Bloodborne hands-on: sweet, sweet death

Coming off a brutal success like the Dark Souls series isn't easy. After all, with Demon's Souls, Dark Souls and Dark Souls II, From Software has reinvigorated the process of pushing gamer skills to your very limits, even if that meant countless deaths and relying on simple little campfires to avoid losing your progress.

Still, that success isn't stopping the team from trying some new tricks in Bloodborne, which was announced earlier this year. Instead of playing a noble knight, you're a hunter, fighting his way through a Halloween-like town, where ghoulish creatures, basilisks and other nasties are lurking about. Since you're the one carrying the weapons, it's up to you to put 'em down. But, of course, being a From Software property, that's easier said than done.

This game offers a unique customization system that lets you design your hunter and utilize weapons that are best suited to your combat style. The demo we tried out at PAX East offered two different hunters, with single and dual-handed weapons. Each has their advantages, but also drawbacks. For instance, a large axe can cut an enemy to shreds quite easily, but can also leave you wide open for an attack as you attempt to swing.

Bloodborne is by no means a hack and slasher. You can't fight your way through battles like Dante from DMC: Devil May Cry and expect to survive. In fact, foolishly running into a fight could mean an easy death, a lesson we learned the hard way during our hands-on. That said, there are some tactics that you can learn to help you survive. And in later cases, you'll need every single one of them.

Perhaps the big ability here is using transformation to expand your combo attacks. You start out with light and heavy strikes, which you can combine together to strike at foes multiple times. On top of that, though, you can use transformation techniques to expand both your range and power, although you have to hit the button at the right time to execute these properly. Doing so really opens up your attack style, so it certainly doesn't hurt to get the hang of it.

There are also secondary items to use, such as health potions, Molotov cocktails (perfect to chuck at groups from afar) and, of course, your gun of choice, although your bullet count is limited, so you'll want to save the shots for when they absolutely count.

Bloodborne also adds a "Regain" system. If you do get hit by an enemy--and you will, particularly when you're surrounded--you have a huge chunk of health taken away. However, you can regain some of it by striking back in said time frame, and killing them. It's an excellent system that rewards quick reflexes, although I did miss the parry ability from the Dark Souls games. 

Finally, dodging is vital for survival, as you'll need to roll out of harm's way in order to keep your health from completely draining. Veterans of Dark Souls should have no problem adapting to the system here.

Where Bloodborne excels upon From Software's previous work is obviously in the visuals. The Victorian setting is just creepy enough to keep players haunted as they play, and the detail is extraordinary, especially when you reach the higher catacombs and get a glimpse at a large behemoth you'll be fighting later on. The ambience is also right in the sound, from blood-curdling screams to authentic attack effects, like the clanging of your axe against metal objects.

The game doesn't have a U.S. release date at this point, but seeing as how it'll arrive in Japan on February 5th, we may not have to wait too long for it. That's good, because fans of Dark Souls II are fresh for a challenge, and Bloodborne is just the game to provide it. Prepare to be brutalized.