Fear is a potent emotion. It can be the cause of sleepless nights, or the catalyst that pushes us to do extraordinary feats. I'll be honest: I was afraid to review Bloodborne, mostly because I wasn’t very good at From Software’s previous games. I dabbled in the various Souls games, but soon gave them up, feeling frustrated. However, something happened during my time with Bloodborne. My fear started to slowly melt away the deeper I found myself inside of the game’s complete madness. And with the final strike against the final boss, I was no longer fearful of Bloodborne.
Rise From Your Grave
Playing Bloodborne was like finding myself disoriented and dizzy in an unfamiliar place. I have no idea how I got there or what it is I’m supposed to be doing, but I end up stumbling around anyway to see if I can find some sort of help. Help doesn't come easily in these games.
At the start of Bloodborne, I found my character to be underpowered when compared to the enemies I was facing. The roster of nemeses ranged from infected villagers and dogs, to werewolves and towering ghostly figures. Bosses were even more harrowing to witness as they were often large, intimidating foes that could dispose of me with a single flick of their least powerful finger. My interaction with them usually ended in my hunter experiencing a very early death, but as I learned the game’s smaller intricacies, I found myself being less intimidated and more ready to face each challenge.
Blood Echoes act as the game’s currency, and allowed me to improve the stats of my hunter, purchase new gear and items, and upgrade my weapon. With each upgrade, I felt the odds to be less insurmountable, as the stat upgrades developed alongside my increasing skill level. This is what kept me coming back for more in Bloodborne. I knew encounters would get slightly easier after each upgrade, and that kind of incremental progress made passing its gauntlet that much more fulfilling. It's a slow, arduous claw to the top.
Tonight We Dine in Yharnam
The city of Yharnam is not only filled with secrets and enemies at nearly every turn, but the town itself and its surrounding areas are terrifyingly beautiful. There are moments where I would stare at the sky as it shifted depending on my location. One moment, I would be presented with a beautiful clear night, and other times, the moon would look like it was rising into a bloody night.
This kind of beauty would resonate in nearly every aspect of the game, but all that beauty came at a cost. Every so often, the PlayStation 4 wouldn’t be able to keep up with everything going on, causing Bloodborne’s frame rate to drop in the middle of a heated battle. That wasn’t the only technical issue I came across, though. The game’s loading times felt too long for comfort. Each loading screen would take roughly 45 seconds, which feels like a lifetime when death comes so frequently. These small technical hiccups took me out of the game. Rather than feeling frustrated by the mechanics, I felt put out by the inability to feel engulfed in the experience.
As I found myself caught up in Bloodborne, I had to ask myself: why? What about this experience appealed to me where the Souls games didn't? I think it comes down to a more aggressive combat system. As opposed to the Souls games, this very consciously rewards players who take a less cautious approach. Rather than sit and wait for the most opportune moment to strike my enemies, Bloodborne allowed me to decide when I could attack on my own terms, and rewarded me for taking a more aggressive posture.
I also felt more agile and adaptable than in those previous experiences. I could test my luck and use my firearm to create an opening, poke at my foe with a ranged attack, or run in with a flurry of close-range attacks and hope for the best. And if I miscalculated and lost health, I could attack some more to regain some of the health I just lost. Those small changes made it much more welcoming for me, while retaining the feeling of brutal difficulty that has drawn fans in.
It Was All a Dream
Aside from the technical hiccups, Bloodborne is an experience that isn’t for the weak or impatient. You’re going to die a lot and become extremely frustrated more often than not. I can say Bloodborne is an experience that I will never forget as its combat mechanics, especially its transforming main weapons, helped me to adapt to the task at hand and I will gladly continue adventuring through in order to witness everything Bloodborne has to offer.
This review is based on a PlayStation 4 retail copy provided by the publisher. Bloodborne is available in retail stores and on the PlayStation Network for $59.99. The game is rated M.