Firstly I should point out that this isn’t a review of Bloodborne which, at the heart of the matter, is a pretty difficult game to slap a score onto. Not because it isn’t, say, “technically accomplished”, or that the world isn’t beautifully imagined or that the fight system isn’t fluid and engaging; but because, it’s safe to say, more than half the people that approach this game will be immediately be put off by what this little masterpiece is trying to achieve. In my mind, it is the first truly essential exclusive on next gen consoles. But to others, the level of difficulty and the progression system reaches a plateau where the game is more frustrating than fun. So rather than a review, this is me telling you to give Bloodborne a chance because once you get over the initial shock of the difficulty, it becomes a truly rewarding game experience.
At it’s core, Bloodborne is a 3rd person macabre action game that focuses heavily on close combat. This isn’t the combat which the previous ‘Souls’ games (the spiritual predecessors to this title) relied on, which was too slow and methodical for me; but rather a much faster paced affair where sure, you have to think about what you’re doing, but also where you can string together attacks and fight in a beautifully fluid way. When you first step into it, it’s clear that a lot of love and care has gone into making every inch of the game world fascinating. Traipsing through a gothic city on ‘The night of the hunt’ you’re confronted by mad villagers and demonic beasty-a-plenty, and have to fight your way through a horde or two before confronting mega bosses that seem pulled from the imagination of someone who didn’t have a happy childhood. So far so familiar. What makes this game so different from every other AAA title out at the moment is that you have to fight tooth and nail for every inch you progress and every enemy you mercilessly slaughter…this game truly makes you earn it.
For a long time the AAA scene has felt a bit watered down in terms of difficulty. Obviously that’s understandable: the bigger budgets of the grand releases creates the absolute need to appeal to as wide of base of gamers as possible meaning that naturally video games’ overall difficulty has reduced to create a broader appeal. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a masochist that demands games be as difficult as possible (i like a challenge but definitely don’t want to be frustrated while gaming) but I think that the biggest games are leaning on the wrong side of the difficulty curve. At times in games like inFamous: 2nd Son you feel that you’re just going through the motions rather than being challenged. Compounding the easy nature of games is the fact that your progress saves every couple of minutes so that if you do die, you’ll never lose more than the smallest amount of progress. This is the nature of the modern game, a pick up and play/put down and go do something else experience that’s very safe and risk free.
Bloodborne is…well…different. As you travel through the city of Yharnam where literally everything is out to kill you, you can only take respite from your waking nightmare by traveling to a dreamlike hub-world. Problem is, the checkpoints where you can travel to this hub-world are about half an hour worth of game play away from each other and that’s a half hour where you’ll probably die a handful of times. When you do die, the experience points you’ve been carefully accumulating either gets dropped in game world where you died or gets picked up by a nearby enemy. To reclaim it, you have to fight your way back to the spot where you perished and to make matters worse, all the enemies you killed the first time round have re-spawned. In the context of modern gaming this sounds ridiculously frustrating but it’s absolutely worth it. The game challenges you to go that extra inch, to beat just one more enemy, to play one more time till you’ve overcome the thing that’s killing you. As you get closer and closer to the next checkpoint tension seriously mounts as you realise that one lapse in concentration will mean losing your XP and having to start again. When you have tens of thousands of points of XP, do you retrace your steps back to the hub-world to cash it in for levelling up and better equipment knowing that if you do so you’ll have to fight past the same enemies again, or do you press on to that next beautiful checkpoint and run the risk of dying and losing everything? This risk, reward game play is so refreshing that it almost feels like a genre of gaming in itself and it’s all so very addictive.
Last night I gave Bloodborne my first serious play through and well past my bedtime I died literally a few feet from a checkpoint just before the first big boss fight. Rather than giving up, I boldly picked up my controller and having mastered the basic systems of the game ploughed my way thorough the re-spawned foes until I reclaimed my dropped experience and made it to the safety of the hub-world. My slow mastery of the gameplay through repeated deaths meant I was better prepared for what was coming round the corner and could innovate to beat new opponents. This is a very welcome departure from the previous Souls games where you seemingly had to memorise the location of every single enemy if you wanted to progress. The significant overhall of the fighting system means that Bloodborne has taken the best of the Souls series and added a little flavour of its own. Bloodborne is its own beast and worthy of your attention.
So what do you do if you are finding it too tricky? Fear not, because I was exactly in the same boat. As soon as I bought the game I popped it in and an hour later popped it right back out claiming to the world that it was just far too frustrating. It was a week till I went back to it, persuaded to give it another go by the slew of very positive reviews. I sat down for two hours with just the one goal of making it to the first checkpoint…and it was two of the best hours of gaming I’ve had in a long time. So if you are on the fence about this game, here are a few tips:
• Only play the game when you really really want to. This may sound obvious but there are plenty of games we put on just to have something to play. Unfortunately, if you do this with Bloodborne the frustration levels in the game will make you hate it. If you’re stuck on a particularly tricky bit, take a break from the game, stick on something happy like Rayman and come back to Bloodborne when that little itch to beat whatever you were stuck on becomes overwhelming.
• Talk to as many people as you can about the game or failing that go check walkthroughs and forums. A great element of Bloodborne, something which is taken directly from the ‘Souls’ predecessors, is the fact that other players can leave you messages in the game world warning you as to what’s coming up. This game was designed to be a water-cooler game, something where its fans would exchange tips and ideas about how best to play. Encourage your friends to buy ‘Bloodborne’ and then make sure they’re always a good half hour ahead in terms of gameplay so they can keep feeding you tips, that’s exactly what i’m doing and it’s working wonders (thanks Edd).
• Grinding is your friend. As soon as you meet the first boss and get squished by him (and you will get squished) you’ll be able to level up your character. Fortunately, the combat is so tight that going back over areas doesn’t feel too repetitive, especially if you keep in mind the demon you need to be more powerful to slay. Like games such as ‘Shadow of Mordor’ or ‘Arkham Asylum’ the combat is such a joy in itself that half the time, it doesn’t really matter who you’re fighting. Take advantage of this and level up your character.
In the end, Bloodborne isn’t for everyone, but to the people who can make the game click for them, it’s sure to be one of the most rewarding experiences of this generation. Something new, something innovative, something challenging and most importantly something fun. This is a little bit of a masterpiece and a very worthy addition to the Playstation family.