Bloodborne Review (PlayStation 4)
If you've played any of the games in From Software’s Souls series, you'll have some idea what you're in for with Bloodborne, the gothic action-RPG/survival horror game and spiritual successor to the popular series. Things are going to be tough, you're going to die, and, most importantly, you're going to have one hell of a good time.
In Bloodborne, you're on a journey through the plague-infested city of Yharnam to find the cure for that which ails it while fighting back the ever-growing tide of darkness. Like the Souls games before it, Bloodborne's story is minimalist, yet robust if you're willing to dig, putting greater emphasis on the real story--the pulse-pounding moment-to-moment gameplay.
Yharnam's a dangerous place, with freakish, mad enemies lurking around every corner. To take them down will require a thoughtful approach from you; button-mashers need not apply. You'll spend most of the game armed with a small firearm in one hand, useful for pulling enemies from a distance or stunning them during key moments, and a transformable melee weapon in the other. Each weapon is a distinct entity and can drastically switch your play style. The saw is quick, but short-ranged, the axe is stronger, longer, and slower, and the Kirkhammer is a one-two punch of a rapid sword and a powerful hammer.
The weapons are all fairly closely balanced, and thanks to a pervasive upgrade system you can generally stick with the armament which most closely suits your play style rather than being forced into using something you don't like just because it has bigger numbers. This is rewarding combat emphasizing fast attacks and precise dodging. With the huge variety of enemy types and the different ways battles play out depending on your environment, you're in for lots of fighting with very little repetition. Plus, thanks to the complex, but razor-sharp, controls, you'll always feel like you're in command of a situation even as things go wildly out of control.
Like the Souls series, Bloodborne's not the kindest of games. Upon defeating an enemy you gain Blood Echoes, which function as both currency and experience points. Die and you'll lose these Blood Echoes (unless you can make it back to where you died, in which case you'll gain everything back). This risk and reward system makes every moment a strategic one— push ahead and press your luck, or double back and play it safe? Rest assured, you can never be truly safe in Bloodborne. Death comes often, and bears a lengthy loading screen as punishment, but each time you bite the dust it feels earned; there is always something you could have done to fight better and harder, and the urge to explore this rich, slowly-expanding world is too addictive to let something as small as death stop you.
Don't expect any fancy tutorials or an easy mode; you'll need to figure out how to fight or die trying... but this fight's not yours alone. Should you play online (and you really should), you'll see notes left behind by other players assembled using pre-determined templates, warning messages about hidden enemies or friendly guides pointing towards hidden treasures. Also, when players die they leave behind bloodstains which you can touch to see their final moments in action, hopefully learning what they did wrong.
This is a brilliant online system, creating a real sense of community between the players. When you take on Bloodborne, you take it on with the knowledge and help of those who have come before you. There's also a more active form of multiplayer, with both PVP and co-op. Though most games have a simple menu option to let you play with/against friends, Bloodborne uses a strangely unwieldy system of requiring Insight (a special essence gathered in-game) and using different types of bells to denote what sort of multiplayer you want to do. It all works, technically, but it's incredibly unintuitive and needlessly complicated in an age where most games let you select your friend's name, send an invite, and be playing together in seconds.
The dark ruins and sanguine skies of Yharnam will rob you of breath and leave you gasping for more; Bloodborne's one gorgeously dark game (though it suffers from a few frame rate issues here and there). Your character will probably be one of the few shining bits of light in an otherwise grotesque world; thanks to a robust character creator you can craft a hero of any kind, one you'll be glad to play over and over again. Also, the character creator lets you save a particular configuration for easy recreation on subsequent playthroughs— it's a genius inclusion more character creation screens should offer.
The soundtrack is downright phenomenal, whether it's the swelling orchestral pieces which blare from your speakers during a boss fight or the ominous scrapes and growls of Yharnam's streets. Listening is a key component of survival; many deaths can be avoided if you'll keep your ears pricked sharp for the evil crouched in the nearby dark.
Bloodborne is a harsh master, one which demands excellence from its pupils. Enemies are vicious, the punishments severe, and the lack of a pause function means you can never stop to catch your breath. But in the wake of these tribulations comes a feeling of triumph few games can offer. The skilled combat, phenomenal setting, seemingly limitless secrets and challenges, brilliant level design, and sprawling gameplay will keep you coming back again and again. Sometimes things will be tough; you may even swear you're done getting stomped by a cruel and uncaring game, yet you'll inevitably find yourself picking up that controller again, steeling your resolve, swearing to push through the pain to snatch that next triumphant moment of victory from the slobbering jaws of the dark beast we call Bloodborne.
This review is based on a purchased, digital copy of Bloodborne for the PlayStation 4.