Developer: From Software | Year: 2015 | List Price: $59.99 | Buy from Amazon
Just a couple months back, I played and beat my first Souls game, Dark Souls by developer From Software. It wasn’t an instant love affair, but I’ve since found myself hooked by the franchise and yesterday I beat the newest game in the series, Bloodborne. It was really nice to finally be able to play a game of this sort that ran so well, considering I played Dark Souls on an old laptop averaging a measly 15 frames-per-second! Bloodborne was a wonderful experience from start to finish that really solidified my love for this franchise. Little can top the “flawed masterpiece” that Dark Souls was upon release, but Bloodborne’s refinements to the formula really do a lot to give that landmark title a run for its money.
The game’s setting and premise deviate from the Souls games’ traditional swords-and-spells setup. Instead, the player finds himself in a decidedly Victorian-inspired world, with towering cathedrals and bleak, grey storefronts. The entire game takes place over one long night in an eerie take on the day-night cycle. In fact, many elements of Bloodborne’s design add to its being one of the eerier games in recent memory. No, it’s not quite a horror game, and shouldn’t be referred to as such, but the abandoned streets, the talking doors, and the gigantic moon all lend a sense of calm inquietude to Bloodborne’s setting. All this is supplemented by great graphics, though if there’s a complaint it’s that the game never really gets away from a grey colour scheme, unlike Dark Souls with its occasional verdant forest.
In terms of story, Bloodborne does little more than Dark Souls to explain things explicitly. That said, I’ve heard it’s easier to deduce the game’s narrative from item descriptions than ever before. I really appreciate this type of storytelling, which allows the player a general sense of what’s happening while still requiring him or her to do some digging before being rewarded with the entire picture. There are three endings you can get depending on how you beat the game. Through some cloud-save witchcraft you can get all three in one playthrough, and seeing them all provides some insight (pun intended!) into the nature of the world of Bloodborne.
Gameplay has always been the focus of Souls games and Bloodborne’s doesn’t disappoint. It changes the formula up just enough to not feel too derivative of previous games. (This was a common complaint regarding Dark Souls II. I have the game but haven’t played it much, so I can’t testify to that just yet.) The biggest difference is that the player no longer has a shield at their disposal and must dodge incoming attacks if he or she is to avoid damage. In the now freed-up left hand, the player can wield a gun to stun opponents or parry an attack. The game definitely rewards aggressiveness more then previous Souls games. After you take a hit, if you can retaliate within a short span of time, you’ll regain some if not all the health you lost. In this way, it might actually be to your advantage to forget everything you learnt playing Dark Souls, as it will only hinder your performance in Bloodborne.
Another big gameplay change is regarding healing. In Dark Souls, you always respawn with five Estus Flasks, and you can’t pick any up in the game world, meaning that unless you find another bonfire to refill, you’ll only have five Estus Flasks. In Bloodborne, these have been replaced with Blood Vials, which work nearly identically to Estus Flasks, except now they deplete like any other item and are a relatively common drop from enemies. Seeing as you can hold up to twenty Blood Vials at a time, this drastically decreases the sense of urgency, especially since you run the possibility of picking up even more by killing enemies. And because they run out like any other item, if you’re particularly stuck on a boss fight, you may have to go back and grind for Blood Vials, which is simply annoying and unnecessary.
Most people agree that Bloodborne is a great place to start for someone new to the franchise. The starting area is quite difficult, but if you can make it past the first mandatory boss, then the rest of the game adds difficulty at a good pace. There aren’t really any crazy difficulty spikes (I’m looking at you, Dark Souls, with your Blighttown and Sen’s Fortress!), and if you persevere, the game will reward you with your well-deserved victory. Bloodborne is wonderfully balanced, and although there are even fewer weapons to use, each weapon has two modes, kind of in the vein of Monster Hunter. I’m not one to play around with builds too much, and I beat the game with my starting weapon in its first mode 95% of the time. (I pretty much exclusively use R1 attacks as well, but that’s sort of a bad habit and I advise you to learn your strong attacks as they set up viscerals if used properly.)
Altogether, Bloodborne is a marvelously rewarding gameplay experience that is certainly one of the PlayStation 4’s best exclusives yet. From Software has truly refined the balance between frustration and reward that makes its games so enjoyable. The main story is a little shorter; I did all the optional bosses and got the good ending in only 38 hours, but the wonderful thing about this is that the game never feels padded. And if you’re looking for increased value, the game’s optional and gruelingly difficult Chalice dungeons will provide hours upon hours of co-op and player-vs-player action. Some of these dungeons are even randomised to provide increased variety.
Design: 9/10 Bloodborne’s world is eerie and atmospheric and though its story is bare-bones, it is intriguing enough to grab the player’s interest from the beginning right to the end credits. Environments, while majestically designed, do get a little tired eventually and there is an overuse of grey. That said, more games could benefit from the amount of detail and lore that From Software puts into its universes.
Visuals: 9/10 Bloodborne possesses some truly stunning vistas to behold and at a 1080p resolution, this is definitely a game to show of the PlayStation 4’s capabilities. The game runs at a solid 30 frames-per-second, which lends a cinematic air that is often lost when the frame-rate is too high. Textures are sometimes a little muddy, but only when the camera is zoomed right up on them.
Sound: 9/10 Music has never been a focus in Souls games, and it isn’t really one here, but silence does even more to enhance the mood sometimes. And when the music does kick in, it’s always suitably majestic and exciting. The haunting ending theme also deserves a mention. Voice acting isn’t spectacular, but then again, campy voice acting has always been a part of the Souls formula.
Gameplay: 10/10 It’d be a sin to give Bloodborne’s intensely rewarding take on hack-and-slash gameplay anything less than full marks, for its masterful balance of freedom and level design fiercely overshadow its few hitches. From Software have made their brand of RPGs more approachable than ever, all without losing any of the unforgiving mechanics that have made their games notorious.
Value: 10/10 With its 35+ hour campaign, Bloodborne already provides one of the meatier experiences on the PlayStation 4, but with a robust New Game+ mode and optional, more difficult randomised dungeons to explore, players will find lots of reasons to justify the game’s $60 price tag.
Total: 47/50 (A+)
List Price: $59.99 | Buy from Amazon
Have you played Bloodborne? How did you fare? How did it compare to previous Souls games? Tell us what you think in the comments!
I can’t promise any new reviews in the near future, as there are events coming up that will occupy a lot of my time. But I’ll continue to work video games into my schedule and get reviews up as often as I can.
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