The Road To Review: Learning To Survive In Bloodborne

There’s been much anticipation for From Software’s Bloodborne, and it isn’t without good reason. After all, the studio has proven itself to be one that doesn’t shy away from crafting difficult yet engaging experiences, with the success and acclaim of the Souls titles speaking for themselves. But this isn’t a Souls game. Sure, Bloodborne has a similar formula to that series, but it has also tried to carve out its own identity.

The first thing to note is that Bloodborne is a big game with a lot of content to digest, from exploring the city of Yharnam, to engaging in the game’s multiplayer aspects and Chalice Dungeons. Due to this sheer size of the game coupled with some personal matters, it feels like I haven’t played enough to give a definitive review, which you can expect a few days from now. Instead this early impression is of what I’ve experienced in the first 15 hours I have played of the game.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5Qb9XutVVI

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The setting of Bloodborne places you, a hunter, in a Victorian Gothic city known as Yharnam. The location itself has become overrun with monsters of various kinds, from hellish hounds to human-like creatures that tower over you. You may be a hunter tasked with taking on the beasts, but you’re also a potential prey. Nothing fears you as almost everything in this city is more than capable of killing you in a matter of seconds, and you will die many, many times, respawning at the last lamplight that you had activated.

The first few times you venture into Yharnam you will struggle to get your footing, but that’s okay. Some developers have the idea that to be hard is to be frustrating and almost impossible, but From Software’s definition of hard is geared toward player evolution. You’ll die, but you’ll learn from that death, and you’ll put those lessons into practice to move further forward. Bloodborne doesn’t reward rash behaviour often, but punishes it instead. It requires players to think about their next move and survey the surroundings for any detail that may help to gain an advantage.

I emphasis the fact that you need to know what your surroundings hold for a couple of reasons. First to learn the enemy placements, as they respawn whenever you die or return to an area, and how they’re likely to attack you, and secondly because of the various hidden paths that hold secrets and shortcuts that let you return to areas more quickly. Bloodborne does at times have an obvious linear path, but by sticking to that you’ll miss out on so much, like some new equipment or a beast that is worth quite a lot of Blood Echoes, the currency used to buy goods and level up.

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Rewarded for killing the enemies within the world, Blood Echoes are easy to gain, but as I discovered during my early forays, just as easy to lose. Every time you die you’ll drop the echoes you were carrying and will have to get to that same spot again to reclaim them. This is either from picking them up off the ground or killing a specific creature who acquired them. Die before retrieving those dropped echoes and you lose them forever, though you now have a new pool of echoes to return to. Not so bad if you’ve only got a few hundred but devastating if thousands are lost.

You’ll need to level up to have a fighting chance and this will require a bit of grinding especially when going up against bosses. One boss took me dozens of tries to beat due to the pure speed and power it possessed, while another was beaten in just a single attempt. Both of these situations were down to my player level, showing the difference between being too weak and being on par. I’ve also learnt that the game throws blood vials, the game’s health packs, at you constantly so there is no need to purchase any using your echoes, and it’s the same deal with bullets too. You want to save those echoes for levelling up early on to make good progress quickly.

You may think that the high supply of health makes Bloodborne a walk in the park, but that is far from the truth. While trying to heal yourself you can still get attacked and that foe may kill your hunter before you’ve had a chance to refill your health bar. Just like everything in a fight you’ll have to work out when the best time is to give yourself a health boost. Sometimes the risk just isn’t worth it and sometimes, thanks to the Regain health system, it’s best to strike back right away.

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The combat itself is very satisfying. In one hand you can have a melee weapon, like the axe, and in the other a gun, shield or a torch.  Or you can choose to transform your melee weapon into a heavy, two handed weapon. Every lunge and swing eats up some stamina, meaning you have to learn to manage and time your moves. In some fights I could easily have a four hit combo to kill a beast, completely draining my stamina in the process. Other encounters required more thoughtful fighting, rolling or stepping back to then get a quick hit in. This type of fighting was reserved for groups of beasts as well as the bosses I’ve fought, since staying too close to them usually means a quick death.

Though there are a number of jump scares from unexpected ambushes, some of which did make me swear out loud, this isn’t a particularly scary game. But there is an overall sense of dread within Yharnam, with every step taken carefully so as not to alert what may be hiding around the corner. For me the dread only increased the more echoes I carried, and all the work that could be undone if my timing was off in a fight.

This is compounded by the search for lamplights too, which act as checkpoints, but also let you return to the Hunter’s Dream, the game’s hub where you can buy items and level up. But within the world, these lamps are spread out and the further you go, the more you hope one is sitting around the next corner. It almost never is. The relief upon finding a new one, whether just within the world or from defeating a boss, can’t really be measured unless you’ve been fighting and dying in the same area for a while.

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However, there is only one major and persistent problem in Bloodborne and that is with the load times. After you die you’re sent to a screen with the title etched across it, and you’ll be waiting here for a good 30 seconds at least. I counted to make sure. It can really pull you out of the experience, but you can also use that same time to regroup and think of tactics. Then again you can do that while walking back to the beast that beat you.

From my initial journey into Yharnam it is clear to see that the single player is a great experience, bar the loading times. Bloodborne itself looks hauntingly beautiful in a macabre way, from the blood that sticks on your hunter’s clothing and glistens in the setting sun’s light, to the architecture of the buildings around you. It could be considered one of the best looking games this generation.

Bloodborne is a game that treats you like an adversary and one that must be put down at every turn. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve died in game so far, yet I feel compelled to go back for more because each resurrection sees me evolve to face this nemesis. This is a hard game yet I don’t feel cheated whenever I lose. I feel like my skill is being tested, and this game feels like the challenge I have been waiting for.

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4 Comments

  1. Great write up, thanks. Really looking forward to this. Shame about the long load times but if that is the only problem, I can forgive it.

  2. Thanks for the write up Aran, you’ve cemented my suspicion that this game just isn’t for me. Good read, thanks.

  3. Everything i’ve seen tells me i won’t do well at this game, but i’m still bloody tempted though.

  4. Bought it yesterday and loving it. Can’t find the 3rd lantern though so dying again and again but exactly what you’d expect from a souls-esque game.

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