Games hold your hand far too much nowadays. You’ll be breezing your way through the latest shoot-em-up FPS rehash, and every single corner will have an arrow to tell you exactly where to go. Enemies pop-up and die in a few shots, and you’re only sense of achievement is that you get to watch a cutscene in which the protagonist saves the world from some monotonous, uninteresting villain. Enter Bloodborne: a spiritual successor / sequel to the hugely popular ‘Souls’ games, and one which will have you screaming in anger just as much as you do in joy.
The Souls games have always been light on their abundant storytelling and left you – the player – to work out a lot on your own; Bloodborne is no different. The game begins with your character arriving at the sinister town of Yharnam; a vile, terrifying place full of beasts and monsters hungry for blood. You’re given a blood transfusion by a mysterious figure who heightens the intrigue with lines such as “whatever happens, think of it all as a bad dream”, and soon you’re thrust into the world proper, ready to begin your quest to discover Yharnam’s darkest secrets, and rid the land of the demonic, malevolent forces which plague it.
To be perfectly honest, you can play through the entirety of Bloodborne without taking much notice of the story and still enjoy it hugely. The plot provides a general progression to the narrative, but it isn’t a necessity. No, the true enjoyment of Bloodborne is found in both its perfect combat system, and the unparalleled level of exploration that it offers. You will die – there’s no question about that. Due to the game’s point-perfect hit boxes and dodge mechanics, however, death never feels cheap or unjustified. Every single time you see the words “YOU DIED.” on the screen, you’ll know exactly what went wrong, and exactly how you could have avoided your inevitable demise. Perhaps you didn’t strafe with circle at the right moment, or maybe you failed to notice that you’d been poisoned by a boss. Regardless of how you died, what’s important is that you did…and you now know how to fix that. Of course, you’ll naturally become infuriated with the consistent appearance of failure, but this anger is more often than not directed at yourself; the game is very rarely at fault.
The combat which you’ll be using is some of the best I’ve found in a third-person action RPG, so it’s definitely worth mentioning. Every single weapon in the game (bar a few minor exceptions) has two forms, which can be swapped between with a quick press of L1. Not only do each of these forms have their own strengths and weaknesses, but they can be alternated mid-combat, meaning that combos can string together brutal slashes followed by bloody bludgeons. You’ve got your typical heavy and light attacks (performed with R2 and R1, respectively), but you’re also armed with a gun in your left hand. Make no mistake, though: this gun isn’t for damage. Late-game may see you killing enemies with bullets, but for the majority of your time you’ll be using the gun to parry enemies’ blows, and return damage with the brutal ‘visceral attacks’ you can perform. These are almost always just a stab to the chest followed by a quick, violent removal of your weapon, but they’re still very rewarding to pull-off due to the risky nature of shooting an enemy as they’re about to strike. Once you learn the strict discipline of attacking, dodging, attacking, every encounter in Bloodborne becomes an enthralling game of strategy. If the combat in Dark Souls or Demon’s Souls put you off with its comparatively sluggish nature, then maybe Bloodborne is more up your alley; enemies attack incredibly quickly, but you can respond just as fast. Gone are the over-burdened, slow rolls of previous titles, now replaced by immensely fast side-steps which will have you dashing around enemies in a blur.
One thing that all of the Souls games are renowned for are their epic, intimidating boss fights. Most fans of these games criticised the most recent entry – Dark Souls 2 – for its “lazy” bosses, which were essentially just varying sizes of armour equipped on gradually escalating knights, which led to a lack of excitement when stumbling across an arena. Thankfully, Bloodborne fully rectifies this. Aside from a couple bosses with similar move-sets, the game features roughly uniquely individual 15 bosses for you to take down, as well as a handful of random bosses in the game’s Chalice Dungeons (more on that later). True, only about 7 of these bosses are necessary for progression, but until you defeat them, you feel as if each and every fight is crucial for your survival. And not all of the bosses are epic, fast-paced battles either; one instance sees a much slower fight which has you tackling the slow, eerie minions of some witches while you search for the witches themselves, who cloak whenever the player is far away. There’s a perfect blend of foes for you to defeat, and every fight is fair.
Instead of multiplayer features being sectioned off by an option on the main menu, Bloodborne retains the constant, unique multiplayer components of its predecessors. The world is littered with tips left by other players, and you’ll also be able to see gravestones which reveal the final moments of another hunter before their death. Additionally, you can leave notes of your own which can be voted on by the community. If you’re feeling stuck at a certain point, you can ring a summoning bell which will search for players ringing a small resonance bell, and, once connected, they’ll be brought into your game to assist with whatever challenge you’re having difficulty with. This isn’t exactly a co-op game, however, as the other player will be removed once you kill the boss that you need assistance for, or any other similar challenge. You need to consider just how much you need help though, because summoning another player will also leave you open to invasion from aggressive players, therefore initiating the game’s engaging PvP. Because healing with the triangle button is so quick compared to previous Souls titles, fights like this can last for a very long time, but you’ll constantly need to stay on your toes to avoid succumbing to a quick demise.
The only real area with which Bloodborne falters is with its replayability. The previously mentioned Chalice Dungeons rectify this slightly, as they present randomly generated rooms which accumulate to an exciting boss fight. However, aside from these Diablo-esque dungeons (which offer a considerable amount of content in their own right), there’s not a vast amount which will have you coming back time and time again. Dark Souls allowed players to play through the game as a variety of typical RPG roles, such as that of a mage, or archer, or simple knight. Bloodborne, on the other hand, focuses entirely on its brilliant melee combat…and little more. Sure, there’s potential for the ‘bloodtinge’ stat – which dictates your firepower – to open alternate avenues, but even this is heavily limited with the scarce supply of guns in the game. From start to finish, Bloodborne took me 32 hours to complete – a shorter time than my 50 hours necessary for the completion of Dark Souls 2, but this could just be due to my experience with these kinds of games. After completion, I did feel compelled to try out the game’s tougher New Game+ mode, but only because I loved the environments and combat mechanics so much that I couldn’t help carry on engaging with them. I can easily see the average player completing the game once (after much difficulty), and not feeling an immediate urge to return. Couple this with the fact New Game+ doesn’t offer a huge amount of otherwise unobtainable content, and there’s a lot of room for improvement.
For your first playthrough of the game though, Bloodborne is an incredible experience. It’s one which will have you screaming at the TV, only to pick up the controller once more for just one more go. New players might find themselves stuck for hours without any signs of progression, but this is usually just a case of not exploring enough. Taking you 30 minutes to reach a boss from where you spawn? Look for a short-cut to slash that time in two. Getting instantly destroyed by a particular foe? Find another area to explore and return once you’re sufficiently levelled-up.
There’s a huge amount of content to sink your teeth into, so hitting a brick wall usually means that you’ve tried something you’re not yet prepared for. The truth is that everybody is capable of beating Bloodborne; the only divisive factor is how long it will take. Regardless of the difficulty, Bloodborne is a game which rewards just as much as it punishes, and one which ought to be played by every Playstation 4 owner who is tired of hand-holding in their games.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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