Retrospective: Bloodborne

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DevinRogersIn memory of the late GameTrailers.com, this site’s first review is of Bloodborne.

I have never been a fan of the Souls series. Demon’s Souls was initially a fun deviation from the norm, but after defeating a few bosses I just couldn’t find enjoyment in the harsh difficulty. My friends encouraged me to try Dark Souls, and after spending even less time in that game’s unforgiving environments, I found I didn’t have the patience for those sorts of games. To me they were nothing but slow, anger-inducing grindfests where one wrong stat allotment spelled doom for that character’s playthrough.

So when Bloodborne was released, I’m not sure what possessed me to buy it. Perhaps it was the hype? The announcement of a PS4-exclusive Souls game received lots of attention from the gaming community. Maybe it was the promise of faster gameplay and different mechanics relative to the other Souls games? From reading online impressions, Bloodborne seemed to improve in the areas I didn’t enjoy from the Souls series. Or did I dive in because there wasn’t much else on the PS4 release slate? It was probably due to a combination of all these things that I decided to give Bloodborne a chance.

After the intro cut-scene finished and I found myself in control of my newly created Hunter, I proceeded into the next room to confront Bloodborne’s first challenge. Much to my surprise, I lasted far longer than I expected and nearly came out of the encounter alive. However, it was not to be, and I laughed at the fact that I died to the first enemy in the game.

Why did I buy this again? I remember asking myself. But I pressed on, determined to overcome the difficulty that so many other gamers had triumphed over in the past. I’m glad I did, because what I found in Bloodborne was one of the greatest gaming experiences I’d ever had.

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Before I first began playing, I had convinced myself that it would be a better idea to ignore the game’s plot and do some sort of weird role-play. I believe my train of thought was that if I made up my own story, I would have more fun compared to the stories I couldn’t get into with the previous Souls games.

Bloodborne wouldn’t allow it. From the moment I stepped out of Iosefka’s clinic into the streets of Central Yharnam, the world and its inhabitants ensured I knew that this was a land of insanity, and it was my duty to cleanse the streets of the plague of blood.

The story of Bloodborne is similar in some respects to that of Batman: Arkham City. In that game, Arkham’s criminals escape into Gotham and are sanctioned off off in a lawless zone controlled by super villains. It’s up to Batman to infiltrate the area and put an end to all of the criminal activity. In Bloodborne, the concept is somewhat the same. Citizens of Yharnam and other areas in the world of Bloodborne have taken to drinking blood (which turns out to be tainted), and in the process most of them have gone crazy or have transformed into beasts. It’s the duty of the Hunters to enter the quarantined city and put down anyone or anything infected by the tainted blood.

The similarities end there. As you venture deeper into the labyrinthine madness, Bloodborne slowly and cryptically reveals itself to be a Lovecraftian-horror cooked with three main ingredients: blood, insanity, and darkness. I won’t spoil any of the lore, but if you weave the tale together the world of Bloodborne has a rich and tragic history. Every NPC, every boss, every location has a tale to tell, though it may not be very apparent on the surface.

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What is apparent from the get go are the changes to the games mechanics compared to previous Souls entries. Gone are the shields and slower encounters. Bloodborne demands quick, agile action, and be damned with defense. After all, the best defense is a good offense. Did that deranged man deal some major damage to you with his pitchfork? Hit him back fast enough and you will instantly recover some of your health.

It really is a great system for encouraging an aggressive play style. Blood vials (the health potions of Bloodborne) are typically plentiful and much quicker to consume than in Dark Souls, so even if you don’t want to risk putting yourself in danger for an extra attack, you have ways to heal up. However, sometimes the only option is to keep swinging at your enemy until one of you lies dead.

All of this isn’t to say there are no defensive options available. Dodge rolling is your go-to tactic for evading enemy attacks. You can also stun some enemies with your firearm – the replacement for shields – if used at the right moment, leaving your victims temporarily vulnerable to a critical strike (or visceral attack).

To Souls veterans these changes may go against what they think Souls gameplay should be. I, however, couldn’t get enough of it. Everything felt so smooth. If I died it was because I did something wrong, and not because my character was too slow to block or dodge.

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From the moment I stepped out into Central Yharnam I was immediately immersed in Bloodborne’s beautiful universe. Everything feels so organic. From the awkward animations of the stumbling townsfolk, to the grandeur of the city’s architecture, and even upward into Bloodborne’s ominous skyboxes, the visuals in this game are top notch. The feeling you get lunging towards a crowd of enemies and seeing your weapon transform in a combo that decimates your opponents is immensely satisfying.

There is probably no better example of the quality of Bloodborne’s visual artistry than its boss designs. Grotesque, menacing and panic-inducing, these creatures are out for blood. Not since Shadow of the Colossus have I been this awestruck by the majesty of a game’s bosses. Encounters like Father Gascoigne and his surprise transformation and Vicar Amelia and her billowing hair/healing tape fueled my sense of adventure, pushing me further into the game to see what hideous monster would be around the next corner.

But it wasn’t just the visual designs of the bosses that blew me away. The Gothic choir that kicks in when Bloodborne’s main fights begin sends my heart racing. The first time I fought the Blood-Starved Beast, the music caused my adrenaline levels to hit such highs that I was almost paralyzed into losing the ability to work the DualShock controller.

It isn’t all about shock and awe, though. Hearing the grinding of weapons being dragged down the street, the far off chime of a bell tower, or the unnerving cry of an unseen baby sets an eerie mist over each area. Even friendly NPCs will keep you on your guard with vocal performances that teeter on the edge of madness.

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Being that I had no interest in Souls games, I could have easily let this game go by; however, I would have missed out on one of the most rewarding gaming experiences I’ve ever had. Bloodborne has opened my mind up to the potential games can have if you just give them a chance. I plan to revisit the Souls series to see if I will “get it” now, but I have also begun to try out other games and genres I previously would have ignored, too. Bloodborne has changed my perception of what a game can be.

After 100 hours I was able to play through the game twice. And as of this writing, I would consider Bloodborne my favorite game. Ever. There are a handful of others that would get the same score, but with this generation’s technology Bloodborne has eclipsed everything else I would consider a perfect game. Truly, Bloodborne is a masterpiece.

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