Bloodborne Review: Not for everyone

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I awake from my fever dream in a darkened chamber, the smell of death lingering in the air as I ease up onto my feet. The room I find myself in has many tomes adorning its wall-to-wall bookshelves, but I’ve no time to read them; I need to figure out where I am and what’s going on.

As I pass through the only unlocked door in the room and descend the stairs that greet me, I’m in a hall that’s recently been used for triage. Makeshift beds litter the area and crude medical instruments are scattered everywhere. Walking towards the only light in view, I gasp as a werewolf, dripping in blood and snarling at the discovery of its next meal, advances toward me.

I dodge its first attack, throwing a rather weak punch at it as a means of self-preservation. I land a hit or two before the werewolf pounces, slashing at my chest with ferocity. I fight back as long as I can, but it’s not enough; I crumple to the ground as the werewolf looms over me, feeling my lifeblood drain from open wounds.

It is over.

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The sweet calm of oblivion washes over me, but before I fully give into it, I can feel my strength returning. I open my eyes and find that I’m no longer in that triage room, but rather, a well-kept garden. Walking towards a set of stairs, I jump backwards as misty, skeletal demons rise from the ground, a weapon in their collective hands.

Unsure if they mean to attack, I pause. The demons nod and offer the weapon to me; down the path, another group reveals a gun, and yet another a notebook. The skeletons, evil as they appear, mean to help. I accept their offerings and walk to a fourth group who promise safe passage back to the medical facility.

Armed, I approach the werewolf who attacked me with new-found confidence. Energised, I leap towards the beast, getting a first hit in with my extended blade. I retract it to bring the blade parallel to my outstretched arm and wait for the werewolf to take another swipe at me before I unleash a barrage of quick attacks. My enemy falls in no time at all.

I collect a small vial of blood it drops, unsure of what to make of it, before proceeding. Exiting the building and the courtyard it’s housed in, I round a corner and dodge at the last minute to narrowly avoid a torch that’s been swung at my head. I gather myself and wait for the right opportunity, dodging flame once more before using my axe to fell the assailant. More used to the violence, I notice the soul of my attacker float through the air and into me; as I absorb it, I feel its power. A nearby lever provides a ladder with which to escape the empty street I stand in.

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Climbing the ladder, I find another group of my ‘friends’, the demons, beckoning me to light a lamp they carry. The lamp takes me back to the garden I found my weaponry in, allowing me to use the power I’ve collected from my enemies to upgrade my attire. I shed my common street clothes for something more befitting the confrontations I’ve already had, and use the demons to return to the lamp I recently lit.

As I travel down this new area, I see various groupings of enemies patrolling. None look friendly. I form a quick plan in my head and set off to isolate and attack as best I can, in groupings that slant the odds in my favour.

It hardly ever works. One of these stupid mother*ckers always manages to kill me, so I die. Again and again and again and again.

This is Bloodborne. Rather, this is my Bloodborne.

I’ve played that area with the twenty or so enemies about a million times. While that’s an exaggeration, the fact that I’ve been within that area for around eight hours sure isn’t. I try different strategies, and I die. I try to be ultra-aggressive, and I die. Sometimes, I kill all but one baddie, and other times, the second one I encounter manages to get me into a corner and kicks my ass. A couple times, a sense of pure joy washes over me as I kill every single damn person in the area, only to progress to the next and die at the hands of a giant orge. Or a troll. Or two of those motherf*cking werewolves.

From Software wasn’t kidding when they say Bloodborne doesn’t hold your hand.

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If you’ve played a Souls game before, you’re used to the idea of Bloodborne already. In the game’s Reviewer’s Guide – which I ignored until now, by the way – it says the game is a throwback “to a time when games dared to not hold your hand, a time when letting the player figure something out was part of the fun.”

Alright, then. Guess using the tips and tricks the guide contained would be cheating, eh?

It took me fifteen minutes from the time I got my weapons to actually equip them. I could see them in my inventory, and clicking on them provided an option to “Use”, but that was greyed-out. Turns out, if I went back one menu screen, I had an option for hands in a separate location from the inventory itself. I felt stupid, yet accomplished, as my character finally took his weapons to hand.

It was easier, then, to go and buy Hunter’s garb with my collected blood souls and then equip that new gear. I’m not stupid; I figured out a game mechanic and I applied it afterward. It’s not something overly difficult, but this is what you need to do with practically every single thing in Bloodborne.

The same trial-and-error methodology was used to discover my main weapon had two distinct modes: a longer, slower cleaver and a compact, hooked blade. The extended weapon was devastating but left me open to attack. My gun was able to balance that out; a one-shot, one-hit combo proved destructive to most enemies. That said, I still felt more comfortable with the collapsed, lighter, faster combo-driven variant of my axe.

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One of the biggest changes between Bloodborne and the Souls games is that you don’t have a shield this time around. At least, initially. With a gun in one hand and a blade in the other, you really need to dodge and parry and then get hits in with both hands quickly afterward. Enemies are more aggressive than in Souls too, meaning you can’t really just linger and wait for a chance; you really have to take to the offensive. The game’s regain system means you’ll also be able to gain health back if you get hit and then immediately counter with a blow of your own. With risk comes reward.

I’ve decided that Bloodborne really isn’t for me, though I’ll admit I’m still spending time away from the game obsessing over new strategies to progress. It’s hard to describe the feeling of elation and dread that washes over you when you best an area and get to enter a new and unknown one. Even then, I feel like my return on investment isn’t at the level I’d like. I’ve literally spent hours and hours on the game only to progress about ten minutes in real-time. My Bloodborne isn’t about finishing the game anymore, it’s about doing slightly better than the last time, or at least setting personal challenges.

One said challenge was to beat an enemy I’d nicknamed ‘Gorilla Grodd’. I tried killing that bastard about twenty times before succeeding, and even then, I almost died ’cause I got distracted, fiddling around with my DualShock 4 to ensure I had the moment recorded for posterity.

I’m not above gloating. Take a look.

So as you might guess, I do understand why so many of you obsess over games of this nature. I’m just not prepared to sacrifice all of my free time and energy into getting my ass kicked.

“You will die repeatedly. Everyone dies. This point is hammered home in the tutorial of every one of these From Soft RPGs: you are forced to die, and you are then taught that death does not mean you lose everything, not necessarily. It’s part of the learning, part of the complete experience,” the Bloodborne Reviewer’s Guide asserts. While very true — and fair enough, ’cause Souls die-hards love it — it takes me, on average, one full minute to respawn when I die. And I did pretty much every two minutes like clockwork. That reload time is absolutely ridiculous.

I’m not kidding. Check it out:

On top of this, the game is as ugly as hell. It looks like a PS3 offering rather than anything that you’ve seen from the likes of The Order: 1886. The easiest way to show this off is to show my character in the buff.

He shouldn’t really be walking around without armour, but because I’m so shit at the game, I can only buy one extra set of gear and no new weapons. I’m practically swimming in blood souls, the currency to buy new gear, as I keep retrieving my dead body’s stuff, but I literally can’t buy new things until I get further into the game. Blergh.

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Bloodborne also has three different types of multiplayer action — asynchronous, co-op and competitive play – but I’m honestly not good enough to experience most of them. You’ll need to hit up the game’s first boss for the co-op mode, gaining one Insight point, and competitive mode requires that you’re at Insight level 30. The modes are pretty straight-forward; co-op will let you bring a friend in to assist with a boss, and competitive with pit you against one another. The asynchronous multiplayer is straight out of Souls, allowing you to leave messages for other players, and vice versa.

Chalice dungeons are also new to the mix, offering procedurally-generated areas that can be tackled in solo or co-op play. Each player’s Chalice Dungeons will be unique and can be shared with other players, which adds a huge level of replayability for those who are gluttons for punishment. But again, I’m too shit to have gotten far with that.*

Ultimately, Dark Souls fans have been chomping at the bit for Bloodborne since the game’s announcement. You’ve already decided on a purchase and I won’t be able to sway you either way. For PlayStation owners out there who haven’t played past games, but are desperate for a new game to play, my advice is this: give it a go, but make sure you buy a physical copy of Bloodborne that you also have a right to return. If you avoid a digital purchase, you can always take it back if you decide the game’s more frustrating than fun. For newcomers, I expect the game to be pretty polarising; after a couple hours, you’ll either be addicted or plain ol’ pissed off.

 

7.5 out of 10

The good

  • Challenging as all hell.
  • Addictive, especially for those who don’t like to back down from challenges.
  • Interesting tweaks from the normal Souls formula.

The bad

  • The game walks a fine line between fun and frustrating.
  • Definitely not one for everyone.
  • Stupid-long load times and ugly-ass visuals.

 

Bloodborne was reviewed using a promotional code on PS4, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.