Bloodborne is the latest PS4 exclusive game from Sony. It’s also the latest title from Hidetaka Miyazaki and FROM Software. If either of those names ring a bell you’ve probably played their earlier titles Dark Souls, and Dark Souls 2. I’ll confess I haven’t played either of these games, but I am aware of their reputation. FROM Software games are lauded for being extremely challenging to play, packed with monstrous enemies that are very difficult to kill, games with high levels of frustration, but yet somehow satisfying to certain masochistic gamers.
Bloodborne is set in a new world, created by Japan Studio (the development group of Sony), so it’s not directly related to Mr Miyazaki’s earlier games, but rather a refinement of the Dark Souls experience. It’s set in and around the cursed city of Yharnam, a place where some of the inhabitants have shut themselves in their homes and will only whisper at you through their locked doors, but where most folks seems to have gone mad with some kind of blood borne disease. After a rather creepy introduction you’re set loose in this city as a Hunter – although initially it’ll feel considerably more like you’re the hunted. There’s a nice indication at the start of the game that you might be facing quite a challenge, as your first encounter with a monster is basically set up to guarantee you die (with good reason fortunately)!
The city looks marvelously dark and gothic, with a wealth of detail and interactable objects. The graphics contribute wonderfully to the nightmarish quality of the whole game, as do the ambient sound effects. Character and monster design is lovely too, with all sorts of angry, mis-shapen freaks to battle against. You can customise your character to your heart’s content, but there’s only a few choices that will have any actual in-game effect and Bloodborne will helpfully tell you when that’s the case. The frame rate is also rock solid, with no issue displaying handfuls of enemies on screen. One minor annoyance is the game camera can sometimes be problematic, particularly if you’re battling a large enemy in a confined space. This can be an unnecessary frustration during already tense battles.
Combat is different in Bloodborne from the earlier Dark Souls games, encouraging and rewarding the player for close in engagement. Early in the game you’re presented with a choice of weaponry, a close combat weapon for your right hand, and a firearm for your left. A firearm might sound nice, but it’s a slow firing, relatively weak weapon that you mainly use to get the attention of certain enemies, or while battling them, stun them to set them up for devastating close in attacks (this takes a considerable amount of practice to master). Your close combat weapon can transform between two modes, the default mode is generally a slower, stronger attack which is good against single enemies, and the other mode is a more sweeping, weaker attack which is good for dealing with multiple enemies. You’re encouraged to stay in combat because the game has a reward system, where if an enemy injuries you, if you can retaliate quickly enough, you can regain some of your health. This leads to you wanting to keep fighting, carefully timing your attacks and dodges, and hoping to recover any damage you’ve taken with a well timed attack.
In practice combat in Bloodborne is often a brutal, bloody affair quickly leading to your death. This is particularly true each time you encounter a new type of monster, because you’ll be unaware of how they attack and what kind of patterns they use in combat. You will die, a lot. Unfortunately each time you die, you’ll lose your ‘Blood Echoes’ which are basically what you’re awarded for succeeding in combat, and are vital for purchasing and repairing your equipment, and levelling up your character stats. You can recover them though, by going back and killing the dirty monster that took them off you. This in itself will be a challenge, because all the creatures in the level will respawn when you die.
Describing it like this makes Bloodborne sound frustrating, and it certainly can be at times. However it can also be an immensely tense affair as you struggle to fight your way back to where you were before, and then surprisingly rewarding when you ultimately defeat that next monster or boss to advance through the game. Bloodborne is definitely a challenging game, which a fairly brutal opening difficulty level that may turn off a lot of players. However Bloodborne is also a very cleverly designed game that will reward perseverance, careful, considered play and exploration. The level design is also superb, and again it rewards exploration as you’ll typically find yourself finding new routes and shortcuts through a given level which will make your next life easier after your impending death. There’s a lot of gameplay here too, with your actual game hours varying wildly depending on your skill, with 40 hours or so not being uncommon. There is definitely an interesting story in Bloodborne too, amongst all the combat, but you’ll have to figure it out yourself because it won’t be presented in tidy cutscenes. It also has RPG elements in the way you can upgrade your character statistics, clothing and weaponry.
Bloodborne also has a good amount of replay value, and an online mode. Replay comes in the form of the ‘New Game Plus’ mode which is an even harder version of the game you’ll unlock once finishing it. There are also randomly generated ‘Chalice Dungeons’ which you can unlock by finding and using chalices within the main game. You can also share these randomly generated dungeons with your friends. Online play is managed through a simple match-making system of requesting help in your game by using a certain item. This will allow up to another two players to join your game. This system is a little hit and miss because you have no idea if anybody will join, but generally Bloodborne players seem a pretty helpful bunch, so if somebody does elect to join your game they’ll most likely be friendly. If not you can dismiss them and return to solo play by simply using another inventory item. There’s also an online PVP mode, where in certain parts of the Bloodborne world you can elect to battle up to two other players if you want.
A gaming friend who has played Dark Souls 2 compared FROM Software games to arthouse cinema. In that it’s something of an acquired taste that won’t appeal to everybody. I think that’s probably a fair comment, although Bloodborne seems to be more accessible than FROM Software’s earlier titles. Bloodborne is also refreshingly different from any other PS4 exclusive we’ve seen to date and disturbingly addictive once it sinks its hooks into you. You’ll find yourself playing it for hours just to see if you can defeat that next blasted boss monster, or find a handy secret pathway around the next corner.
Reviewed on: PS4
Rating: R16 Contains violence and horror
Reviewed by: Stu