Bloodborne (PS4) - ReviewKarl Koebke , posted on 01 April 2015 / 20,775 Views
It’s been a bit of a rough start for the PS4 when it comes to AAA retail exclusives. Both inFamous: Second Son and The Order: 1886 were disappointing to one degree or another and that has left Bloodborne as the great red hope of the console’s initial exclusive retail line-up. Such hope is in good hands, however, as Bloodborne is developed by the same team that brought us the surprisingly impressive Demon’s Souls back in 2009. That game in turn went on to inspire the Dark Souls series, which was one of the break-out hits of the last generation. Bloodborne takes the unforgiving gameplay of the Souls series and attempts to tweak it to force more offensive playstyles, reimagining the familiar game style of the Souls series in a gothic setting where cloth and pistol have replaced iron and bow.
Being a stalwart fan of the Souls series and Demon's Souls before it, Bloodborne has been at the top of my most wanted list since its announcement, but there was some apprehension in the mix as well. My playstyle in the Souls series involved getting the biggest and best shield I could and then hiding behind a metal safety blanket for the rest of the game. It might not be the most courageous and impressive playstyle, but it’s how I managed to survive. Naturally, hearing that Bloodborne would essentially do away with shields in favor of offhand guns that would stun enemies did prompt some concern on my part. Thankfully, after adjusting to a steep learning curve brought about by this change in playstyles, I found Bloodborne to be just as enjoyable as the Souls games before it, and in some ways even better.
The switch to a more offensive playstyle really clicked for me on one of the early bosses where I found that it was more beneficial for me to stay near the boss and continue damaging him after I got hit than to back off and heal. This is the complete antithesis to how I would have handled the situation in Dark Souls II, but because you can recoup your health if you deal damage soon enough after taking it the rhythm of play is changed quite dramatically.
I soon found myself playing in a much less reactionary way than I did in the Souls games. Instead of waiting patiently behind my shield for the enemy to make a mistake and leave themselves open to attack, I would shift back and forth just out of a monster's range, waiting for the best moment to rush in to do as much damage as possible before disengaging just as my stamina was about to run out. This profound change in playstyles affected my entire 38 hour playthrough.
Bloodborne also moves away from having a vast array of mostly useless weapons to featuring just a handful of weapons that boast interchangeable gem slots, which allows you to customize them to your liking. Each weapon is also a two in one, with single daggers that switch to double daggers, a hammer that becomes a sword, and a cane that turns into a bladed whip. This is a pretty cool addition, and I even found myself putting points into stats that I didn’t really need just to test out new weapons and their transformations. I hope that if there’s a sequel From Software work on making all of the transformations as amazing as the Burial Blade, Blade of Mercy, and Kirkhammer, but this is definitely a good start.
One of Bloodborne's best changes is the addition of chalice dungeons. These are randomly generated labyrinths in which the goal on each floor is to find the lever which unlocks the boss door. You must then defeat the boss in order to move on to the next floor. Enemies that you encounter are largely unique to the type of chalice dungeon you are traversing, with bosses being a mixture of those from the main storyline and some unique to the chalice dungeons. You would think that fighting the same bosses again and again would be dull, but the fact that the arena is different can have a large impact on how the boss should be approached. Fighting the Blood Starved Beast in an area without pillars to hide behind, or a boss that spawns 20-30 spiders in a small room, keeps the encounters exciting.
The undead giant boss is a perfect illustration of the concept behind the chalice dungeons and how slight variations can make a huge difference to how you play. While the original version of the undead giant I went up against had swords for both arms, I later came across variants with one sword and one club, two swords and chains that he could swing for longer range, and even a variant with one axe arm and the other a cannon. When his armaments changed I would have to rethink my strategy a little bit and re-calculate my offensive timings.
This all really only works because of the quality of the core gameplay, because although things change slightly with each play through, completing chalice dungeon after chalice dungeon could still easily get repetitive. There also aren’t a lot of loot incentives - most of the items you find are materials which allow you to create more difficult chalice dungeons in a never-ending spiral. If you love the core gameplay then these chalice dungeons are a near-perfect way of keeping you coming back for more, and serve as a good alternative to a fairly lackluster new game + mode. Just don’t go into the game expecting every chalice dungeon to give you tangible, meaningful rewards.
While all of the above changes were undoubtedly for the better, I found some of the changes to online mechanics rather puzzling. Instead of setting down a sign which can be used as a summon in another player’s world, you set your character to be available for summoning and then another player who is looking for help will bring you into their world when they get close enough to you. The previous system allowed you to wander around after you set down your sign in a safe area because no matter where you were in the level if you were summoned you would come to life at your sign.
Unfortunately, because of how the new system works, if you set yourself to be available for summoning and then wander off you are likely to be summoned right in the midst of uncleared enemies, as the player looking for help works towards you in the level and summons you in an area he hasn’t yet cleared. So under this new system you can either try and deal with whatever enemies you have to when you are summoned, or you have to wait in a safe area near the boss door so that when you are summoned you won’t have to deal with a new set of monsters. Simply waiting can be quite boring, though, so I think this is a slight step backwards for the series.
Presentation, on the other hand, has seen a giant leap forward. Technically speaking Bloodborne, like other Souls games, isn’t anything to write home about and can massively slowdown in terms of framerate at times, but the whole game oozes style. Breathtaking vistas of night skies over the gothic cityscape will make you forget all about the times Bloodborne’s engine stumbles. The change in the setting’s lore, which I won’t spoil, also works very well. Whereas I would mostly ignore the story and focus on the gameplay in the Souls titles, the new lore in Bloodborne employs a mythos that is right up my alley and I found myself reading every item description.
If you are a Souls fan then you owe it to yourself to try out Bloodborne. It introduces enough twists to the established gameplay formula to make it feel fresh again, and will turn a sword and board turtle into a bloodthirsty, dual blade wielding madman. There’s definitely some room for improvement, particularly when it comes to the title's technical aspects, but this is undoubtedly the most fun I’ve ever had playing a Souls-type game. As you thrust yourself into danger and leave your shield behind, just remember, “A hunter is never alone”.
This review is based on a retail copy of Bloodborne for the PS4