Although it’s been out for some time, the PS4 arguably now has its first real killer app exclusive, in the form of the Souls-like Bloodborne.
It seemed like the most natural direction for From Software to take their system of gameplay developed across Demons Souls and the two Dark Souls title: keep the inherent core of how the games work, but transpose it into a different setting. We’ve gone from the dark Fantasy world of the previous titles, to a Van Helsing-cross-Cthulu style dark Gothic Horror world, and I, along with most of the world, couldn’t have been more excited. But does it deliver, with all this promise?
For those of you who have never played a Souls style game let me explain some of the basics. You control a single human character that is placed in a dark, oppressive world where nearly everything wants to kill you and is quite good at doing so. You will die quite a lot throughout the course of the game, and each death will reset all the enemies that you have previously killed, excepting bosses. You are placed into an open world that encourages exploration, and your progress is marked by small checkpoints that you must find and reach, often by killing a boss first. Needless to say, these games are extremely difficult. But rather than having death as a negative, in these games you use death as a way to improve your abilities on each run, and when you eventually slay the Almighty Demon Monster, you will know that it’s just because of your skills alone.
The setting of this game is the monster-overrun town of Yharnum and its surrounds. You arrive there in search of a cure to a disease you have, only to find that the town is filled with werewolves, hags, trolls and much more, and the only humans left are insane hunters, who are almost as dangerous as the beasts they seek to slay. Unlike the Souls games, you are given no clear objective at first, and are simply trying to find answers to what has happened in this place. Along the way, the game undergoes a shifting transformation from pure gothic horror into more of a Lovecraftian nightmare, which is a wonderful blending of genres. However, I won’t go into any more details at this point; but I will let it be known that there is a mechanic in this game that is great at portraying Lovecraft style horror in an interactive space. Along the way, you will collect a resource called Insight, which can be gained and spent in various ways. The higher it is, the more vicious enemies get, but the more of the hidden aspects of the world you can see. I won’t spoil it any more than that, but it works amazingly at expanding the world according to the themes upon which it is built. The setting itself benefits a lot from the added power of the PS4, and the player and the surrounds both look gorgeous and extremely detailed. You will travel through a variety of locales, but they all seem to blend well as a tone, and it always feels like there’s one more thing hidden around the next corner.
The core of the gameplay is combat, it’s a lot more aggressive than Souls games had been. For one thing, you will not have a shield in your left hand. Rather, you have a gun, which has limited bullets, and can be used for both combat and for stunning enemies with well-timed shots. Your right hand contains what the game dubs a Trick Weapon. Rather than a hundred different weapons like previous games, each weapon class seems to be represented by one, with two functions. For instance, a sword weapon can at the tap of L1 be transformed into a large hammer weapon. There are about 15 Trick Weapons in the game, which is considerably less than Souls games, and some might be annoyed by that, but the transformational aspect of the weapons works well in combos and does give a decent range of variety. They can also be upgraded, but the majority will be viable until end-game, depending on how you play. Bloodborne is not meant to be a constant gear-upgrade game. Armor also comes in fewer varieties, and cannot be upgraded, but what is there is designed more for fashion than for anything. Combat is a lot faster paced, with constant dashes in and out to maximize the gaps left open by enemies. I believe the hardest part of the game is up until the second boss, after which a player would have learnt all the skills necessary to make it to the end.
Healing is covered by Blood Vials, which are collected as the player explores, and which the player can hold 20 of at one time. They heal about 40 percent of your health, and are mapped to the triangle button at all times. Health can also be gained back after enemy attacks: if an enemy hits you, you have a few seconds in which any attack you land will heal up to 80 percent of your lost health. It doesn’t always work in practice, but it’s a nice system to encourage more aggressive combat. Other customizable aspects of the game are covered by the Rune and Gem system. Runes are items that can be attached to the player and swopped out, much like Rings in the Souls games. Gems are items which are attached to specific weapons, and add abilities and affects to that specific weapon.
The storyline is going to be extremely vague, even to avid Souls fans, and will require a huge amount of exploration and item discovery to even come close to figuring out what’s going on. However, I found it to be quite interesting as a whole, albeit not quite as impressive as the Dark Souls one was to me, in terms of presentation. Along your journey you will also pick up items called Chalices, which can generate specific kinds of rogue-like randomly generated dungeons of a particularly type, in which additional items and bosses can be found. Your specific dungeon can be shared online with the public if you generate a good one. I’m unsure of how I feel about the Chalice Dungeons; I think in part they take away some of the uniqueness of the level design in these games and reduce it down to a basic “insert asset here” function; but at the same time they do add longevity to the game as a whole.
Other negatives include the loading times, which are noticeably long, especially when you have to teleport in and out of your base to go to another area, and whenever you die. There are also a few random bugs and glitches that haven’t yet been sorted and can be quite serious at times. I also think the game as a whole is shorter than the Souls games, and has fewer items and collectables as a whole. Some aspects feel rushed, like spells are basically non-existent aside from a couple, and there is a Beasthood system that seems to have been started but not finished properly. Every now and again I’d catch myself trying to do something I did in a Souls game, but for no explicit reason can’t do here. Covenants are much reduced, and online PVP is present, but doesn’t seem to feature as much. Most of these are small niggles, but also don’t fully have good reasons behind their absences.
These faults are largely so present to me because the rest of the game is so good, that their presence is somehow a lot more noticeable. I think Bloodborne is a fantastic game, but one that could have been better in a few small areas. It’s still one of the best games that are going to be out this year, and definitely a must-buy for any PS4 owner. Don’t let the difficulty put you off: like I said, the first 5 hours are probably the hardest, and after that you’ll be less intimidated by the world, and more interested in setting out and kicking ass.