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Bloodborne broke me, and I love it.

I must have ragequit more than 20 times over the course of two full playthroughs – I ran through my entire lexicon of curse words and invented a few more. But even after the New Game Plus Darkbeast Paarl fight almost reduced me to tears, Bloodborne is still the best Next-Gen game I’ve experienced.

My first five hours or so in Yharnam were the same as everyone’s: a cavalcade of misery and failure. There is no tutorial or slow introduction – you create your placid-faced traveler and set to work getting pummeled into the dirt. The first enemies you encounter can and will take you down in just a few hits, making caution a real virtue in Bloodborne. While there is a shield to be found, Bloodborne’s combat is not about blocking and waiting for a chance to strike, instead it is more of a chaotic dance. The dodge is king in Bloodborne – even the weakest enemies require you to find a rhythm in their attacks that you can get around to do real damage.

Helping the rhythm of the combat is the “reclaim system” – when you are damaged you have a short window of time where you can get that lost health back by doing damage. It provides an effective risk/reward incentive to keep the pace of the combat up and stop players from constantly fleeing battle to lick their wounds. When you get a handle on the combat and find that rhythm, the combat is immensely satisfying. When you lose that rhythm along with a 3rd of your health, it can become garment-rendingly frustrating.

Shockingly, it gets bloody!

Shockingly, it gets bloody!

And that’s the monstrous, blood-plague infected elephant in the room. Yes, Bloodborne is snap-your-controller hard but it is the good kind of hard. There aren’t many cases where I thought the game was being “cheap”. All the enemies hit hard, and you will die a lot in the early stages, but there aren’t instant-kill attacks or bosses that don’t conform to the defined systems. It’s definitely a challenge, but never one that feels like it is trying to punish you unjustly. Bloodborne follows its own rules, which are cruel, but ultimately fair.

The weapons of Bloodborne are diverse and interesting. They range from simple swords, axes and spears to bizarre, such as an explosive “stake driver”, a combination sword/hammer and a cane that deploys into a whip. They are known as “trick weapons” as each one has a secondary mode; the hunter axe handle extends to two-handed or a sword slots into a larger haft to form the massive Kirkhammer. The system is inventive and helps to build the lore around the hunters in the world of Bloodborne.

Hunters also carry a gun in their left hand but firearms in Bloodborne are not the offensive weapons one would expect. Bullets do slightly more damage than sneezes to the werewolves of Yharnam, which is both unexpected and hilariously embarrassing the first time it happens. When you attempt to open fire on the shambling wolfman headed toward you and are subsequently stabbed with a pitchfork, you’ll feel more than a little stupid. Director Hidetaka Miyazaki has said this was a choice to avoid players relying on them too much in combat but it feels odd for my super upgraded blunderbuss to feel like tossing banana peels at the massive spider encroaching on me.

The guns are mainly for show.

The guns are mainly for show.

The world of Bloodborne is a beautiful and atmospheric one to be sure. The environments are diverse and well crafted, ranging from the gothic city of Yharnam, forests and labyrinths to a frozen castle and a realm of nightmares. The underused Victorian setting lends a great sense of atmosphere to the game, giving the entire experience a great ambiance that only helps with the turn the story takes towards the second half. There are a few great graphical inclusions that help immersion: hunters will become covered in blood after fights and clothes react realistically to gravity. These touches wouldn’t be missed if they weren’t there, but they really speak to the level of effort put into the graphics. There are a few mild clipping issues with the character models and weapons but not enough to hurt the experience.

The story of Bloodborne is obtusely compelling. It starts in medias res with the player character arriving in the city of Yharnam seeking a cure for an unspecified ailment. You arrive to find that the entire town is afflicted with a plague causing beastlike transformations. From there the story is primarily told through item descriptions and the occasional note found in the world. It is an effective system that lets the story play out organically but it can occasionally work against the game, as if you miss key information, you might have no idea why you’re fighting this electric skeleton werewolf. The story is helped by the “Insight” mechanic; Insight is a resource you accumulate throughout the game that allows your character to better understand the world around them. To go further would lead into spoilers but the use of Insight helps provide a great angle for a story that takes an awesome turn in the latter half.

Bloodborne might scare off some players with its reputation as frustrating enough to destroy marriages, but if you can get past the difficulty, there is an extremely satisfying game there. Bloodborne has immensely satisfying, deep combat, an excellent, if dense story all wrapped up in a gorgeous world. While I wouldn’t go as far as to call it a system seller, if you have a PS4, you owe it to yourself to play Bloodborne.

9.0
 

Amazing

Summary

Bloodborne is a fantastic game any way you slice it. If you can deal with the odd ragequit, Bloodborne should be on any PS4 owner's must play list.


Wyatt Hnatiw

Staff Writer

Wyatt Hnatiw is a lifelong gamer with a borderline inappropriate love of BioWare RPGs and Bioshock. Maybe he just loves the prefix Bio...



  • Sinikal

    Maybe its just me, but all these talk about From Software’s Demon Souls, Dark Souls I/II and Bloodborne being difficult, and using that as a selling point, does not resonate well with me.

    While I do agree that they’re great games, but the amount of ‘THIS GAME IS SO HARD YET SO GOOD’ is unexpected. I feel that its difficulty was unnecessarily hyped. In fact, having played DSI/II, I was disappointed considering all that talk about difficulty. The game felt… normal. It was good, not perfect, but nothing special.

    Eh, maybe its just my upbringing. Having played Megaman X during the Gameboy colour years to STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl on Master difficulty, maybe I’m not spoiled enough yet to appreciate what makes From’s games so special (read: “difficult”).

    *Just wanna add that the world of Bloodborne feels too monotone for my taste. Not as bad as Skyrim, but it needs a bit of a colour boost.

    *Also wanna add that I’ve spent a significant part of my ‘gaming’ time playing simulations like FIA GTR2 and IL-2 Sturmovik 1946. If you think Bloodborne is difficult enough to destroy marriages, try committing ONE HOUR of piloting an A6M5, staying in formation with your leader, navigate through low-visibility weather, commit a ground assault to Pearl Harbour, survive, navigate back to your aircraft carrier, and finally attempt to land safely on said aircraft-carrier. All of this for one hour, but then you failed on the last part about landing safely.

  • Garbagio Dumpsterino

    I wish you wouldn’t use numbered scores, but this was a really well-written review and it explores what I feel should be relevant while being humorous. 9/10

  • Garbagio Dumpsterino

    I’m in the same boat, but I’ve grown soft along with games. This and others like Super Meat Boy do bring about a nostalgic feeling of challenge.

  • Wyatt Hnatiw

    I hear ya. I’d say the “its so punishing, its a true test of being a gamer, heres how many deaths there are worldwide” is mostly just a sort of memetic marketing.

    Bloodborne is quite hard, but the difficulty isn’t the reason its good. I’d say I knew it was great because when I finished it, I started to read theories about the story, I realized that I had missed huge chunks of content, and that I wanted to play through it again to experience that rather than read about it. In a game this tough that was a big moment for me.

  • Raziel Barkrai

    Yeah, as much as I like Dark Souls, I didn’t like that the main selling point was that it was difficult. It feels like after its success people started calling their games “the Dark Souls of (insert game genre here)” because they deliberately made it hard, or making comparisons to other games to Dark Souls because they both somehow have similar mechanics or something (usually phrased as “it’s like Dark Souls BUT”). I think people are confusing the series’ difficulty with the developers expecting the players to be able to figure things out for themselves and adapt to different situations.

  • Some people have a difficult time (but not as difficult as Dark Souls, amirite?!) articulating why they like the series without reverting to what sounds like a cross between marketing jargon and a meme. No biggie though.

  • Top draw stuff, I’m gutted it isn’t out for PC!

  • coboney

    I think some of it has to do with the amount of handholding a lot of games do these days and Dark Souls tends to be more hands off – it provides you the basic tools introducution and lets you find your way from there mostly. It allows the game to use subtlety in many ways – in area design by not making maps and such they can make things very connected or have different paths around, in story because they aren’t forcefeeding it in cutscenes – instead in exploration and scenery much of the time.

    While the gloves off approach applies to combat and difficulty – where it can be challenging – it also applies to so much more in it.

  • Wyatt Hnatiw

    Yeah thats a tough one, Sony co-developed it with From Software, so a PC version is a bit more of a longshot than it would have been in the past.

    I talked about this a bit in this editorial: http://techraptor.net/content/stop-complaining-gamer-entitlement, there is a “give us a PC port” petition out there and those petitions have worked on From Software in the past but the issue this time is that that petition sounds like it was written by a child and a PC port would require Sony to sign off on it.

    Never say never though my pc master race friends!

  • Just shy of 40,000 signatures now. 40,000 wallets, crying out for Bloodborne!

  • SevTheBear

    Thank you for the review. Have played Demon and the Dark Souls games I sure will this one to.

  • Sinikal

    The Emperor wants Bloodborne. None can deny his will.

  • Crizzyeyes

    From actually intends for players to talk about the game outside of playing the game. The unintuitive-ness is intentional because they expect you to communicate with other people about the game. Whether this is good or bad is your call, but that was the intention, from what I understand. Messages are only one part of that.

  • Adam Astles

    We got a badass here!

  • Adam Astles

    It will come out, right after the PC release of Demon’s Souls.