Man, who invited Jason to go camping?
PlayStation consoles have always come up with a game that changed the system’s image — one that made systems full of promise start living up to their potential. For the PS1, it was Final Fantasy VII. For PS2, it was Grand Theft Auto 3. For the PS3, it was Uncharted 2.
We’ve been waiting for one to do the same for the PS4. While it’s too early to say whether or not Bloodborne is that game, we can say this: It’s certainly good enough to be.
Bloodborne features controls almost identical to the Souls franchise of games. The R1 and R2 buttons are your light and heavy attacks, respectively, while L1 is used to switch between your weapon’s styles. These can cause all kinds of different effects, such as extending its reach or adding lightning damage. Meanwhile, L2 uses your alternate weapon, such as guns or torches, while R3 locks onto enemies.
The only face button used for an action is circle, which dodges. The “X” button is used for a variety of context sensitive situations, square uses items and triangle consumes potions — and yes, potions need their own button.
These controls are very responsive, though dodging has some issues. The camera will either focus on an enemy or be a little sporadic. When the game throws a few too many objects at once into a given area, it can be easy to think you’re dodging into open space, only to roll straight into a pillar and get hit anyways.
Dark Souls was a testament of how you can still create a beautiful world even with little to work with. Fantastic art direction and varied environments helped hide how low tech the textures and graphical prowess were compared to other retail games. Bloodborne, on the other hand, uses the PlayStation 4’s power so it can give this kind of world the detail it deserves.
The world is inspired by Victorian England of the 1800s, taking the most gothic elements present from the time both in terms of locations and enemies. The sense and scope present is absolutely awe inspiring, making you constantly feel small and vulnerable as you wander around.
This goes hand in hand with enemy design. At first the game throws mostly werewolves and angry villagers at you but quickly introduces all kinds of terrors. Each enemy looks scary and threatening, with many having appearances so original we can’t accurately describe them. Even familiar foes have inspired designs, such as werewolves having a rabid appearance, which adds to the idea that there is something legitimately wrong with these creatures.
Music sets the mood of the game. It’s very soft, sometimes nonexistent while wandering, adding to the fear that some dark monster could be around the corner. It ramps up once you reach a boss battle, making the monster(s) feel all the more threatening (and the fight more epic). And the moment you slay it, a silence follows, letting you bask in the glory of your achievement.
Bloodborne is what a new IP should be: it retains the fundamentals that made From Software’s past games special, yet adds a new twist to offer a similar but not identical experience. What made the Souls games stand out is still present, though, with tough as nails gameplay, unforgiving structure and a world that tells a story through subtle clues you uncover.
For those unfamiliar with the Souls series, you’re thrown into a large world without any real context or explanation. After your first death, the game transports you to a graveyard and offers explanations of the controls and mechanics. From there you can teleport to lanterns (after you uncover them in the main world).
These lanterns serve as the game’s checkpoints. You can get shortcuts to the next lantern or boss fight, but every death will send you back to the checkpoint. Your blood echoes (experience serving the same purpose as in Souls) will remain in the area you died, which can be recovered provided you do not die a second time before reaching them. If this happens they’re permanently lost.
Since blood echoes level up your character, buy items and repair your weapons, this system makes you really value the amount you have. Hoarding them if you can level up already makes little sense, as a new level is almost always the most expensive thing you can buy and also the most valuable.
Leveling up only upgrades a single stat, but each level matters thanks to the game’s intense difficulty. Given this — and how easy it is to lose your echoes — it makes you really value what you have.
Make no mistake, you will die. A lot. And you will lose all your echoes at some point — we’re not just talking about a few, either, but tens of thousands because enemies are strong, relentless and full of surprises. Oh, and bosses are like that multiplied by about a thousand.
Yet from this you will also really get familiar with an area, forming an attachment to it. You’ll know where the traps are, where the enemies who want to ambush you hide, where the best spot to fight large groups are and where the shortcuts exist. And you will get better as you progress. Not just your character getting stronger, but your skills will increase far more appreciably than they do playing most other games.
It’s this improvement that makes the game so compelling. There are extremely rare cheap deaths, but most times you’ll think of what you should have done differently. And once you finally beat a boss or reach the next checkpoint, the game gives a feeling of satisfaction almost unparalleled by other games.
If you really have trouble, however, you can summon other players for assistance. This is especially useful for boss battles, but it comes with a catch: Enabling this feature also allows players to invade your game and steal your blood echoes. This offers an interesting twist on multiplayer, creating a potential drawback for requesting aid.
Dodging is absolutely essential to success, while your guns fill a similar role to parrying. Their damage output is usually pretty small, but if you time your shot right when an enemy attacks it will place them in a vulnerable state in which you can stab them right in the face.
The health system allows you to recover health after taking damage by hitting enemies, which combines very well with Bloodborne’s offensive approach and faster-paced combat. It creates situations against stronger enemies in which you must quickly choose whether to attack (and recover health at the risk of dying) or use a potion (and get your health back for certain).
As great as the game is, however, there are some nitpicks present. While we mentioned cheap deaths are very rare, you really feel the sting as you can lose so much from them. It’s a situation of a game expecting perfection from a player while not always offering a fair chance.
What is harder to forgive is that the game doesn’t do a great job of teaching the mechanics. You can only read the messages for the controls, but even with 30-plus hours invested, there were a few mechanics we didn’t fully understand until checking online. Plus, you can’t level up until you find the first boss, which takes a while, so it asks a little too much from the player early on.
Bloodborne is not a perfect game. It offers a poor tutorial for newcomers and has occasional cheap deaths made more painful by its mechanics. And yet the game is incredibly compelling and every victory against a boss was followed by triumphant yelling. At the end of the day, if we’re having that much fun and leaving that satisfied, a game has succeeded.