Bloodborne Review: Beasts Of The Victorian Wild

1 of 2

Developer: From Software

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Platform: PS4

Release Date: March 24

This Bloodborne review is spoiler-free of any story details outside of its basic plot, gameplay elements and mechanics.

Despite Dark Souls II being a very good video game, high expectations actually led to it becoming a slight disappointment for hardcore fans. With a new director, a fairly streamlined design and noticeable visual downgrades, there was as much to be said about the game’s contents as with how much was left out. Now, as Miyazaki leads the development of Bloodborne, his Victorian-era Action-RPG brings the Souls style of gaming to the PS4 for the very first time. From Software has a fascinating hit on their hands this March, even if it is a game that needs a slightly later release date.

In Bloodborne, players take on the role of Hunters, sent on the quest to vanquish the evil beasts and wondrous foes of the city of Yharnam. Most of the town’s denizens have gone mad, attacking you on sight. It’s up to you and your trusty weapons, gear and powerups to properly prepare for what terrors lie in wait.

As it is a spiritual Souls successor, there are a lot of intriguing gameplay and optimization mechanics to explain. First off, hunters have mostly ditched the shield-and-retort style of combat. Instead, Bloodborne players will have to resort to timely hits and dodges using slice, stab and blunt hit weapons in one hand and firearms in the other hand. Using a firearm at the right times against most enemies will stagger them, allowing players to go in for “visceral” (critical) weapon-dependent finishers. Strong attacks against an enemy’s back does the same.

Unless using an extraordinarily heavy weapon, Bloodborne rewards an aggressive style of play. The best way to describe the way you dodge attacks is by calling it a control float, swiftly getting you in and out of range. A regain system allows hunters who take damage to quickly regain it back through landed attacks. It’s the logical next step for a series looking to find something new in its combat system; a change I’m want to applaud. Players have to keep on their toes without the safety blanket of a strong shield protecting them, while dodge-happy players now have more freedom of movement to use at their discretion.

…The design of Bloodborne’s enemies and bosses are some of the team’s greatest creations yet.

Being able to swiftly maneuver side to side comes with an equal reaction by the challenges ahead in Bloodborne, as it allows for a multitude of massive, beastly bosses. It has been a while since there was such a wide variety of non-human bosses, each with their own individual battle tactics they employ and are required of you to conquer them. Patience is a virtue, with recurring deaths waiting those who dare too boldly. Enthralling is the thrill of the unknown bearing so heavily on encounters, and Bloodborne knows just how to instill that fear with impunity.

Common enemies are no joke, either, as they start to vary more as you explore the depths of Yharnam. As diseased townsfolk give way to wolf-like creatures, blighted amphibians and Lovecraftian incarnations, the design of Bloodborne’s enemies and bosses are some of the team’s greatest creations yet. They fit the dark, brooding world they are built for perfectly, capturing the sense of dread and despair brought on to what was once a prosperous land. Rare is it for games to tell their stories as well as Bloodborne shows theirs, with even enemy placement being an important factor in nailing the story down pat.

To match the increasingly difficult odds of survival, you will need to improve your character in order to match the grueling circumstances. Bloodborne is not unlike the Souls series in its upgrade system, utilizing “Blood Echoes” as souls for level upgrading. Vitality, Endurance and Strength make their return, while Skill denotes dexterity, Bloodtinge mostly pertains to firearms and Arcane refers to fire and similar passive bonuses. Weapons and armor utilize the tried and true Souls methods, with stat scaling and added effects for things like lightning, fire, poison, frenzy and other status effects.

Intriguing is how leveling up affects more than just your stat growth in Bloodborne. The way players regain health is through Blood Vials, with an initial limit of 20 per resurrection (up to 99 extras can be reserved in unseen storage). These are also available as drops for some enemies, but as you become stronger and earn more blood echoes through killing enemies, the cost of these and other purchasable items scale upwards. It’s a clever way of preventing against overstocking items that you will need later, although dedicated min-maxers will know how to circumvent this on a second playthrough.

Bloodborne is the most visually pleasing entry of its gameplay style yet.

Players can also tinker with their abilities in a couple of new methods. The first comes from the workshop, where you can fortify your weapons with Blood Gems. You can still scale weapons up using the standard method of adding Bloodstones to add damage (i.e: Saw Cleaver +1), but these Blood Gems can be affixed to your weapons for a plethora of different options. Some include improving your physical attack, stacking poison or doing extra damage in certain scenarios, while others provide passive bonuses. Rings are replaced by Caryll Runes, which provide stat boosts more often than not.

While there is a lot to like about the continued reliance on the advancement system, I feel the offerings in both equipment and optimization options are a bit limited in Bloodborne. Certainly there is a bit of streamlining in regards to immersing themselves in the setting (where armor is replaced by attire, creating dashing-looking characters), yet there doesn’t seem to be as much total equipment variety. This is best offset by some truly unique weapons, yet you can’t help but feel like you’re missing out on depth in that department.

Speaking of depth, online functionality has been refocused for Bloodborne. Covenants (now known as Oaths) can recruit characters to fight for seemingly opposing factions. Players have to be kept on their toes at all times, as it is possible to summon an enemy even when using the Beckoning Bell for boss help! With the options to host friends via an online password system, alongside the ability to share procedurally-generated Chalice Dungeons with the community at large, connectivity with friends and foes online is crucial to the game’s core.

If anything were the best illustrate an effort to make up for a slightly-more-shallow equipment variety is the actual world design of Bloodborne. Dense is the operative word, both aesthetically and practically, as the world’s color-rich environments are owed thanks to the powerful hardware specifications of the PS4. Grassy areas feel lush with life, while grimy castles and cathedrals are littered with rubble and visible signs of wear and tear. Each area feels lived in, with enemies that thematically make sense for their surroundings and items placed in clever spots.

When talking strictly about vanilla (unmodded) releases, Bloodborne is the most visually pleasing entry of its gameplay style yet. So many of the intricacies players were expecting out of Dark Souls II are present here, including a dynamic lighting engine that has a substantial impact on gameplay. Holding a torch in your offhand is almost required in the darkest dungeons, preventing both ambush and falling deaths. Dusk turns to night as players progress, providing differing looks when returning to old parts of the map. Furthermore, Bloodborne sports use of fog and steam, hiding enemies and helping to set the appropriately brooding mood.

Next: Discussing Technical Limitations In Building A Realized World