When the review embargo descended upon FromSoftware’s latest title, it wasn’t met with the flurry of accusations that the developers were attempting to sweep another glitchy game past reviewers, as is the industry’s standard response. Instead, it was met with silent acknowledgement by fans of Soul Series (which Bloodborne is a part of in every aspect but name). This is because these fans knew the importance of keeping the mystery that surrounded the game. There was an air of unknowing going into Bloodborne, which made unravelling its secrets all the more rewarding.
Plot is scant in Bloodborne. From the moment you awaken in an abandoned clinic, the game drip-feeds you information through its environments and item descriptions and tells you to piece together the story for yourself. What becomes readily apparent is that the player is a hunter from a foreign land, brought to the cursed city of Yharnam on the night of The Hunt. Horrifying creatures in the semblance of man shuffle through the gothic streets and it is up to you to put them down and end The Hunt. While the sheer refusal of Bloodbourne to give you so much as a quest marker may seem overwhelming, an occasional message keeps you pointed in the right direction. From there, your descent into Yharnam begins.
Initially, you are greeted by looming gothic spires and cramped, cobbled Victorian streets. Eventually these bleed away into dark forests, silent castles and Lovecraftian terrains. While the environments change, the pervasive aura of horror and decay, and the maddening amount of detail stitched into every desire remains. It creates a conflicting mix of the urge to see the beauty that is around every corner and the fear of what that beauty might be hiding.
To survive this twisted landscape, you will need to be fast. While combat feels similar to established and then refined action-RPG gameplay of Demon Souls and Dark Souls, shields and the ability to effectively deal damage from a distance have been stripped away. Enemies attack quickly and the only way to survive is to be quicker. Every aspect of combat is tailored to support this. Your weapons are light and most carry two forms, allowing you to switch between two drastically different fighting styles at a moment’s notice. Dodging is fast and your only hope of avoiding damage in the absence of shields. Furthermore, Bloodborne introduces two new combat mechanics. The first of which is guns. While only doing superficial damage, guns can be used to stagger enemies mid-attack, allowing you to follow-up with powerful (and incredibly bloody) visceral attacks. Secondly, damage taken in battle can now be restored by immediately attacking enemies after you’ve been hit, encouraging more risky play.
All these factors prompt you to play a much more aggressive form of combat then what has been seen in the Souls Series. The responsiveness of the controls has kept up with this change, responding to inputs like a hair-trigger. Simply fighting immediately feels fluid and rewarding. However mastering movement and weapons styles will take a lot of practice. Fortunately, Bloodborne provides you with ample creatures to hone you skills against.
The enemies in Bloodborne are diverse, unrelenting and terrifyingly imaginative. Writhing tentacle creatures, decomposing lycanthropes and eldritch nightmares are a common occurrence in your journey through Yharnam. These enemies are tough and you will die, frequently, but the game’s fluid controls means none of these defeats feel cheap. The game’s frequent and abhorrent bosses push this difficulty to a nail-biting extreme. However, the elation that comes after victory is all the more earned. The constant back and forth between punishment and reward is what makes Blooborne’s combat so addictive.
In terms of gameplay, setting and visual design, Bloodborne comes close to perfection. Unfortunately, technical problems drag the game down to less lofty heights. Upon release, the game was plagued with frustratingly long loading times when moving between zones and upon dying. Additionally, the sheer size and detail of some of the bosses and larger enemies cripple the frame rate. Fortunately, a recent patch addressed the load time issues, so hopefully the frame rate will be the next point of focus.
Bloodborne is everything a dark fantasy should aspire to be. It perfectly mixes a pervasive atmosphere unremitting dread with the sheer wonder of exploring a rapturous landscape. Coupled with the best combat system in an action-RPG, Bloodborne creates an unforgettable gaming experience that will be inspiring nightmares for ages to come.
This review was conducted on the PlayStation 4. Bloodborne is available only on the PlayStation 4.