The story of Bloodborne is vague to say the least. During the opening cinematic a rather shifty-looking one-eyed doctor notes that you’re a Paleblood, and that a cure for it might be found in in the cursed town of Yharnam. He then injects you with some Yharnam blood and suggests everything you see from this point on might be a dream...
Bloodborne is a third-person action adventure game that features combat and exploration in equal measure. Focusing on the exploration part first, Yharnam, like Boletaria, Lordran and Drangleic before it, is an open-world map that can be explored however you like, with no set path to follow. The world snakes around itself, spreading out in all directions (including up and down), but always linking back to areas you’ve been before.
According to the Playstation website, Yharnam is “a city where death, madness and nightmarish creatures lurk around every corner.” It’s an apt description, and from the outset you’re attacked by dog-like beasts and zombie-esque humans calling you a “foul beast”. Venturing deeper into the town reveals even greater horrors – ogres, spiders, brainsuckers, giants, hunters and others - all of whom are intent on your destruction.
To fend off these creatures you’re equipped with a melee weapon – an axe, sword, cleaver, whip, mace etc – and a gun. That’s right, a gun. The gun represents one of the biggest changes in Bloodborne over the Souls games, highlighting a focus on dynamic combat rather than turtling behind a shield. The gun is not very powerful in and of itself, but it can be used to stagger an enemy mid-attack, giving you time to walk in and deliver what’s called a “visceral attack” that deals huge damage (often killing with a single blow).
Another change from the Souls games is any time you take damage you have a short time-window where you can earn some (or all) of the health back by damaging enemies. Like the absence of shields this lends itself towards a more aggressive play-style which is a breath of fresh air for the series.
The in-game economy works as it did in the Souls games, though killing enemies now results in “blood echoes” rather than souls. Blood echoes are the currency used to level up your character and gear, as well as but items from merchants. Just like the Souls games you lose any blood echoes you have when you die – unless you can make it back to the same spot and reclaim them without dying again.
Each dungeon has multiple bosses, some of which you’ll meet in the game proper, and others that are exclusive to the dungeons. They also hold great loot, including weapon variants not found in the main game, and easier access to upgrade materials. Dungeons can be saved and uploaded for others to play, and given the number already available in-game there is an almost endless amount of content for you to sink your teeth into.
Playing online is a big part of From’s games, even if you don’t intend to play the game with others. By playing online Yharnam becomes littered with helpful (and occasionally devious) messages left by other players. They might direct you towards treasure, alert you to an ambush, or if you’re unlucky one might lead you off a cliff, or into trouble. Blood spatters on the ground can be investigated to reveal how other players perished, giving you a better idea of what lies ahead.
Playing online does have its darker side though; nefarious players can invade your game to wipe you out, netting rewards for themselves, but leaving you beaten and bloodied, and more than a little disgruntled. Invasions occurred infrequently in my game – just once in the forty-odd hours of play – and they can be as exhilarating as they are painful if you manage to defeat the invader, so you definitely shouldn’t let this put you off playing online.
As far as issues go, we had just a couple. Checkpoints, activated by lighting a lamp, are spaced imperfectly, especially very early game. The result is you can spend your first few hours making very little progress before realizing that running past every enemy is an entirely legitimate strategy. One or two extra checkpoints in the early game would have made for a much smoother initiation and saved needless frustration.
Loading times are also an issue, though much less in Version 1.03 (the version we reviewed) than they were when initially released. However despite a patch that halved some of the load times, you’ll still find yourself waiting unnecessarily long to return to the fray after a death. Lastly, I know some people enjoy a minimalist approach to storytelling, but Bloodborne takes that to new levels. Halfway through the game you still don’t have much idea what’s going on or why you’re persisting.
Visually Bloodborne impresses, with a high-level of detail throughout. Buildings have intricate patterns cut into their rocks for example, while enemies have clothes or fur that ripples realistically as they move around. There’s great variety in the landscapes - at first you’re in a town, but before long you’re out in a field, creeping through caves and caverns, escaping jail or high-tailing it through a spider-infested forest. Not to mention the customary (and still as irritating) poison bog section.
Audio is of an overall high standard, with haunting choir tunes that suit the mood very well, along with excellent fighting effects and believable monster sounds. There are a few effects that sound off, such as the crows that sound more like feral dogs, or the jarring way sound changes when you move from outside to an enclosed space, but on the whole it’s a well-produced package.
Thanks to faster-paced combat than its predecessors, Bloodborne manages to feel fresh, and the chalice dungeons are a welcome addition that add plenty of replayability to an already lengthy title. Delivering content and enjoyment in spades, with more than a little hair-pulling thrown in for good measure, Bloodborne comes recommended to all action game fans.
Review By: Mike Allison