From Software’s Bloodborne, arguably one of the best games for the PS4, is now free for PSN subscribers to download and grind through. I never reviewed the game when it came out back in 2015, but I did play it through to completion, having no prior experience with a From Software game. It was an experience whose themes, ideas and story beats burrowed into my mind. I played this game obsessively and, when each play session was over, I spent a bit more time digging into the games obtuse and oft-convoluted lore.
It is best to view Bloodborne as a jig-saw puzzle of intricate and well-designed pieces which, when they fall into place, forms a stellar combination of world design that is both famed for its artistry and interconnectivity.
What you will find initially is that Bloodborne does not welcome newcomers with a pat on the head and a rub of your belly. Its first moments can be overwhelming and it will be tempting to put down the controller and give up. But like anything that demands practice, patience and a certain degree of skill, it starts to feel easier. I say feel not because the gameplay lets up at any point, but because the game throws so much at you in its early stages it becomes a flight or flight scenario. You can turn the game off without putting in the work or persevere through the rage-quit until it clicks in to place.
Most of your first few hours with Bloodborne – if you’re like me – will be spent dying over and over while you try to make sense of the grammar, mechanics and stylistic choices behind a From Software RPG. In fact, the entirety of the first few hours are designed in such a way to teach you that you are not an overpowered beast and that Bloodborne is a game whose rules you need to obey. This is demonstrable early in the game when you encounter fifteen or so low-level enemies in a fairly small location. Players used to typical hack-and-slash style games would expect to rush in and make short work but in Bloodborne, such tactics will never get you far – even low-level enemies can make quick work of you. From this, Bloodborne teaches you how to fight the way it wants you to fight and you will learn through failure and scaling back your confidence until your skill-level is where it needs to be to take on multiple foes.
Once you’re through these opening moments, the game will start to drip-feed its narrative to you but the story is not clear cut. The few cut scenes offered to you contain hardly any dialogue, outside of a few obtuse and cryptic sentences. The story is also told to you through text via interactive objects. Speaking to NPCs is also a good way to find out more about the lore and backstory, but their dialogue is just as verbose and enigmatic as their cut-scene counterparts. Everything Bloodborne does to tell its story is unconducive and not how we normally expect narrative and context to be delivered in a videogame and this fits with the design-philosophy of Bloodborne: You have to work for it.
That the narrative is so hard to get to grips with fuels the mysticism that pervades Yharnam, the sprawling Victorian era inspired city which serves as the setting for Bloodborne. It is an atmospheric place and you’ll visit a myriad of locations featuring towering ornate, gothic architecture with spiralling cathedrals, cobble-stone streets and grand, wide bridges and roads, lined with carts and recently slain horses. Forbidden forests and nightmare realms exist outside the city where more sinister horrors lie waiting for you to stumble upon them. Its scenery is horrifying and twisted yet, through impeccable and imaginative art design, striking and beautiful.
Such an intriguing and haunting journey, one whose purpose seems almost incomprehensible but once you’re deep into the thick of it, you’ll want to see it through to the end.
Bloodborne, despite having a tougher barrier of entry to pass through than most games is one of the more accessible From Software titles. Those who had tried and failed to get into Dark Souls often cited reasons like the variety and large volume of armour and weapon classes were frustratingly time consuming to understand and certain load-outs would only work in certain situations. The thing with Bloodborne is that, yes there are different armours and outfits you can pick up but you’re not so dependent on them. Some have different skill buffs that are better than others but, for the most part, you can choose an armour set purely for its aesthetics and you will almost have the same experience, dependent on how good you are, that is.
As for weapons, there are fewer to choose from although this is more than compensated for with the introduction of ‘trick-weapons’. In short, you can use a weapon one-handed to land quick, nimble attacks or extend it to give your foes a whack, albeit at a slower rate which leaves you vulnerable to your much faster adversaries. Combat moves at a fast and frantic pace compared to the methodical and measured style of Dark Souls titles. Offensive combat strategies are encouraged and you won’t find many shields. The one you do find, however, is presented as a bit of a joke.
Instead, you rely on dodges, rolls and parries. To execute a parry, you can hold a gun in your left hand when your weapon is not extended. Simply time your gun shot when your enemy goes for the attack and go in for a charged strike when their stunned. I say ‘simply,’ but mastering the timing behind the parry, much like everything else in Bloodborne, takes time and practice. Really, your success will come down to understanding your weapon, your foes attack pattern and style, and timing those dodges and parries. When it all comes together, combat is fluid, swift and artful – like a deathly dance.
It is best to view Bloodborne as a jig-saw puzzle of intricate and well-designed pieces which, when they fall into place, forms a stellar combination of world design that is both famed for its artistry and interconnectivity. Its controls are, paradoxically, complex and streamlined. There is a dearth of intriguing backstory and lore which you can soak up or ignore completely without too much of a hindrance on the end experience. Bloodborne’s difficulty, you may have read or heard many times before, manages the balance between challenge, reward and fairness so well that failure, although it comes often, never feels cheep and success, when it does occur, feels well earned.
The thing is, if you don’t give Bloodborne the chance it deserves you won’t ever get to taste that reward. Such an intriguing and haunting journey, one whose purpose seems almost incomprehensible but once you’re deep into the thick of it, you’ll want to see it through to the end. Be prepared to grind, prepared to try and prepared to die.