Review: Bloodborne

The Nightmare Before Halloween

March 30 2015

By Matt Whitesides

4.5/5

You know what's more real than souls? Blood, but then again blood echos sounds made up. Maybe next time From Software.

It has been a rough day. Bloodborne is not the kind of game that you can just relax and make some mindless progress in. It is much more like a game where you wonder for 8 hours who thought it was a good idea to make the first level totally soul crushing. Yes, I have been playing the majority of the day and have only beaten the first two bosses. No idea if this is average or below but I cannot imagine anyone not finding this game to be a stiff reality check.

He's in a wheelchair, how tough could he be?

So, I start out Bloodborne optimistic. My character Jack Danger and I are feeling pretty good. Things quickly go bad. First, I realize I accidentally missed the facial hair options on the character creation screen so unless I can find a way to re-customize (doubt it) I will have to live the rest of my life knowing Jack Danger could have had a sweet beard this whole time. Jack's a trooper though, despite having weird doctors give him blood, having a crazy ghouls swim with him in blood, and being thrown into a world straight out of the Purge. That is, if The Purge took place in a Victorian-era Doctor Seuss nightmare land.

By far the coolest part of this game is the art style. The environment is fantastic; it seems so rare that you get this style of Gothic. Weirdly, everyone is like a classy version of British Nightmare Before Christmas; it's a really cool style that you don't see much. Everything has been overrun with generic fantasy, and this feels refreshing. Much more so than games like Dark Souls, which just seemed like a bunch of random monster sketches thrown into a pot, this game has a cohesive style and theme. This also can turn a bit depressing, after a while of the same drab darkness, but just take a step back and realize how cool it is.

What's this!? What's this!? There's magic in the air!

Speaking of depressing, the game is punishing. Even more so than Dark Souls. If you didn't already know the basic game play is exactly the same but with a couple tweaks. Most notable of which is the lack of shields. This is strange to me because I always went with heavy armor and shields in Dark Souls but it works here. In this game you have to dodge and are given more ability to do so; sidestepping is much quicker and attacks are fast and furious. A lot of this tweaks "simplicity" or takes out the bloat to focus on the core concepts: less of the useless stats, unused weapons, and random items common to the previous Souls entries. You might think this would be bad for a hardcore fan, but it's almost the opposite. There is less bloat and seemingly more secrets to uncover; on the surface it's more clear but underneath it's completely bonkers.

You think you've one upped it, and it just f****s you right back.

The game play is almost all improved in my opinion, but some things are kind of annoying without any reward. No longer do you get a fresh health refill item every time you die. They drop frequently but this leads to you having a ton of health items when you don't need them, but when you are trying a boss the 10th time you have to grind before each try to replenish them. Same goes for the gun ammo, which is key to stunning all enemies and stopping their attacks much in the way a shield used to do in Dark Souls. This is also key to fighting but has to be grinded for when low. That, on top of the infamous loading times the game has, makes it more crushing than ever to lose to a boss in this game. Despite those gripes, the rest of the changes in the game are smart and improve the experience.

You can give these guys little top hats.

If you are questioning this game here is an example of an experience I have had. For the second (I did it first) boss in the game, here is what happened to me. I fought and lost a bunch of times not being able to damage him more than 1/8th his health. Later, I realized it was very effective to parry his attacks with a gun, until 2/3 health left where he changes weapons and makes it much harder to parry. After dying a bunch I realized you can use the environment to block his second weapon and get through with your own. Now, this feels like a cop out as it looks kinda like an AI exploit but that's the key to Bloodborne; nothing is an exploit, they know what you can do. Now, when I use this cheap method to get him down to 1/3 health he transforms into a werewolf that literally destroys all the barriers in the environment you thought where just decoration you where using. Then, I die a lot more until I finally can dodge all his attacks and squeak out a victory. It is a journey to beat anything in this game. You think you've one upped it, and it just f****s you right back.

Update 2

I wish I had a reason to dress like this.

Ah another day in the can, where does the time go? Well clearly today went into clearing out a couple new areas, discovering a couple new bosses and losing to those said bosses. Overall things went smoother, this is definitely the kind of game that gets harder in technical challenge but easier in manageability. This is where games of this type shine, you always feel more powerful and are always encountering more challenging enemies. That way you are always just at the edge of feeling cool and totally helpless.

Today, after a good run I finally actually accumulated some good amounts of souls (blood echos). That's something that seems rougher than previous souls games, since the frequency of bonfire lamp-things is much less than Dark Souls. I never cared too much about losing souls in these games as it seems like the real leveling comes from beating bosses and collecting the batch soul items. This is mostly true here, but now echos are more important then in the previous games. Buying weapons and items are much more encouraged and replenishing your consumables is mainly done through the store. This still is my biggest complaint of the game, the non replenishing ammo and health items. Again, 90% of the time you have a ton in the bank but when you really need them you lose them quickly. This, I imagine, will become less and less of a problem as money becomes easier to come by, but at the beginning it's pretty annoying.

Naturally, I have been putting most of my stats into endurance and strength. My favorite way of killing people is just to swing until they are dead, problems only come when you stop. Not sure exactly what the other stats are good for, there are not many items that arcane probably helps with, adding to guns probably makes stunning easier but that doesn't seem like a viable skill on it's own. So, if Dark Souls is any indication it is just gonna be endurance and strength until 50.

It's hard but if you get the time, stop and smell the roses. They're nice.

Got some sweet new armor and weapons but weirdly nothing that is actually better than the first couple items I found. The weapons by themselves are roughly the same with just some stylistic preferences and the armor seems objectively weaker in most cases. This is sad because I really want to wear my top hat but it's just not as good. There could be some things I'm missing though as some of the items have unique properties, like armor that can change stats based on who you talk to. That seems to be the theme with Bloodborne, add more where it counts and strip away the bloat.

Overall, optimistic round 2 of Bloodborne. No bosses beaten and looks like some echo grind in my future, but nothing too unreasonable.

Update 3

Maybe a smaller update this time around, as my opinions haven't changed significantly. Made very good progress, beat a few more bosses without too much effort. Honestly I don't play theses games super pure, I do every once in a while refer to the internet to make sure I know how some systems work and that I'm on the right track. I understand it's part of the game to figure out the obscurities but in reality it's just at much part of the game to use the community to explore aspects you would likely have just missed altogether.

This guy looks way too stoked to be killing me.

I'm also falling back into my favorite tendencies in games, which is to over level for the current content. Basically any game that gives you a level and powers based on that level, I'm gonna get it as high as possible as soon as possible. I mean if the best stuff comes from being higher level why wouldn't you want to be at that level for the majority of the game? Now in Bloodborne this takes a totally different meaning because over leveling in this is more just the difference between dying a lot and a whole lot. Realistically you could be level 100 in the early areas and still be killed easily as a strong chunk of your resistance and damage is not from level but your equipment which is slowly given out as you find new areas not get new levels.

The crow is apparently an entire category of enemy according PlayStation.com

Equipment in these kind of games is weird as well, in this game and Dark Souls it appears the best stuff is found early to mid points in the game. I still and using the first weapon given and the second armor set I found. Everything else I find is objectively worse and since you level up your weapons they become much more powerful then anything you find. Even if my starter weapon was not leveled up the found weapons would still be about equal so it makes it kinda a big commitment to switch weapons. This is not a bad thing as Dark Souls was very similar, you would settle on a weapon about half way though as stick with it till the end. Probably my biggest gaming disappointment was in Dark Souls where I was determined to get to level 50 strength so I could use a Dragon Sword. Now if you know Dark Souls, anything after level 40 in a stat gives minimal return on value, so when I finally get to use the sword I come to find it's a lot worse than what I had been using this whole time. Seems to be similar situation in Bloodborne where adapting to a specific weapon or armor set is more of a hardcore commitment to make it worth it.

I still have not come around on the health and ammo grinding. It's not that it's all that bad but knowing the difference from Dark Souls, I can't help but think it's just an annoying step down. There is really no upside I see besides having way too many when you don't need it and none when you do. Also the load times are insanely discouraging every time you die.

None the less despite wanting to cry every time you die in this game, it is still beautiful, fun and rewarding in a way that games just don't achieve very often.

Update 4

Man this game is too easy, I'm practically blowing through it with ease. Of course that's not exactly true, it's more like I'm methodically and carefully progressing through each inch of the game. But then if I die that's where the sprinting to the area I died at begins. That's kind of an interesting thing about these games, you are so careful 99% of the time but in reality you could just sprint to the end of each area without ever getting touched. Now this of course would come back to bit you in the end as you would still then have to fight the bosses successfully. In reality the levels themselves are just to find loot and souls, how hard you make them is up to you.

The magic in these games is the further you get in the more accessible the game becomes. Not only that but the game starts to expand in weird ways. What started out as just a weird town of Resident Evil 4 style crazy people has expanded into a world full of all sorts of weird creatures and without spoiling anything... other stuff. You get more powerful, you start to get the pace of the combat better, and you stop being afraid of getting killed. Not because the danger is any less real but because you know you have gained enough to take care of what you need to deal with. It's a great push and pull of being easier to play but "technically" harder as you go along. This makes it easy to look back at the frustrations you where having at the beginning and at least thinking you would do it easily the next time.

Not too much to add to the review other than the game does expand in some weird ways. Much of the worry initially people had was the environment locations, while awesome, were not varied enough. This is not true, they are more thematically consistent I think than Dark Souls but definitely the further you get into the game the more it opens up.

Probably the only things left to put a final score on the thing is to finish it so we will get there soon enough. But rest assured baring any tragic misfortune in the later areas the game is looking like a very high score.

More to come...

The sun will come out, tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar.