For many years foreigners have come to Yharnam in search of its blood ministrations (that’s the use of blood to heal a person’s ailments and make them stronger, didn’t you know that?) and you are one of those travelling to this city. A contract is signed and you are ready to hunt on the streets of Yharnam, for the people are turning into beasts and losing their minds with no one safe from this bestial plague.
Much of this information is gleaned from the in-game flavor texts of items, notes found in the environment, and the dialogue of those NPCs that you do stumble upon in the streets of Yharnam. There consist of a small number of cutscenes and help to introduce certain characters and environments. Those who don’t look under every rock and read every piece of lore risk missing out on an otherwise dark and twisted narrative.
Even with this risk, those who are willing to explore the game in its entirety will be rewarded with a story that kept me guessing and hungry for more for the entire length of the game. Those who miss certain details or characters as they explore the environment may stumble upon them in additional playthroughs adding to a game that already has some great replay value.
The game allows you to play through multiple times on a single character with new-game-plus, giving you the opportunity to try out different story options or defeat challenges you may have missed the first time round - this time with increased difficulty.
The majority of gameplay in Bloodborne involves fighting your way through dark and unwelcoming places; up and down the hills and valleys that make up the city of Yharnam and its surrounding woods and villages. The gothic architecture and use of well crafted scenery allows you to immerse yourself in the exploration of the game’s environments. Areas you see in the distance are often visited at future points in the game and optional additional areas brings a range of scenery, different lighting and colors to the game.
The fighting is a frantic and visceral experience, as your attacks, dodges and other actions cost stamina, and not managing your stamina can result in being hit by one of the many punishing and damaging attacks the people and creatures of Bloodborne can unleash. Health is not immediately lost when you take damage, however, unless you reach zero you will have a short amount of time to hit back get your revenge on an enemy and gain back some of your health.
This creates a lot of room for tactics. I found myself using the variety of weapons and tools I found in my journey to kill enemies with the least resources spent, swooping in to strike back when I was hurt instead of cowering away like a wounded dog.
The combat is at its best during the many of Bloodborne’s boss fights, with many of them having intimidating and powerful attack patterns that force the player to think on his/her feat and never back down. Being able to lock onto a target comes in its uses during these fights, with the ability to roll when locked off allowing you to dodge a large number of attacks once you get the knack of switching between the two.
In addition to being able to quickly move around the attacks of these creatures you are also able to use your secondary ranged weapon to stun enemies mid attack and deliver a visceral strike dealing a large amount of damage.
This creates a game of predicting your enemies moves to create a vulnerable moment to deliver the most damage possible. This creates an art of combat that already lets the player cut down his enemies despite injury. I found the majority of the bosses challenging on my first few tries with the few exceptions being two bosses in the main gameplay and the other being the Chalice dungeons.
The chalice dungeons are randomized labyrinths deep below the city of Yharnam. While you hunt the areas of Yharnam and if you choose to delve into these dungeons you will be rewarded with crafting materials to create more difficult and rewarding dungeons. Though beyond these materials, the rewards at early levels of the dungeons are few and far between. In addition to being randomized, the dungeons also provide the challenge of new bosses to face - some of which unlock new items for purchase in the shops.
You are not the only hunter who roams the streets of Yharnam and as you travel, you will come across NPC hunters who will provide a convincing and challenging fight. It is during these moments I was truly impressed with the AI of the game and I found some of my NPC hunter encounters.
NPC hunters can also be found in the worlds who will aid you in your fights though I found these to be far less impressively implemented over the hunters placed in the world designed to kill you.
For those familiar with the work of From Software, games like Demon’s and Dark Souls allow players to be summoned into each others worlds to aid or harm each others progress.
Bloodborne’s system involves using a variety of bells to call other Hunters to your game a process that seemed to take 5 minutes during the best times and up to 10 when thing where particularly slow. Using a shared password can allow you to summon your friends easily, but these still took equally long amounts of time to get results. With the easy-to-find multiplayer of Dark Soul 2, this system is a little lackluster.
On top of this, when summoned into other players’ worlds for some hunter-on-hunter action, one of the players takes a 30% health penalty just for being in another world, something that makes sense for summoning some help but doesn’t seem so fair in a system that already favors those looking for allies on the streets of Yharnam.
To enhance the multiplayer the game does have a small number of factions allowing you to change your behaviour towards other Hunters (including hunting and killing all hunters you come across). So there is room to find the multiplayer experience you are looking for, if you are willing to wait for it.
Long multiplayer connection times are not the game’s only technical issues, with loading times taking anywhere from 30-60 seconds between areas and spawning when you die, which you will do a lot. I think it’s a shame this issue is here considering how many newcomers to this kind of game will not only be dying a ton but will be forced to sit through these atrociously long load times. It adds nothing but frustration.
The game also struggles to maintain a constant 30 FPS with areas in the game that make use of a large amount of particle effects causing some stutter and frame rate issues. Multiplayer also seemed to create this same effect.
One additional technical issue I encountered that broke the illusion of the game quite frequently was the use of asset streaming causing animations to look clunky and robotic less a short distance away before becoming more fluid the closer to an enemy I got. The choppy use of this technique can be a glaring mark on an otherwise very polished game.
To close out the review I’d also like to mention a little about my personal experience playing Bloodborne over the past seventy or so hours of gameplay.
I have completed more than a single playthrough of the game and I discovered new and interesting things about the game including areas I missed both times. I have a couple extra hunters that I’m using to experiment with different character builds, quests, and multiplayer. It’s this customization of your character and experience that will keep bringing me back again and again. Hunters in Bloodborne have a good variety of transforming weapons, guns and items to experiment with creating a large number of ways to play the game.
The game still manages to brutally punish me and it has a great amount of content for those who are willing to brave the streets of Yharnam and find it.
If you are looking for a challenging action RPG or you’re interested in experiencing the feelings of dread and survival of classic survival horror then Bloodborne just might be for you!