Bloodborne is the From Software game that put the “borne” in Soulsborne. It was released in 2015 to massive critical acclaim (and the sound of every gamer in the world screaming obscenities at their televisions).
I did not play Bloodborne when it was first released…
Actually, until recently I’d never played any From Software game. Everyone was always going on and on and on about how hard they were and how many controllers had been laid to rest as a result. So, naturally I avoided them like the plague.
Then, in early 2018, Bloodborne was one of the free Playstation games of the month, so I thought I’d give it a try.
I barely played it for a couple of hours before turning it off. I can only die to regular mobs so many times before I understand my limitations. Also, I’m not that much of a glutton for punishment…
…or I wasn’t, until I played a little game called Hollow Knight. It wasn’t From Software, but that little gem taught me what it was to hone your skills through many deaths and the feel of victory over what seemed insurmountable odds.
Cut to a couple of weeks ago, and my dad called me and says “Hey, have you played Bloodborne.” To which I said “Yeah, for like an hour and then I shut it off.”
Well, he’d been playing it recently and he convinced me to give it a try.
Now that I’ve finally managed to beat it, let me give some perspective to some others who might have been a little gun shy simply because of its reputation or it’s pedigree.
Not For Everyone
I’m going to start my review with a big old truth-bomb. This game is not for everyone. There are multiple reasons for this.
The first would be, surprisingly, the genre and setting. You see Bloodborne is… well it’s gross, scary, unsettling, and did I say gross? Well it’s gross. I could use words like atmospheric and whatnot—which it is—but overall it’s a very stressful game because of how tension-inducing it is. People averse to body horror or jump scares should probably stay away.
Then there is, unsurprisingly, the game’s crippling difficulty. It’s a hard game. There is no getting around that. The first mandatory boss you run into will eviscerate you more times than you can count, especially if you’ve never played a Soulsborne game before.
This can be more than discouraging. It’s where the term “git good” comes from. While a bit derogatory, it sums up the series pretty well. You will either come to understand the game’s mechanics and acclimate accordingly, or you won’t.
I, myself, was defeated by pretty much every boss several times. Every time a new boss would stomp me into the ground before I could even blink, I would immediately get melodramatic and think to myself “I’ll never beat this boss” or “I’m going to be stuck here forever,” but a few tries later I would start to understand what it took to survive.
Finally, I will cite the game’s lack of hand-holding as a barrier for entry.
Did I say lack of hand-holding? I meant to cite the Spartan way it kicks you out into the shit and smiles and waves as a werewolf rips out your intestines.
Sure, there are notes you can read in the Hunter’s Dream, but there are things I’m still learning about this game after having beaten it that would have made my playthrough easier.
The Unseen Story
The story of Bloodborne is largely unimportant to the gameplay. So much so that you could play through the entire game and realize that you have no clue what the hell just happened. I’m still trying to piece it together, though thanks to some well-made Youtube videos, I’ve gotten the gist of it.
Basically what I’m saying is that if you are looking for a narrative-driven game, look elsewhere. However, if you like to earn your story, this is definitely the game for you.
To fully understand the scope of Bloodborne’s story, you’ll need to read every item description, find every message, fight every boss, and fully explore every area (including the completely optional chalice dungeons). Even then, you may find yourself turning to the internet to fill in the blanks.
I will say that locating the story is totally worth it. Bloodborne is basically one of the most epic Lovecraftian stories ever told.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to know that if all you did was hack your way through the game without taking a look around. Then, the game feels like a bunch of unrelated cutscenes held together by little more than monster guts.
Weapon of Choice
One of my favorite features of the game is the way they handled weapons.
You can use any weapon you want, and it’s a legitimate choice. Did you like one of the starting weapons? Well then, keep it.
Every weapon is upgradable to the same degree. Your +5 Hunter’s Axe that you’ve had since the beginning is just as viable as a +5 Blade of Mercy. It all depends on how you want to play.
I, myself, was a Blade of Mercy wielder. I liked how fast they struck, and how their damage scaled with the skill stat. Sure, they didn’t hit nearly as hard as other weapons, but once you started a combo, most enemies were dead by the end and had little opportunity to defend themselves from the chainsaw I had become.
The other nice thing about the weapons in Bloodborne is that each and every one has two distinct modes. Simply press L1 and your saw could become an ax, or your short sword could be pulled into two smaller daggers. This gives you a ton of flexibility in a fight, especially since you can carry two melee weapons at a time (giving you four styles to choose from).
If that wasn’t enough for you, then you can also use L1 in the middle of an attack to change the weapon’s form and attack in the same motion. This allows for some interesting combos, and makes it so that you can deal damage without having to slow down your assault.
Obtuse By Orders of Magnitude
One of my least favorite things about Bloodborne was how hard it was to figure anything out. There are a lot of things that the players of this game just take for granted these days, since basically everything can be found online pretty easily.
I’ll be honest and say that this was the first game in a long time that had me looking up things almost constantly.
Of course, I’d see a video of someone with an amazing looking weapon and go “How do I get that?”
Well it turns out you had to talk to someone that you didn’t know you could talk to, then get an item that’s so hidden that you have to basically break the game to get to it, then you have to talk to another person at a very specific time, and finally you have to have already done something you didn’t do, so you can’t get it this playthrough.
I made some of that up… but it’s not far from the mark. Most things in this game felt willfully obtuse, and I applaud the original gamers who found these things out and then shared them with the world.
I mean, there’s something wrong with those guys, but I thank them anyway.
Tips For New Hunters
I’m just going to list some things I wish I’d known starting out.
- The more insight you have the harder the game becomes
- If you do a charged R2 attack directly behind an enemy, you can stagger them and use a visceral attack
- If you shoot someone as they are attacking, you can stagger them and do a visceral attack
- Fire works exceptionally well against beast type enemies
- Your weapons degrade over time, but are very cheap to repair
- Dodging away from an enemy is likely to get you killed. Dodge to the side or forward past them
- You can fall quite far without taking fatal amounts of damage
- Guns do more damage to dogs
There are plenty of other things, but these were the ones that really would have helped.
The Beckoning Bell
Overall, Bloodborne is a very solid game, albeit hidden behind an exclusionary difficulty wall that many may not be able to overcome. The combat is fluid, once you understand how it works, and is insanely hard but actually pretty fair most of the time…
…Some of the time.
The story is amazing, if you can find it, and the atmosphere is relentless to the point that ir starts to get into your head. In other words, it’s a From Software game.
I’m giving Bloodborne a belated 8.5/10. While it’s not my favorite Soulsborne game, it was an experience that will be hard to forget. So if you were on the fence about it, I recommend giving it a try if you have the time and don’t mind dying to the first boss an inordinate number of times.
Now, if you’ll excuse me I have to go play something bright and colorful to get the sound of squelching blood out of my brain.