As a Souls game veteran, I was ready for another sprawling adventure with tons of skills, weapons and bosses after recently re-playing last year’s Dark Souls II. That isn’t what I got with Bloodborne, but boy am I happy about that.
Bloodborne is the newest entry in the Souls series, but it’s the first one that doesn’t have the world “souls” in the title. If you’ve never played one of these games before, they’re hardcore exploration-based RPGs that never hold your hand. Even the weakest enemies can rip you to shreds, and when they do inevitably kill you, you drop all of your currency. If you die without making it back to your body, what you dropped is gone forever. Stakes and tension are at a maximum throughout, but every time you beat a seemingly impossible boss, the high you receive is unmatched.
As far as plot goes, you’re a hunter who comes to the city of Yarnham, which is rumored to be the home of a special medicine that will cure even the darkest afflictions. By the time you arrive, the city’s residents have been taken over by a plague which has transformed them into bloodthirsty beasts. While the story is obtuse and you’ll have to dig deep to find it, what’s presented to you directly is just enough to push you forward.
When I first hopped into Bloodborne, I admittedly felt a bit lost. I inched forward ever so slowly, unlocking small shortcuts and finding new items, and eventually I made it to the first boss: The Cleric Beast. It only took me two tries, but I felt that that first fight was where the aggressive combat really started to shine. I didn’t have a shield, so I found myself constantly rolling and ducking behind the beast and slowly chipping away at its health. When the beast finally fell, and I was rewarded with a hefty sum of souls and a new checkpoint lantern, I let out a breath that I had been holding for the entire fight. And that was just the beginning.
In lieu of the missing shields that most Souls players are familiar with are a few different guns and a torch which always sits in your left hand slot. Instead of using L2 to parry with your weapon, you can interrupt enemies while they attack you by shooting them, allowing for a powerful killing blow that does an insane amount of damage.
In your right hand, you hold one of a handful of trick weapons. Trick weapons, in their normal form, are pretty standard swords and spears, but when you press L1, they switch into a second form that can change up their skill sets drastically. Take Ludwig’s Holy Blade for example, a weapon that starts as a typical short sword, but when you hit L1, your character sheathes the sword, with the sheathe itself becoming a new, greater sword blade.
The added vulnerability means that you can get overpowered by just a few common enemies. Instead of fearing one big enemy, I found myself treating even the weakest foes like bosses. I was forced to be smart, alerting one enemy at a time and meticulously making my way through the incredible semi-open world.
Multiplayer in past Souls games has always been ambiguous, having you use an item to summon someone into your game and another to be summoned into theirs. One thing that’s always been absent is the ability to play with your friends easily. Bloodborne’s multiplayer works almost exactly the same as before, except now you can set a password so that the game will only look for other players with the same password, finally allowing people who want to play with friends do so without screwing up the system that hardcore fans of the series know and love.
It’s not all great, though. One thing that’s always plagued Souls games is technical issues, and there are more than a few in Bloodborne. For one, the load times between deaths are atrocious. You die a lot in Bloodborne, even when you’re at your best, and waiting up to forty seconds between deaths is unacceptable. Also, this might be nitpicking, but the text on the loading screen is off-center, which will probably annoy a fair share of the more OCD gamers. Additionally, there is more than one game breaking bug in Bloodborne, and while most of the issues have been patched, it’s still annoying that they made it into the finished product in the first place.
Another issue I have with Bloodborne is that the New Game + feature feels a little lacking. In Dark Souls and Dark Souls II, playing the game again with your original character meant you could find special items and weapons that weren’t available the first time through. It was a great incentive to keep playing the same game again and again, but as far as I can tell, the only thing that’s different in a New Game + run in Bloodborne is that you get more blood echoes for defeating the same bosses.
The disappointing New Game + offerings aren’t as big of an issue as they could have been though, thanks to Chalice Dungeons, which are randomly generated Dungeons that have you search through a labyrinth for a way to unlock a door to a boss. Most of the Chalice Dungeon bosses are totally unique and only a couple show up in the main game. You can also find different versions of the existing weapons, as well as rare weapon upgrade materials.
I’ve seen a lot of people online asking whether or not this is the Souls game that will get them into the series. While I don’t think it’s that much easier than what’s come before, Bloodborne is the refined, streamlined title that I think could allow people who haven’t been able to get into, or have stayed away from the series in the past to finally fall as deep into the game as so many have before. Trick Weapons, the lack of shields and Chalice Dungeons give players looking for something new from the series enough to put them out of their element, and newcomers can benefit from the changes as well, since most of them are pretty positive. If you have a PS4, you should definitely consider picking this one up.
This review is based on the PS4 version of the game, which was provided to us for review purposes.