• Heisengerm

Review: Bloodborne

Every time a new game from the studio From Software releases, you tend to hear a lot of news about how difficult the game is, and how it's impossible to finish. When Bloodborne was released back in 2015, I was pretty interested by the ways in which it claimed to be quite different from other From Software titles (Dark Souls 1-3). Bloodborne promised a faster, more offensive-focused experience than offered in Dark Souls and seemed like a very fun challenge. Finally in 2020, I've gathered the courage to give it a shot, and see just how difficult these games really are.

Bloodborne is an open-world action-RPG set in Yharnam, a Victorian-esque city in which you fight many different types of grotesque monsters on your journey to bring an end to the Scourge of the Beast, an other-worldly bloodborne disease that is ravaging the city. You play as a Hunter, a special warrior enlisted by the Healing Church of Yharnam to cull the beasts and bring an end to the Hunt. Unfortunately, that's about the extent of the exposition you get when playing the game, as it is pretty sparse on story for the rest of the experience. You do get a bit of flavor text here and there in item descriptions and a couple notes scattered throughout the world, but the story is largely left up to you to piece together. While that may be a bit of a frustrating realization, Bloodborne really shines in its gameplay and overall aesthetic. You'll be spending a load of time exploring the incredibly detailed world, while trying not to be killed by its myriad of horrible beasts.

The developers of Bloodborne, From Software, have a penchant for creating extremely difficult games. Bloodborne is no exception. Enemies hit hard, and frequently attack you with multi-hit combos. There are also particularly dangerous fights where you'll be ganged up on by quite a few enemies, or have to face a boss that is many times your size. This is a far-cry from the type of difficulty I usually encounter in the games I play, so I was happy to actually play something that was very challenging.

In Bloodborne, you have a few cool weapons at your disposal that can be used in fun and engaging ways. Main weapons, called trick weapons in-game, are equipped to your right hand. Each trick weapon has a light and heavy attack with corresponding combos, but what is really unique about this game is that each weapon can also switch between two different forms at the press of a button. Usually each form will cover for a weakness of the other form. For instance, the Saw Cleaver's normal form has a short range but can be comboed very quickly, while its transformed form has a much longer reach at the expense of being much slower, leaving you more vulnerable to attacks. Other weapons may transform from a long spear into two smaller swords for quick attacks, charge themselves with electricity or other status effects, or even transform into guns.

Speaking of which, guns are very integral to the combat in Bloodborne. These are assigned to your left hand in-game, allowing you to dual wield a trick weapon and a gun. This allows you to get into some of the more advanced techniques in Bloodborne's combat, such as parrying and visceral attacks, which end up being very important skills to learn if you want to stand a chance against some of the later enemies in the game.

Parrying is simple to understand, but can be difficult to execute due to its reliance on very precise timing. To parry an enemy's attack, you have to carefully watch the enemy's wind-up animation and shoot them with your gun just before they attack. When you parry an attack successfully, you'll hear an awesome piercing sound effect and the enemy will fall to the ground and be staggered for a short window of time. If you are quick, this allows you to perform a visceral attack by getting directly in front of or behind the enemy and pressing the attack button, which deals a significant chunk of damage and knocks back the enemy a bit, allowing you to take a short breather to heal. Figuring out when to shoot to parry an attack is usually a matter of trial and error per enemy, per attack. Unfortunately, you'll be failing quite often at first, and if you don't hit the parry the enemy is largely unaffected, and thus can hit you while you're vulnerable after shooting. I found the parrying system very difficult to figure out at first, and largely ignored it for the first couple hours of playing. However, I quickly learned that I was just going to have to figure it out.

Another crucial combat technique is the rally system. This allows you to recover a portion of your health after being damaged. When you are hurt by an attack, you will lose a portion of your health, but a part of your health bar will remain filled, albeit with a lighter shade of red. This portion represents the amount of health that can be recovered by rallying, and will quickly shrink in size until it disappears. To rally, you simply have to deal damage to any enemy quickly after taking damage. In this way, Bloodborne encourages the player to be aggressive when fighting. However, it is important to balance this aggressiveness with caution, as you could quickly get into a situation where you end up more damaged after trying to rally.

On the other side of the coin, your main defensive options are your abilities to roll and quickstep out of the way. These are functionally about the same and are activated with the same button depending on whether or not you have locked on to an enemy. Dodging with either method allows you to quickly reposition yourself out of the way of enemy attacks, and gives you a fraction of a second of invincibility. However, every time you attack or dodge, you consume a bit of stamina, which only regenerates if you aren't attacking or dodging. Thus, it is important to keep an eye on your stamina bar and be aware of just how much each of your actions uses, so you aren't left in a situation where you need to dodge, but are unable to due to depleted stamina.

In addition to your right and left hand weapons, you can find or buy items that add certain status effects to you or your enemies. There are quite a few of these with varying effects, but the two most important items you will be using the entire game are blood vials and quicksilver bullets. Blood vials allow you to heal a portion of health, while bullets are consumed when using your guns. Thankfully, the world is full of these items, usually found by killing enemies, so you won't have too much of a problem staying stocked up. However, the catch here is you can only have 20 of each in your usable inventory at any one time. Any excess is sent to storage, which you only have access to when returning to the Hunter's Dream, a central location that you can buy items, weapons, and stat upgrades from. Conveniently, your blood vial and bullet supply are also restocked from your storage when you respawn at a checkpoint after being killed.

While we're on the topic of getting killed, (an experience you'll become very familiar with in this game) From Software has a unique way of making this often frustrating experience more interesting. When you die, you are sent back to your most recent checkpoint. (These also serve as fast-travel points to get to and from the Hunter's Dream.) However, you don't respawn without any consequences. Upon returning to life, you'll notice that all of your blood echos (the game's main currency) are gone. To retrieve them, you'll need to make your way back to where you died. Usually you'll find that a nearby enemy has picked up your echos, which you can easily identify by looking for a noticeable blue glow in their eyes. If you manage to kill the enemy, you'll get all your echos back, but if you are killed again before you find your echos, they are lost forever. In 2020, this may not seem like a revolutionary game mechanic, as many games are starting to adopt this way of dealing with death, but to my knowledge, From Software is the studio that popularized this mechanic starting with Demon's Souls in 2009.

Thankfully, due to some great level design, you will usually have an easier time getting back to the place you died. After progressing a bit in an area, you'll usually find a path that opens up a shortcut to a previous area. These shortcuts are particularly useful when you fight a boss, as you'll likely have to make several return trips to finally defeat the boss.

This is not to say that the world is something you'd want to rush through though. You can tell that the developers put a ton of thought and effort into designing the macabre, yet still beautiful world of Bloodborne. The gothic architecture and the statues and gargoyles that are littered throughout it really help reinforce the creepy atmosphere of the world. The enemy design is no slouch in this department as well. Each enemy is unique in its own disturbing way, with attacks and movements that you have to learn and adapt to in order to stay alive. It was pretty fun trying to work out what was effective and what wasn't, but some of the bosses could get quite frustrating because you wouldn't get many chances to make mistakes before being killed. The one boss that stood out to me as being particularly difficult was the first boss, who I personally felt was the strongest boss in the game. Unfortunately I had to grind for a few hours to level up my character to defeat him, but once I did that, I felt like I really started to get the hang of the combat.

Bloodborne is largely a single-player experience, but it also has a few online features. You can join up with another player to help them defeat a boss or a particularly difficult section, or you can invade another player's world and fight them. Additionally, there are randomized challenge dungeons that you can generate and share with others, which offer unique items and extra blood echos. I'm not particularly a fan of online components in games though, so I didn't touch these modes.

Closing remarks

Gameplay wise, I'd say Bloodborne is practically perfect. It is very challenging, but never in a frustrating way. Every time I died, I was able to understand exactly how I messed up. I had a really fun time trying, failing, and eventually getting better at working my way through the incredibly detailed zones in the game. While I wish the story presentation was a bit more hands on, I usually was able to figure out where I needed to go next and what I needed to do to progress. Overall, I think this game takes a bit of time to get the hang of, but once you do, you're in for a great experience. If you get stuck, try to level up and learn some of the deeper mechanics of the game, and I bet you'll have a great time if you like a bit of challenge.

Heisengerm Rating = 4/5

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