May 2015 will go down in history as the date when I embraced the next gen of gaming. After much stalling I finally decided to purchase a PS4, which came bundled with Bloodborne – the spiritual successor to the infamously challenging Demons/Dark Souls games. Created by Hidetaka Miyazaki (a surname popular with talented directors) this latest RPG by From Software sees gamers journey away from the medieval/fantasy world of the Souls series to a creepy Victorian city named Yharnam. Players assume the role of a Van Hellsing like hunter who is tasked with ridding the settlement of the monsters roaming its streets.
If you are the type of gamer who gets easily frustrated by the words “Game Over” then Bloodborne may not be the game for you. Not only is it brutally punishing, but it also doesn’t have the decency to ease you into the action with a tutorial level. When the story begins you awaken in a clinic having just received a blood transfusion. Slowly you rise from the gurney you are lying on and head to the exit where you’ll encounter a werewolf chomping down on a rotting cadaver. If you are anything like me you’ll soon become the creature’s dessert… the first of many deaths I suffered over the course of my Lovecraftian adventure.
Veterans of the Souls series will be better placed to face Bloodborne’s challenges, as the game’s mechanics are pretty much identical to those of its predecessors. Like in previous From Software titles killing enemies rewards you with blood echoes, which can be spent on levelling up your character or purchasing equipment from the beasties that bathe in bird fountains situated in the Hunter’s Dream hub area. Exercising caution, whilst exploring Yharnam, is recommended because perishing will result in you dropping all of your hard earned souls… um echoes. The only way to retrieve the echoes you lost is to journey back to where you died, which is no easy task given that enemies re-spawn whenever you revisit a location.
Despite the similarities, there are some subtle differences that make Bloodborne a more action-focused experience than the Souls titles. The biggest change is that Bloodborne’s inventory of gear contains no worthwhile shields, so the days of cowering behind an impregnable defence are well and truly over. Replacing the shields are an assortment of firearms, which don’t deal too much damage, but can momentarily stun a target should you manage to blast them at the right time. To compensate for their lack of defence, hunters also get an ability that allows them to regain health by striking an opponent. It’s a useful skill, but nowhere as overpowered as you may think given that some enemies can kill you in a couple of blows.
Although the PlayStation 4 has been selling gangbusters, its competitors arguably have a better library of exclusives. Sony will therefore be pleased to have Bloodborne associated with their platform, as it is easily one of the better video games released in 2015. It’s a gorgeous looking title with expansive environments filled with secrets to discover. One complaint I have with the visuals is that the characters do not move their lips when speaking, which looks a little odd. Surely animating someone’s mouth wouldn’t be too tough for a talented team who lavished so much detail upon the clothing characters wear and the gruesome design of its monsters. Perhaps Yharnam is just populated with ventriloquists?
The only real gripe I have with Bloodborne is that its arsenal of gear and weapons is rather limited when compared to those of the Souls games. On the plus side however many of the weapons you procure can transform, which is rather cool. As an example, I started my quest against Yharnam’s lycanthropes brandishing a walking stick that can change into a whip. Later on in my adventures I switched over to a blade that can morph into a massive mallet. It’s good to see that (despite Michael Bay’s best efforts) things that transform can still be awesome.
My final rating for Bloodborne is five stars. It’s worth a punt even if you have previously not enjoyed From Software’s other games. I’m not sure if it’s the horror setting or the more generous amount of healing items you can carry, but I found this title to be more accessible than the Souls games. Yes the game can be tough, but it is fair. Once you memorize trap locations and enemy attack patterns you’ll find traversing levels to be much more manageable. If all else fails you can also purchase a snazzy bell that summons fellow players to aid you against the game’s tougher foes. Don’t let Bloodborne’s sadistic reputation put you off from trying this gem. Perseverance will win you the day. I struggle with Kirby games and still managed to complete Bloodborne so it can’t be THAT hard.