- PlayStation 4
It starts, yet again intriguing and obscure: you arrive at a gothic city of Yharnam. It is plagued with a strange sickness: citizens are slowly mutating into very werewolfy-looking beasts. They lurk at nights through the streets holding torches and pitchforks, gathering in large crowds and muttering something about a curse. But that you’ll know once you’re out of this room with the boarded windows and a maniacally grinning doctor, who covers his eyes with bandages. He’s preparing you for a blood transfusion. Did you even want this? Doesn’t matter, everything starts fading to black. Before the darkness completely consumes you, creepy skeleton-like creatures crawl out of the corners, covering you with their bodies. You wake up. The friendly doctor is nowhere to be seen.
There’s some note about the blood lying around, not really helping. Everything’s about the blood here. You suspenders hang ridiculously loose. There are no weapons and nowhere to go but out. You pass one room and find yourself in a bigger one. The exit to the streets is right before you, but there is a tiny problem here. That tiny problem is chewing up on some unlucky corpse and has not intention to let you pass. So you die. And that’s how you get to the central hub of the game: Hunter’s Dream. What else did you expect? A typical review of this game will mention Dark Souls more often than its own title after all.
You can actually deal with that seemingly impassable obstacle with your bare hands. Just circle around and punch it to death if you wish so. There’s no reward though: it’s to remind yourself that you’re still a proud veteran who’s had dealt with From Software’s games before. This new one is not so different. Souls are now blood echoes, blood stains are replaced with little tombstones. From a gameplay standpoint it’s all the same stuff. Those skeletal creatures from the spooky opening scene surround the lanterns (which have replaced bonfires) and deliver messages. It provides a little more substance than magical soapstones to the whole multiverse concept of multiplayer-inside-your-singleplayer experience. So what is it? Just a lazy reskin, a rehash of all the previous games? Are they selling you the stuff you’ve already bought a few times? Well, yes and no.
Sometimes the game goes back to the very start. There’s once again no renewable source of health points: Estus Flask is gone, you have to stack up that blood vials like you did with grasses in Demon’s Souls. This time there is even no tiers of healing items. Bloodborne removes lots of components that don’t quite work with the new concept of rash visceral combat. Heavy armor, shields, off-hand weapon — gone. Even the equipment weight system is reduced to a rudimentary invisible stat that isn’t displayed anywhere (and most players won’t even notice that it exists).
The number of weapons is significantly smaller than in Souls, but this time every work tool is absolutely unique. Light and strong attacks are now chained into combos, and sometimes in transformed state there is a third attack in addition to the usual two. What is the aforementioned transformed state? That is the reason all main-hand weapons are called “trick weapons”. At any time (and that includes mid-attack) you can unfold your measly short sword into an impressive gigantic claymore, buff your mace with electricity or split one blade in two. And let’s not forget that there is a firearm in your left hand. Its purpose varies from a simple staggering and parrying device to a scary lethal long-range destroyer. And to spice things up now there’s a short period of time after you receive damage when your health bar will turn from red to orange. If you’ll be quick enough with your attacks you can restore that health. The window of opportunity is small, attacks deplete stamina bar and your character is even more mortal than before. One wrong decision in the heat of the action and that familiar red YOU DIED will appear on the screen. Of course that applies to enemies too. This urges you to think on your feet and react fast. Finally, those iconic combat rolls of the game series now only work if you don’t lock on the opponent — if you do they’ll turn into a sidestepping. Fights now look like a real dance of death with opponents circling around each other seeking for an opportunity.
Faster pace and aggressive combat don’t change the fact that the game world is gigantic and treacherous (and it surely secures a top place in “amount of places linked with shortcuts to one checkpoint” category). It’s filled with secrets to the top and if you think you can find everything on your first playthrough without peeking into the depths of fan wikis or forums… Perhaps you haven’t played Dark Souls and this is your first From Software game? It’s so easy to miss something: an NPC, a clue for story deciphering, an entire optional area with a few bosses. Sometimes your actions will move the “time” forward; a blood moon will rise higher, Stoker’s horror will be replaced with a Lovecraftian dread, and some of the areas and events will become unaccessible. Bloodborne isn’t designed to be finished, it’s made to be explored again, and again, and again. It’s a neverending nightmare, one you’ll most likely will be fascinated with.
To emphasize this there is even a random-generated dungeon system. They are separated from the main portion of a game, but are important to Bloodborne’s lore. In a sense they are the root of all the weird stuff that’s happening in a cursed city. So sooner or later you’ll delve in there too. Everything here is your hunting grounds after all.
Welcome home, good hunter. What is it you desire?