From developer From Software, the sadistic masterminds behind the notoriously difficult Demon’s Souls (2009) and Dark Souls (2011), comes game director Hidetaka Miyazaki’s greatest challenge yet. Bloodborne, a PlayStation exclusive and the spiritual successor to Demon’s Souls, promises to test everything you’ve got—and then some. Even if you’re familiar with Miyazaki’s previous work with the Souls franchise, Bloodborne will leave you bruised, battered, and emotionally drained, yet won’t be able to help coming back for more. It’s time to “Prepare to Die” . . . again.
My first few hours inside the city of Yharnam, a city once known for its medical expertise in “blood healing,” weren’t exactly a positive experience. Having just received a life-saving blood transfusion in Iosefka’s clinic, I awoke to find myself in a city overrun by beasts. I didn’t make it more than a few meters just outside of the clinic before I encountered my first Lycanthrope, and I had nothing to defend myself against the hulking, mangy beast. So I did what any sane person would . . . I tried to punch it to death. My decision, which seemed like a good idea at the time, came back to bite me in the ass almost immediately. I died.
And such was my fate time and again for my first several hours in Bloodborne, where death is very much an integral part of the game. Similar to developer From Software’s previous titles Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, Bloodborne forces the player into an unforgiving world in which the game punishes the player for their arrogance, or their lack of understanding towards particular enemy patterns. At the same time, the game does allow you to punish the game’s AI in much the same way when an enemy overcommits to an attack, leaving themselves open to a counterattack. It’s a beautifully designed dance of dodges and attacks until only one of you is left standing. The game also rewards the player with well-timed counterattacks, known as Visceral Attacks. These moves, which are similar to parrying in Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, allow you to stun-lock an enemy with your sidearm for a short period of time, during which you can come in and deal sometimes-fatal counterattacks. But where parrying was entirely optional in the Souls franchise, visceral attacks are an absolute necessity in Bloodborne.
Also similar to the Souls games, Bloodborne rewards the player with experience for each kill in the form of Blood Echoes, which also act as the game’s currency. Unfortunately, there is no way to bank the Blood Echoes, meaning if you die, you lose them—all of them. You’ve got one chance to come back after your death to reclaim them, but if you die again before you’re able, they’re gone permanently. However, you can spend your Blood Echoes in a small, centralized area known as Hunter’s Dream (similar to Demon’s Souls’ Nexus), which acts as a hub for you to fast-travel to any area on the map, access the store, or level up your character and weapons.
One of the most notable features of the game is its splatter effects. The amount of blood that spews from each hit is huge, and it does so in a way that not only covers the ground and surrounding walls but also drenches the player until they are literally covered head to toe in it. It’s this kind of detail that really allows you to become completely immersed in the world, to know that each hit you deal is definitely felt, and it doesn’t stop there. After disposing of one of the game’s more challenging bosses, a certain enemy type around the map will actually mourn the loss, holding a silent vigil.
The combat in Bloodborne is also significantly faster than in the Souls games, and it rewards the player for their level of aggression. Having been a Demon/Dark Souls veteran, this kind of combat took some time getting used to, as I’ve grown accustomed to blocking oncoming attacks and waiting for an opening. However, this faster-paced combat is exhilarating and oftentimes left me on the edge of my seat, as all of the bosses in this game are extremely aggressive. Another addition to the combat is the ability to regain some of your initial health after taking damage by aggressively attacking the enemy that hit you. This allows you to be equally as aggressive and also to preserve your health potions until you absolutely need them. Oh, yeah—and Estus Flasks are gone. Instead, Bloodborne goes a more traditional RPG route by incorporating health potions, known as Blood Vials. Instead of resting at a bonfire, or in this case a lantern, to refill your potions, you are actually able to purchase them from the vendor in Hunter’s Dream or pick them up off of dead enemies.
After you complete the single-player campaign, the game invites you to take on a series of chalice dungeons. These are procedurally generated and offer great replay for those who are interested in doing some additional dungeon crawling with another player. While the chalice dungeons are a great distraction from the main game itself, I found that the lack of meticulous enemy placement throughout allowed me to really appreciate From Software’s attention to detail in the main game itself.
Unfortunately, there was a bit of a technical issue with the game that I faced during my playthrough: those damned load screens. Oftentimes, the load screens would last upwards of 30 to 40 seconds, especially if I was traveling from Hunter’s Dream to anywhere on the game’s map. Even after each death, I found myself waiting at the barren load screen for nearly 30 seconds. Making that time feel that much longer is the fact that you’re left staring at a black screen with the game’s logo on it, which felt like a missed opportunity when the game’s lore could have been added in its place. However, Sony has commented that the load times should be addressed in a future patch.
In closing: Bloodborne is a masterfully crafted game that isn’t afraid of throwing you immediately into the deep end in the hopes that after some initial failures, you’ll not only learn to succeed but come out that much stronger. Despite a few minor technical issues, Bloodborne is easily the best game on the PlayStation 4 and even justifies the purchase of the system if you’ve been on the fence about getting one. Even though I’ve completed the game multiple times, I can’t wait to jump right back into this PS4 exclusive and do it all over again.
Final Score: 9.8 out of 10