Continue the Bloodletting
In 2009, From Software reinvigorated the gaming landscape with Demons Souls by offering players an alternative from games laden with cut-scenes and hints. The enthusiastic reception proved that games founded on trial-and-error and punishing-but-fair mechanics of older generations still resonate with a large audience. Bloodborne may not carry the Souls name, but it sustains its spirit by taking established gameplay and rearranging it into something different. The result is a fast-paced game whose increased margin-of-error does not diminish its challenge, that’s rich in horrifyingly gothic atmosphere, and sports streamlined menus that limit customization while minimizing confusion.
Bloodborne is fast, very fast. No matter what items or armor is equipped, the dodge animation stays at a blisteringly quick speed with a small window of recovery. Each roll eats away only a small portion of endurance, allowing for rapid dodging and long strings of weapon swings. Though this does enable the player to mash the dodge button when in a tight spot and frequently make it out of the action unscathed, the game’s enemies and bosses still necessitate a high level of reaction and strategy which never let button spamming become a substitute for skill. Health can also be regained during a short window after receiving damage which further encourages aggressive behavior. Dodging bullets then closing the gap on your enemy for massive retaliation feels incredible, and this style of gameplay is From’s greatest addition to the souls-style genre.
The player’s fighting abilities will be tested at length in Bloodborne thanks to a wide range of enemies and bosses that are largely immune to standard exploitation. The progression from deranged humans, to massive, disease-ridden beasts creates a natural difficulty curve that engenders player growth while keeping combat scenarios fresh. Bloodborne utilizes mobs of enemies that must be controlled and defeated. One-on-one encounters are mostly substituted for packs of beasts or groups of humans accompanied by enemies throwing explosives or knives. Additionally, players will square off against other hunters that offer thrillingly difficult challenges that require swift reactions, turning battle into a frenetic dance. Furthermore, Bloodborne offers some of the most novel boss designs yet in comparison to past Souls games. Many have damage reduction added to their back legs, or attack their sides and rear with moves that track the player so that pattern memorization and reaction is always preferred over finding safe spots to deal damage.
Dishing out pain in Bloodborne is also distinct from the sword-and-board style of Souls games thanks to weapons that transform and a brand new parry system. Although the total number of weapons is smaller than From’s previous games, the transformations make up for the lack of options by dramatically changing each weapon’s moveset or adding different elemental buffs. Some of the animated transitions are jaw-droppingly cool, and each death-dealing tool has its own personality and stat scaling that keeps play varied and interesting. The guns range from blunderbuss to pistol and serve to replace the shield parry of previous games by allowing players to interrupt attacks with bullets. Only a single shield exists in the game, which is indicative of the dodge-heavy, bullet-firing game design cultivated by Bloodborne’s armory.
A streamlined approach to character leveling and weapon upgrading has made the game more intuitive at the cost of more nuanced customization. The leveling screen allows the player to dump points into six–down from Dark Souls’ nine– different categories of which the effects are clear and intelligible. In addition, materials can be used to upgrade your weapons on a linear path, and “blood gems” can be used to boost their attack power or imbue them with other effects like fire. However, the vast amount of armor options are not upgradeable. Instead, the player can outfit their character with runes that boost their defenses, allow them to hold more bullets, or regain larger portions of lost health. Though the lack of armor upgrades eliminates the opportunity to strengthen or augment a prefered set, it does allow the player to switch between outfits best suited to the challenge at hand.
These challenges exist in what is easily the most well-realized and atmospheric world From Software has ever created. The capes flow believably from the characters, fire burns beautifully on swords, and an impossible amount of hair flows from the arms and backs of giant beasts. Every alleyway is crowded with detailed statues and gothic architecture that seem to claustrophobically bear down on the player, adding to the stress of the trials at hand. Yet, large vistas stretching into the distance give vision to dozens of churches, buttresses, and a massively beautiful moon, allowing time for relaxation after defeating formidable prey. Whispering voices, crazed laughs, and insane side-characters help realize this horrific playground for those willing to explore its winding, layered expanse. Exploration never goes unrewarded, and each player who ventures into every possible location will find a bevy of items and resources. One of which is called insight: It can be used to summon allies or buy items, but it also strengthens enemies if enough accrues, meaning a well-explored hunter will be better equipped for challenges, but must also face larger ones.
Those looking to face the entirety of the game’s challenges will be pleased with the amount of replayability Bloodborne has to offer. New game plus is back, but new Chalice Dungeons have been added as well. These randomly generated areas of increasing difficulty possess enemies and bosses not found in the main game, and can even be modified in sadistic ways for those willing to test their limits. Fighting bosses at half your usual health is a brutal way to ensure that feats of victory are infinite.
The balance between disparity and joy remains in constant tension throughout Bloodborne. From Software has taken the essence of their game design, boiled it down, and reimagined it. The fast and hectic gameplay works perfectly with the carefully crafted enemies and bosses that constantly keep players on their toes. The new trick weapons are instantly iconic, and the guns reward deft timing with satisfying devastation. Challenge is still the central theme, and hordes of crazed townspeople, werewolves, and cosmic spiders will test the limits of your patience and ability. The thrill of mastery and an impossibly detailed setting will continue to draw the player forward, rewarding exploration while never letting the ambiguous story get in the way of playing the game. By the end, you will wonder why you ever held a shield in the first place.