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.
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 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.
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.