Fri. Mar 31st, 2023
Not Shown: The hordes of enemies that populate much of the game.

Not Shown: The hordes of enemies that populate much of the game.

After learning that I had received a blood transfusion – the blood that serves as currency, medicine, religious symbolism and much more in Bloodbornethe gothic world – I left my hospital bed in the basement to explore the world above. Of course I was killed. Repeatedly.

Everything seemed to be fine.

When the Souls games (Demon souls, dark soulsAnd Dark Souls 2) are discussed, the focus is usually on the difficulty of the series. Focusing on that one design element, however, clouds talk of the games’ incredible, interconnected worlds and the great sense of exploration they engender. That petty enemy you can kill with three telegraphed sword strikes is just as important as the 12-hour trek through the sewers to open a door in a forest valley half a world away.

Make no mistake; Bloodborne is a Souls game in all but name, sharing a line of development in From Software and Director Hidetaka Miyazaki. From the controls to the way progress is lost on death, the sound effects to the wacky ragdoll physics, anyone with a passing familiarity with the series will recognize it Bloodborne as part of the same family. But Bloodborne marks a deviation from the Souls name, even while retaining the series’ signature punitive repeated deaths, huge bosses, and environmental stories.

Like it Demon souls, Bloodborne sport a hub world that keeps the regions – along with their various monsters, toxins and traps – connected. from Bloodborne Gothic city-state of Yarnam is not as fluid as the recent one Souls games do. Although the many zones are connected, there is not that much frequency or depth in those overlaps. Thanks to the hub world (aka The Hunter’s Dream), you can effectively tackle the zones in any order relatively early in the game.

In each zone you will find ‘beasts’, the once human victims of a plague that has ravaged Yarnam and its remote hamlets. The lucky, the rich, and the brightest have locked themselves in to experience the game’s seemingly endless “night of the hunt.” You can even talk to these huddled characters through cracks in doors and windows – some offer help, but most will just fill the world in through mocking dialogue.

It’s actually strange to hear so much talk in one Souls game. The game’s esoteric, puzzling plot (a hard-to-unravel tale of monsters and a perhaps evil baby) is told primarily through written item descriptions and context-free narratives from passing characters, much like the Souls games. But Bloodborne adds full cutscenes with actual dialogue between multiple speaking characters. It’s not much exposition by the standards of most modern games, but for one Souls game where it’s practically the opening crawl of Star Wars.

The old give and take

For all the familiarity gained from previous Souls games there are quite a few significant changes to the gameplay formula Bloodborne. The game does away with the option to block enemy attacks, forcing you to bob in and out of each enemy’s range. Veteran Souls players often drop their bucklers in favor of heavier percussion tools anyway, but being able to take damage while taking on bosses or strolling through unexplored corridors was a great way to learn their patterns. That’s not even an option Bloodborne. Even the armor seems less effective; you now wrap yourself in rags, cloaks, and leather, instead of onion-layered steel.

I was also unprepared for the amount of enemies on screen at any one time. Demon souls And Dark souls typically didn’t burden players with more than about three opponents at a time, though there were a few swarming, insect-like exceptions. In the very first area of bloodborne, however, a dozen armed, pitchfork-wielding, infected zombie werewolves bombard you from all sides. It’s a huge tactical adjustment for veteran players, especially now that the shield-blocking stance of the “sword and board” loadout is no longer a learning option. Crowd control is vital, as is choosing your angle of attack to bottleneck opponents one by one.

BloodborneHowever, the game’s design helps offset this new enemy attack with a few new tools. The most visible is what my reviewer’s guide calls the “recovery” system. Whenever an enemy punches, bites, shoots, burns, or otherwise rips away a piece of your health bar, it’s possible to recover most of those stolen hit points by counter-attacking in a generous three to five time frame seconds.

The winback system effectively forces players to be more aggressive, although attempts to counter often got me into even bigger trouble than if I had held back. You can never regain health faster than the enemy can dish it out, especially when under attack from multiple targets. Instead, sometimes it’s better to disconnect and take the wounds, rather than die on the spot.

At such times, you can break out the guns (another key addition to the formula) to stagger or slow down advancing enemies without doing much damage. You can also make use of a secondary ‘trick’ mode on any melee weapon, which usually lowers damage dealt in favor of mob range. I started with a swordstick that turns into a Castlevania-style whip, eventually progressing to a mace that I could charge with enemy scattering electricity.

For returning players, each new Souls game could never quite match the intensity of the first game. Familiarity with the basic systems of the series made every game after the first one much easier and a little less magical. Learn these kinds of new strategies Bloodborne was a welcome return to something close to that “learning to crawl” high that I got the original Dark souls years ago.

Take a step back

Aside from the welcome combat changes, there are a few other tweaks Bloodborne feels like a bit more grind than before Souls games. Healing “blood vials” are expensive now the rechargeable, healing Estus vial of the past two Souls games are gone. Bloodborne players rely on ointments found as random drops or financed through expensive store purchases, just like in the original Demon souls.

The bonfires from previous games are also absent, replaced by lanterns that teleport players back to The Hunter’s Dream hub world. The old bonfire and new hub allow for the same basic actions: managing saved items, leveling up your character, upgrading weapons, and respawning enemies to grind for experience-enhancing “blood echoes.”

But the transport of The Hunter’s Dream adds some intolerable load times to the proceedings. The entire cycle of fast travel and respawning to get to the hub world and back involves two separate loading screens and takes a good 30 to 50 seconds each time. It is a painful wait that you will have to suffer again and again after every death with trial and error. That’s bad enough, but you also have to go through this painstaking process every time you want to repopulate the world with new enemies, or replenish depleted supplies, or simply cash in on your accumulated experience. It’s a baffling throwback to a problem the series solved in 2011 Dark souls (Sony tells IGN an upcoming patch will reduce load time issues).

In any other game, the constant loading annoyance would have been a major hindrance to my overall enjoyment. But Bloodborne and its predecessors are all about finding ways around problems, even those unnecessarily created by the developers.

Ultimately, to avoid load times, I eschewed a “refresh” of enemy farming in the hub world in favor of re-exploring old areas, looking for hidden paths and items, and collecting echoes as I opened new shortcuts. This way I would collect the same crucial healing vials and get closer to leveling up at the same time. Sometimes during these wanderings I even discovered new shortcuts through the world. This solution doesn’t excuse the frustrating design, but working through it felt like yet another relentless puzzle that I ended up having to solve.

Recapture the magic

Once you’ve bypassed the loading annoyances and managed to collect the requisite massive stash of healing items, Bloodborne is amazing. The gothic theme predominates at first, but eventually it gives way to new and treacherous environments that I enjoyed exploring. Art design remains one of From Software’s strengths, and thanks to the PlayStation 4, we can finally see these environments run at a solid resolution and frame rate.

The bosses you send into those environments don’t have them rather the kick as the one in the first Dark souls (too many clocks less than 20 stories high, for my taste), but they’re also not quite as simple as the diluted hordes that appear in Dark Souls 2. If you manage to find and fight a boss, it feels special.

In principle, BloodborneThe design tweaks recapture everything I loved about playing Dark souls For the first time. Sometimes that fun is marred by some unfortunate, regressive design choices, but it’s not enough to tarnish what remains one of the best formulas in games.

Author’s Note: This review spans approximately 40 hours of exploration through the world of Bloodborne. While I managed to spend a lot of time in each in-game region, I didn’t beat the final boss in time to submit this review.

The good

  • Veteran Souls players learn how to play from scratch.
  • Combat changes bring fresh new strategies.
  • The new Gothic theme is stark and gorgeous.
  • Exploration and slowly building strength are satisfying.

The bad

  • Farming for healing items.
  • Long loading times.
  • A couple of disappointing bosses.

The ugly one

  • If you ever have to think, “I wonder if I can survive that fall,” you can’t survive that fall.

Pronunciation: It cannot exceed Dark souls as my favorite game in the series, but Bloodborne is still a great way to take the franchise into a new generation of consoles, for players new and old alike. Buy it.

By akfire1

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