is to take the chance like I did, you might discover a love of your own; remember it IS as hard as everyone says, but probably not as hard as you think it is; and finally, most importantly, do not sell your pants.
Richard is a father, teacher, gamer and writer. He believes that The Last of Us and Olli Olli 2 are the finest games ever made, feels that the StarWars Saga should only be watched in ‘the Machete order’ and once cleared Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in one sitting. Took him 20 hours, four cups of tea and a sausage roll. You can follow him on twitter @TLOUFactionsMP or @VigilanteSanta and view his occasional twitch outbursts on twitch.tv/spooklebeans.