In this article I take a real, hard look at FromSoft’s lovecraftian title Bloodborne. It isn’t a sugar coated, hand-holding type of review. The game itself is utterly brilliant, but not every aspect of the game was well thought out, tested or implemented. I took my time with the game before reviewing. Let’s look deeper than the surface and get into the nitty-gritty of this PS4 exclusive.
Developed by: From Software
Published by: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release date: March 24th, 2015
Platforms: PS4 (Reviewed on PS4)
Launch Price: 59.99 USD
Design in Bloodborne
Let’s start with game design. The developers absolutely crushed this aspect of the game. I haven’t had this immersive of an experience in years. The overall detail of the city of Yharnam is profound, dark, dramatic and downright horrifying. You will find yourself getting lost admiring the artwork of buildings and statues and feeling like you really were in a plague (of beasts) ridden Victorian England.
The interconnected world that we all loved in Dark Souls is back. It absolutely blows my mind how they figured out how to tie it all together, and yet the game wouldn’t be the same without it. As you progress through the game you cannot help but feel From is a puppet master, cleverly guiding us through their world in such a manner you felt you were doing it all on our own.
Character and enemy animations and effects are much improved over previous From titles. You’ll notice your clothing move as you run or ride elevators. Enemies talk to you while fighting and move as if they have their own goals in the game. Enemy and Boss AI is also much improved, creating some of the most thrilling and challenging boss fights to date. This is hands down some of the best AI I have ever seen in a game (it often feels like it is learning your attack patterns and countering them).
Music and sound are outstanding. Having played the game wearing my surround sounds PX4s, I was able to experience the full glory of this. From the whispers enemies mumble to you under their breath, to hearing the ominously heavy footstep of the Snatcher Bagmen as they approach, the game continues to amaze with its attention to this often over looked aspect. The musical score is the best I’ve heard since Demon’s Souls and helps create the haunting mood that the game so clearly portrays. Music and sound can often make average game good, but in this case it simply makes a good game even better.
- Exceptional artwork, creating one of the most immersive atmospheres to date.
- Interconnected World with varying environments to explore and multiple ways to get to them. See the maps on the wiki, your mind to be blown.
- Improved enemy AI that seems to know just when to attack and Boss fights that will leave your heart pounding.
- An original score that rivals any game and subtle sound effects that enhance the gameplay experience.
- Boss AI can get confused sometimes in Co Op, leading to some strange attack patterns.
- Lack of warping between Lamps (checkpoints) adds an extra loading screen… and those are infamously long.
- Some of the music is recycled between Boss fights.
Combat in Bloodborne
Combat in Bloodborne is extremely satisfying; it may in fact be the best part of the game. The combat has a very steep learning curve that once mastered is gratifying, challenging, and addicting. Its high risk high reward system either leads to moments where you feel like such a badass that you can’t help but “Brush Dust Off“, or where you end up looking at “BLOODBORNE” for the next 60 seconds. I have had moments where I was literally fist pumping in my living room or…throwing my controller down and kicking it across the floor as a result. No other game can create the feeling of downing that one boss that’s been kicking your ass for hours (or even days). NONE…ok maybe Dark Souls…
Weapons in the game all feel unique and well designed. The transformations and abundance of different attacks makes learning a weapon take much longer than other games, but also creates a bond between player and weapon (wouldn’t trade my Blade of Mercy for anything). Firearms add another facet to combat not seen in other From games, allowing for some unique combat experiences/play styles. They seem either extremely useful or extremely useless depending on your build, play style and the enemy you are fighting, however. There are not a wide variety of weapons to choose from in Bloodborne (compared with the Souls games), a point that has been largely criticized by many players. It remains to be seen how this will impact the longevity of the game.
Armor has been replaced with Attire and is no longer upgradeable. There are roughly 23 Attire Sets in the game, most look different and unique, but a few are recycled from other Sets. My biggest criticism with this change isn’t the lack of variety, but rather the lack of upgrading, pigeonholing players into specific Sets/pieces of Attire. For players who like to min/max it can be annoying, but Fashionborne is still a thing and probably always will be.
Upgrades are the most simplified they have ever been. Every weapon uses the same upgrade material (and quantity of it). The new addition here is the Blood Gems. These Gems can be slotted into your weapons to increase the damage done, change damage types, improve scaling (or add scaling from another stat if none exists), add poison to the weapon or even reduces stamina costs or add HP regain. There is a wide variety of effects to be sure, unfortunately unless you have a very very unique build, 90% of the time the best gem you can put in your weapon is one with “Damage Type UP +%”. This pretty much makes 75% of the Blood Gems in the game inferior and thus sold to the vendor for more Blood Echoes.
- High risk high reward combat that can give you some of the most thrilling moments you’ve ever experienced.
- Addictive combat that doesn’t feel repetitive due to combination attacks.
- Unique and engaging weapons that players can really connect with.
- Simplified upgrades that make it very easy for anyone to understand.
- Dying means looking at another 60 second load screen.
- Camera angle during combat is the #1 cause of deaths (replacing gravity in Souls games).
- Lack of weapon variety leaves a player wanting more. “Uncanny” and “Lost” are only a pretense of variety.
- Armor cannot be upgraded.
- Oversimplified upgrade system is simply not interesting.
Story in Bloodborne
I must confess here that From’s stories in their games have always been a bit of an enigma to me (and many players). It really takes some digging, time and patience to get to the bottom of what is really going on. I will try and simplify what I know in an attempt to loosely create an understanding (without spoiling too much). If you want to be spoiled, you can read the detailed Lore page.
Yharnam was a city built on top of a labyrinth of the ancient Pthumerians, a civilization that could commune with the Great Ones. Scholars researched this for many years and found blood that could cure illnesses. People came from all over to be healed in the city, but what they thought was their savior ended up being their undoing as they one by one turned to beasts. The game takes place years after these events and you arrive in Yharnam under unclear circumstances and must unravel the mystery.
NPCs in Yharnam have unique and shrouded storylines that will require many playthroughs to fully explore, unless you settle for reading the outcomes.
I’m constantly amazed at how much depth there is to the story, and how well hidden it is in obscure parts of the game. It is very easy to overlook and many players will finish the game wondering what it was all about. For the players who delve in and really dig, there are answers to the questions they seek. The community is usually divided on the lore aspects of the game, sparking much debate and excellent theories. I find it to be a particularly endearing and unique aspect of FromSoftware games…
- A unique story told in a unique way and that adds replayability for investigation and testing purposes.
- Enough clues that the player can make theories but not so many that they are black and white.
- Very little explanation of what is happening in the story if you are unfamiliar with Lovecraft concepts.
- Very easy to miss important story related information and even objectives within the game.
Multiplayer in Bloodborne
FromSoftware games have always thrived on their Multiplayer aspect. From the unique way in which they interweave players into each other’s game worlds, to the summoning mechanics we have all become accustomed to, they have been constantly pushing the envelope in this department. Unfortunately, they pushed it too far in Bloodborne and broke it.
Let me start by saying that I have co-oped almost the entire game and I absolutely love it…when it works. That’s the real issue here, it doesn’t work or doesn’t work in a timely manner more often then not. In the Souls games we had signs on the ground that we could see, letting us know if there were players around, letting us choose who we wanted to summon etc. Now we have a bell that rings and you stand there wondering what is happening. You don’t know for sure if there are players nearby able to be summoned, you can’t choose which to summon if you have some sort of preference but don’t want to limit yourself to a password, and you don’t know how long it will take. I have wasted countless hours waiting to be summoned or waiting for someone to appear even in scheduled coop with level, password and connection coordination. It can be very easy to summon a random player, but it isn’t easy to summon specific players (friends), even with a password. This is the single biggest negative in the entire game.
* [Updated November 2015] The multiplayer aspect was improved in later patches, making the game much more co-op friendly.
PvP is a mixed bag. I find that actual PvP when it happens is outstanding most of the time – bar the obnoxious healing spam. Again, the issue here is when it happens. Since you can only be invaded when a Chime Maiden is alive in your world, you are highly dependent on that Chime Maiden doing her job (ringing that bell). More often than not, she goes on strike and doesn’t summon anyone, as evidenced by our 4 hour event. Another interesting thing is that after I have been invaded (provided I live), if the other Hunter departs via death or disconnect, my Chime Maiden will not summon a second invader. Just won’t happen. So I have to port out and back in to get invaded again. There are also framerate issues sometimes when PvPing, but those are minor compared to the Chime Maiden issue. To add insult to injury, the absence of signs and intentional summons of invaders into your world makes hosting fightclubs a convoluted task.
Chalice Dungeons are a new feature in From games, that are also a mixed bag. I have enjoyed the few I have done well enough, but I do feel like it’s starting to get repetitive. The dungeons look the same and you can see that they used pre-constructed segments that are just randomly pieced together not unlike the Time Splitters 2 (2002) map editor. The loot inside the dungeons is almost non-existent. You mostly get materials to create more Chalice Dungeons. Some of the bosses in these dungeons are downright amazing and others are simply recycled Bosses or even regular enemies from the game. I can’t help but feel that this wasn’t FromSoftware’s idea and just did the best they could to have a go at MMO elements that they are not experienced with. You can see the potential in them while playing, but unfortunately they just didn’t reach it, and they suffer from the same summoning issues the rest of the game does.
- Fun and engaging Co Op makes you wants to play the game over and over.
- PvP is exciting and heart pumping due to fast paced combat.
- Chalice Dungeons will give players environments to explore even after they have completed the game.
- Connectivity issues ruin your enthusiasm for Co Op over time.
- Connectivity issues ruin your enthusiasm for PvP over time.
- Chalice Dungeons are all so similar and the reward system so lackluster they can get repetitive.
I wanted Bloodborne to be the game that I would be playing for months and months to come. I wanted it to be the game I couldn’t stop playing if I tried. And, while it’s an amazing game, it simply wasn’t that for me. Your first play through will blow you away. If you can overcome the steep learning curve, and hang in there, you will find Bloodborne is a a once in a lifetime experience. And, while you can tell I’m conflicted about aspects of the game, the game is truly a must-own title. I will always remember the moment Dark Souls clicked for me and I was hooked. This is the closest I have been to that experience and I think many other players would agree with that.
In closing, my advise is: buy the game, play the shit out of it, and put it on your shelf and look back fondly on the experience you had, because it will be one you will never forget.
If I could say one thing to Fromsoftware it would simply be what every single teacher I ever had has said to my parents, “He isn’t living up to his potential”. We can all see what could be and we are all dying for it, but somehow, for some reason, it’s just not happening…
- The best RPG experience I have had on console since Dark Souls.
- A world that is vast and detailed and completely immerses you in it.
- Some of the most fun I’ve ever had Co Oping.
- Challenging and rewarding combat that makes you feel alive.
- Infamously long load times with a static screen break the overall flow of the game.
- Multiplayer connectivity issues prevent the game from being a true masterpiece.
- No incentive to replay the game on the New Game Plus except for difficulty, since there are no items, spells, weapons or trophies necessitating a second playthrough.
- Bugs & Glitches. Some are gamebreaking, most are infuriating. There’s more of them than in the other titles, and players may find themselves locked atop elevators leading to optional but important bosses.
What did you think? Let us know in the comments!