Bloodborne, by From Software, Inc., is a single player, souls-like, video game for the PlayStation 4. It can be played cooperatively by inviting others, or competitively through player invasions.
The city of Yharnam is lost. Its inhabitants have lost their minds, cursed to become blood thirsty beasts and abominations. This has led to those with any sense of self becoming hunters, individuals who partake in nightly hunts. The discovery of the "old blood" in the ancient labyrinths beneath old Yharnam was undoubtedly the cause of this nightmare.
The leaders of the Healing Church claimed it would cure any and all diseases. It was supposed to heal them, supposed to make them right. It was supposed to allow them to commune with the Old Ones. They called it "Blood Ministration", a process whereby you would take in the Old Blood. This led to the Scourge of Beasts. Here is where you start, an outsider lost in Yharnam and the recipient of the Old Blood. Now a hunter, you must seek to end your nightmare.
Being a Hunter
Bloodborne is a game that is supposed to be played aggressively. There are few defensive items and a plethora of weapons for players to choose from. Primarily, all aggression is done through the player's ability to wield Trick Weapons: weapons that can transform into other weapons. Most notably the hunter axe, saw blade, and threaded cane. These weapons change to fit a scenario best, and can be altered on the fly to increase range or speed. The other equipment also available to hunters are the Hunter Arms. These are generally firearms which are used to stagger an enemy mid-attack, allowing for heavy hitting counters!
Weapons can be upgraded and can also have blood gems installed in them to give them modifiers and buffs. These can be situational and can be swapped out for more appropriate ones. Much like in other souls like games, players have stats which can be levelled up through spending resources. In Bloodborne's case, you spend blood echoes (a currency acquired when defeating an enemy). Also, players have a second currency known as "insight". This is based on how much of the lore and content the player has seen, and can affect elements of the game. It can also be used as a currency to purchase things from certain vendors.
In Bloodborne, players need to progress through the city of Yharnam and its surrounding lands to end their nightmare. To do this, they will need to defeat beasts and other horrors, unlocking areas and progressing the story. If a player is defeated, they will find themselves in the hunter's dream: a safe haven where players can level up and warp. The game runs a tried and tested format, combined with fresh combat and a whole new theme.
Handling The Nightmare
Bloodborne is by no measure an easy game. It's unforgiving, tricky, and presents itself with some intense themes. It is a true souls-like game. And, like any souls-like, there is some respite. You have checkpoints typically known as bonfires which you can use as warp points. In Bloodborne, these are lanterns and oh man are they handy! You have a scaling and robust levelling system. There's also an intricately detailed combat system with skill scaling and multiple types of damages. However, there's scope to become overpowered in certain areas and almost run a class. Putting it bluntly, if you've got a preferred style, you can run it.
Dark Occurrences and Twisted Happenings
Bloodborne's lore, story and setting are one and the same. The setting of Bloodborne is what adds substance to the story and lore, feeding in minor details left unsaid. Bodies, splatters, equipment... All these things help paint a picture of the atrocities and loss that has occurred in Yharnam. It's a cold, sad setting that's executed beautifully underneath that fast paced and intensely aggressive combat system. Only when the dust has settled and you're surrounded by bodies do you take a moment to look around, and it's a somber sight.
The story of Bloodborne however is a weird one. You can run your own narrative as the outsider, forced into the hunt and in search of an end to their own nightmare. It'll cut game time massively but will still be a satisfactory experience. You'll know your story and adventure, and that will be that. However, you will have questions! Only by diving head first into every nook and cranny, searching into every note and book, scouring every item, will your curiosity be truly satiated. It's not how you'll start your lore hunting play through, but it's undoubtably how you'll end it! It'll give justification for the setting beyond the melancholic sights, and drive you as mad as those who caused this nightmare.
There's often confusion about Bloodborne's overarching narrative, and that's expected. There's some elements that are hidden, lost, and sometimes completely absent. The mystery is more powerful than the answer, and often it's the smaller questions that go unanswered than the larger ones. You’ll never be lost with a character's motives or actions, but you'll undoubtedly be unable to justify their madness!
The Afflicted and The Mad
The nasties in Bloodborne come in three flavours. Human, beast, and kin. Humans are what humans are: unpredictable, dangerous, and mad. These are usually hunters and are skilled in their own rights. Because they’ve still got some wits about them, it’s often the hunters that catch us out and manage to kill us! They're set to areas and are sporadically spread out, like they too are on a hunt. Beasts were humans, at one point. The blood ministration and constant exposure to other nasties has caused them to mutate and become feral. These are less tactical than humans, but hit so hard they don't need to think. They run on instinct, and they are hungry.
The final enemy type are kin. These are enemies most closely connected to the "Old Ones", and are likely to have been human at one point. Driven mad through knowledge, or on the brink of communing with them, these beings see themselves as emissaries of the Old Ones and may be those from the church who tried to use the Old Blood for knowledge.
Every enemy can, and will, kill you. Sure, it's a quick send back to the last lantern rested at, but it can be frustrating. Letting your guard down for even a second will result in your inevitable death. They're all dangerous, and each is different in how they'll inflict pain.
The Maddest Ones
Much like with the enemies, the bosses come in those three flavourings. Bloodborne runs the favoured "fog wall system" as many other souls-like games. Once you traverse the fog, you either kill your foe, or it kills you. Areas where bosses are fought are referred to as arenas, and are thematic again.
Bloodborne hosts a vast number of boss enemies, and these are all unique. But luckily it doesn't suffer from "old boss becomes regular enemy" routine. We feel it ruins the impact a boss has on the gameplay and makes them less scary on a second play through. Also, many bosses are entirely optional and drive the lore of the game rather than the plot. It's important to note that the plot and lore are intertwined, but how deep you delve into the lore will determine how many bosses you encounter.
Why You’ll Love Them!
We'd love to tell you that there's a gradual progression of difficulty across bosses. Like they'll be scaled to your progression, right? Well... those optional bosses don't care about your progression... nor do the regular bosses! One of the first bosses was renown for ending many gamers' play through. Many "casuals", as souls-like enthusasts referred to them, lasted no longer than an hour in Bloodborne's unforgiving play. No doubt, this beastie was the cause. However! Some players also claimed that later big bads were easy to fell. It all comes down to your pace of play and how well you react to an enemies move set. You may gel with some, and loathe others!
What we loved about Bloodborne's roster of monstrosities is both the variety, and the thematic fitting. Beasts, humans and kin all come in a multitude of stylings, and often attack differently dependent on that, too. But these variations aren't just for show. They fit their surroundings, as if they were once inhabitants. It makes the game feel like you really are the outsider, the stranger, and it gives just cause for them to hunt you.
Delving Deeper into Madness
If you're a true lore hunter, or someone who thrives on more challenge, Bloodborne has more answers for your cries. The Chalice Dungeons. These are "bonus" extra labyrinths that tie into the overarching story. But no spoilers. Generally speaking, these are randomly generated maps of floors. There usually between three and six floors, and each floor has a boss to take on. These have modifiers accompanying them and are often brutal. We found ourselves stunned and taken aback at our first run of these.. they're unforgiving! But the fresh level each time is great, and coupling it with a cooperative experience gives it a whole new feel to the end game.
Where It All Began
Bloodborne's only expansion ties directly into the main game. It doesn't sit as an after thought when the final nasty is defeated, and provides more content and a look at the history of the hunts and the Old Hunters themselves. This is what the game needed in an expansion. More content in the game, not outside the story. We found it incredibly challenging, but entirely fresh and necessary to give more back.
What's more is how the expansion doesn't provide entirely new lore for you to wrap your mind around... It adds depth to existing lore and alternative looks at the characters in game. Most importantly, it also provides a whole batch of new trick weapons for you to play with! From the Hunter's Saif with its lightning fast transformations, to the Whirligig Saw which is often referred to as the giant pizza slicer, there's something for everyone! But most importantly, more challenge!
Summarising the Night
Bloodborne is two things. It's a challenging, yet highly enjoyable, fast paced game with rewarding combat. And it's also a dark story of how ungodly rituals and the abuse of historic lessons can turn even the strongest minds into insane husks. There's no denying how much we enjoyed Bloodborne, despite its incredibly high level of entry. Once you've got the hang of it you're fine, but no end of players will be put off early into the game before things get too spicy.
We'd recommend this for those who are fans of souls-like games, but would also advise anyone with a lack of patience and strategy to steer clear. If any souls-like is going to make you rage quit, this is it! So grab you trick weapons, head into the night and keep your wits about you. The sky and the cosmos are one, good hunter.