Games are very often a source of much rage in me. Whether it be climbing that god-awful Hades puzzle wall in God of War, or perhaps the twelfth attempt at getting all the crates in Crash Bandicoot II. Most games that have the rage factor, are often so because of the game seemingly fighting against you mechanically. This often comes from the camera getting in the way, hordes of enemies stun-locking you and forcing you into a corner, maybe even just a really, really hard jumping puzzle requiring the kind of patience that we just don’t have to give.
The Souls series of games is a series renowned for it’s difficulty, and for a single player franchise to hold such a title and still be widely played and accepted is no small feat. Whilst other games might well be labelled hard simply for being brokenly difficult or difficult beyond the point of being fun, the Souls series feels tough but fair. Bloodborne is the latest in the series, though the first to not have the word Souls in it’s title, the game certainly has Souls right down to it’s… soul. That being said the game departs from it’s predecessors in some significant ways, whilst still maintaining the overall feel of the franchise.
Bloodborne is set in the plague-infested city of Yharnam, which our player is exploring in the hopes of finding a cure to her own personal affliction. The city is rumoured to possess a remedy that can cure all diseases, and so the player character must track it down. Making this task all the more difficult (and from a gamer perspective, a lot more fun) is the fact that the city’s population is suffering from a sickness that has either turned them mad in search of salvation, or succumbing and becoming hideous monsters. Yharnam itself is a Victorian-esque city, filled with cobbled streets and Gothic architecture stretching high into the sky.
First thing to report about the game is it’s difficulty, which to some is the crux of whether the game is a worthy successor to Dark Souls. Many criticised Dark Souls II for being too easy and forgiving compared to the first Dark Souls game, and Bloodborne is equally going to take some flak from hardcore fans. This will mainly come from the focus on a more aggressive play style that Bloodborne features, where the enemies are faster and more likely to ambush, where ranged attacks are far more common and devastating. Previous Souls games focused on a slower, defensive stance dodging attacks and counter-punching and dodging back before they get a chance to strike back. Bloodborne punishes this play-style for the most part, as I discovered early into my experience. As previously stated, enemies are faster, but are also more numerous for the most part; defensive players are much more likely to be surrounded and quickly cut down by the sheer weight of bodies. Instead the focus is on daring attacks, striking down multiple targets at a time and not allowing them to react, tearing them to ribbons.
This more aggressive play-style is encouraged with the inclusion of two new features. One of these is the addition of gunpowder weapons like flintlock pistols and blunderbusses. The main use of such weapons is to stun your opponent and open them up for a powerful attack, similar to the ‘riposte’ mechanic from the previous games. These weapons do less damage than their hand to hand counterparts, but obviously have the bonus of keeping you safe from the brunt of damage. Their main use as specified is to stun enemies, shooting them as they are just about to attack to throw them off balance and then follow up with a counter. The second feature to inspire the more direct approach is a regenerating health mechanic. Don’t freak out internet as it is not as insta-win as it first may seem. The mechanic allows you to regenerate some of your health points back if you successfully hit the enemy repeatedly after taking damage. Health lost to their attack will slowly drain from your health pool unless you manage to strike back and replenish the health with successful hits. I feel the trade off between the need to retain health with the risk of being hit again and finished off being at constant odds, and so I do not feel that it makes the game too easy. This coupled with healing items still being applied in real-time and taking a few seconds to work maintains the previous difficulty of the franchise for the most part.
Most enemies in the game hit like a train, and so pinpoint accuracy and timing is crucial to survival. A real sense of satisfaction comes from mastering the games mechanics and utilising them to full effect against the hordes of opponents. This certainly comes into it’s own during the game’s many boss battles, which I’m happy to report continue the games legacy for gigantic confrontations. A slight twist from previous Souls games is that some bosses effectively mirror that of the player character, utilising dodges and using similar weapons. Some players might see this as a huge departure, but I consider it to be a nice addition, that sits well along side the traditional bosses that offer death in one or two hits.
What all this culminates in is a game that feels worthwhile to play. This is something the Souls games have been able to capitalise on and Bloodborne is no exception. What I mean by this is that playing the game never feels like a chore, or even much of grind, simply because each enemy has the potential to kill you easily, and the game will not relent in it’s desire to kill you off by throwing you in at the deep end repeatedly. This results in a game that promises a rewarding victory, one that sticks with you when you take down a boss, or get to a new part of the city. Challenging game play makes every encounter tense and engaging, and the rush of defeating a boss a true sense of accomplishment.
The game’s atmosphere is something that for me stands out more so than in previous iterations of the franchise. The Gothic spires, the town’s beautiful, yet haunting red glow are a constant companion. The city has the potential to both terrify and embolden the player to explore it’s infested, shimmering crags and narrow, torch-lit alleys. Graphically the game is a mix bag of rough textures similar to Dark Souls II and some really strikingly beautiful vistas. Some of the graphics on display truly show what this new generation of gaming has to offer, roads will be slick with moisture, fires burn realistically. The accompanying soundtrack is suitably Gothic and dark, but most of the time muted and restrained, with the slight flourish here and there. This of course is immediately broken upon entering a boss fight, with each boss possessing their own theme that brings the epicness to a whole new level.
Bloodborne is a triumph due to it’s building on previous success, coupled with new ideas that make it stand out from it’s predecessors. It’s a Souls game through and through, and yet also able to stand alone and do it’s own thing without losing this legacy. Most importantly its a game that simply feels fun to play, one that winning becomes a real sense of accomplishment and euphoria, and dying only a chance to get better next time. It’s definitely a contender at this point for game of the year, and for what it’s worth has been one of the best games I have played in quite some time.