As far as Dark Souls goes, you’ll struggle to find anyone at Dealspwn that dislikes it more. But here I am, working my way through Bloodborne. From Software’s latest title is essentially a spiritual successor to the incredibly tough Souls series.
But screw it, I almost enjoyed the Alpha and Beta versions I played in recent months. So perhaps the tides were turning and I was going to start warming to the infamous brand of hardcore gaming that has built up such a large following since the early days of Demon’s Souls. Incidentally, that game was the last one I played.
There are plenty of reviews and reports from seasoned players, but we thought we’d provide a perspective from a relative newcomer, as we imagine there are a few of you out there that didn’t fancy (or flat out disliked) the Souls series, but are keen to see what all the fuss is over the PS4’s biggest exclusive yet. So here I am, recovering the day after the oh so bloody night before. Here’s how I earned my Bloodborne Hangover.
The first thing you’ll do in Bloodborne is create a character. I didn’t spend much time on this, as I figured I’d be covering them up with as much armour as possible the first chance I got. When selecting body build, I went for the slimmest option as it doesn’t affect any stats. I figured the less of me there was to hit the better.
Picking a class trait provided some base stats. Nothing was particularly well explained, but in the end I went for a warrior-style one as it had a nice balance of strength and endurance, which I figured would be essential seeing as I’d be taking a beating throughout.
After a cutscene, where I seemingly signed my life away, I was dumped in a hospital, unarmed and with no idea of the controls. After groping around in the dark, accidentally consuming one of my two potions, I found a few hints on the controls. And there at the end of the room, my first foe, a large werewolf crouched on all fours and munching on a corpse. Knowing I probably wasn’t expected to survive this initial encounter, I ran right up and punched it in the face and was surprised at how much of its health bar diminished. A few dodge rolls later, and I genuinely thought I might beat this beast. Then I rolled into a wall by mistake and he ripped me apart. But I was proud of my efforts and kept my cool.
My character then awoke in the game’s hub, Hunter’s Dream. A world without enemies, where I would find a shop and eventually a place to level up. After more running around than I’d care to admit, I found a range of weapons to choose from. A giant axe (slow but powerful), a cane (fast and weak) or the cleaver (the middle ground). While sad to see the dual swords from the beta missing, I made the natural choice of using the clever, having used it before I knew it would be fast enough and the extended form would allow me to keep some distance from enemies. I opted for the pistol sidearm over the blunderbuss for the same reasons.
Diving back into Yharnam, I realised that the opening area of the city was the same one seen in the recent beta, but a few deaths later, I was much relieved to see there were more checkpoints. Actually, there’s just one extra and it’s awfully close to the first one. And so the pain begins.
I’ll get onto the combat soon, but first something about what I was trying to do in Bloodborne. I spent hours essentially looking for new checkpoints, because each time you die, you’re put back to the last one and ALL the enemies respawn. I went all night without finding one though. Instead, life is made easier in Bloodborne by opening up shortcuts. There are multiple gates that can only be opened from the other side, but once you do, you’re able to skip large chunks of the game map.
Bloodborne’s hardcore heritage isn’t just displayed by the brutal combat. There’s a complete lack of hand-holding, maps, compasses or any help really. Familiar Demon’s Souls/Dark Souls tropes are back, such as notes left by other players warning of dangers ahead, sometimes in suitably cryptic form and spectres of player deaths can also be seen to create a permanent foreboding atmosphere.
So how is the combat? It’s taking a bit of getting used to having the attack buttons assigned to the shoulders to be honest, but I have been playing a lot of DmC recently. R1 is a powerful, but quite fast, downwards strike that does the most damage, but R2 is emerging as an early favourite as the wide horizontal swing is much more effective when taking on enemies. The latter can be charged by holding R2, but it feels like a gamble every time. Pressing L1 swaps between short and extended modes for the cleaver. I’m thinking the short one potentially does more damage, but I prefer to keep as much distance from the enemy as possible.
Human enemies generally shamble around slowly, but once they’d catch sight of me, they’d run over and swing their weapons with surprising vigour, seemingly driven by their own murderous bloodlust. Humans, freakishly tall and half-dead looking humans, are the most common enemy I encountered in Bloodborne, but you can’t take any of them for granted. Flaming torch bearers interrupted attacks easily if I tried more than two attacks, often setting me on fire. But seeing as any successful enemy attack takes a large portion of my health, I learned that I couldn’t afford any defensive breaches at all. The ‘farmers’ with long pitchforks are particularly difficult and are best attacked from the sides via a dodge roll. But for every enemy I thought I had a handle on, the game comes up with new ones, like dogs, snipers, ogres, armoured ogres, even a figure in the shadows in a wheel chair.
One of the elements I missed in the beta was Bloodborne’s approach to claiming back lost health. Essentially, when attacked a white marker on the health bar moves down before the health bar actually depletes. A few seconds later, that health will be gone. But in a move to encourage a more aggressive play-style than Dark Souls, if you retaliate fast enough with attacks of your own, you can earn that health back.
However, I’m generally finding that the amounts I get back for strikes is much less than I’m losing and enemies die before I’m able to earn back the amount they stole. It’s a bit underwhelming if I’m honest, but I’m hoping that I’ll be able to level up a stat or find an item that will increase the amounts I can earn back. It’s certainly an interesting mechanic and any opportunity to regain health is something that’s hard to ignore. Conversely, I’ve rushed in too hastily on numerous occasions in order to claim health back and have been hurt even more because of it. That window is awfully narrow though, so I didn’t always have time to wait for a better chance to strike. Until I get a better understanding of this, I’m going to have to learn to take the loss of health on the chin. It’s a great challenge though and the game is forcing me to make careful decisions constantly. It’s more harrowing and intimidating than merely sticking games like Call of Duty or DmC on harder settings -but the underlying potential is certainly growing on me. I can only hope that my own skills continue to grow before my remaining enthusiasm is beaten out of me.
For a while, I had to accept that I’d be dying a lot not far from the early checkpoints and would have to take it on the chin. I’d played enough of Demon’s Souls to know what to expect. But how do you prepare for such a relentless barrage of defeat? Well, for me, I think playing Rogue Legacy for five hours straight last week helped. It taught me not to get so pissed off with death, and attempt to make the most of each life and at least take away something from the experience.
Unlike Rogue Legacy though, when you die, you don’t get to keep your points/currency to spend at the hub. Instead, I’d have to leave the game (alive) at one of the checkpoints to go back to Hunter’s Dream with any of the blood souls I’d earned from enemies. I traded some souls over time for armour upgrades including a cloak, hat, boots and gauntlets. With the cheapest being 500, it didn’t take long to buy them all, it’s a shame there’s no way of banking remaining souls though to prevent their loss.
But what about actual levelling up? There was no sign of this, although reading up on the game previously, I’d learned that the doll figure would eventually come alive and I’d be able to invest some souls. However, this wasn’t happening so far.
So with nothing else to buy in the store, I stopped going back. And for hours I tried exploring Yharnam, desperately trying to find a new checkpoint at least. My fighting skills were slowly improving, but my character wasn’t actually getting any stronger. Madness started to set in, I was so sick of trawling around the same areas and having nothing to show for it. As per Dark Souls, if I died, I’d lose all my souls, unless I could find the Bloodstain where I fell, or as is new to Bloodborne, sometimes I’d have to kill the enemy that slayed me in order to get them back. Glowing eyes would indicate he had them. However, on numerous occasions I would find that no enemy had them and my bloodstain was nowhere to be seen, and no, I hadn’t died on the way to it as I know you only get one shot at retrieving them. Sometimes they would appear a few minutes later, but it’s been massively inconsistent, which didn’t ease my increasing rage.
Weary of the same fights, I developed a new tactic. Just run. This is surprisingly effective and added an unhinged level of, dare I say it, fun. Playing properly, I’d managed to get to the bridge guarded by a pair of werewolves, or the sewers, but still no sign of a checkpoint or a new shortcut. As I became more aware of enemy patrol patterns, I found I was able to get back to this area by only killing one enemy (that sniper shit in the main square). Better yet, fuck those wolves, they’re just going to eat me again, so I ran past them too, all the way down the bridge, past the TWO ogres, and the deformed giant crows. “Oh my shit!’ I’m going to make it” my addled brain screamed at me. Then I literally ran straight into the game’s first boss, screen-long health bar and all. I stabbed it in the foot, panicked, threw a molotov cocktail on myself and died. Back to the start I thought. Fuck this game…why won’t you love me!
But a sliver of light entered my ever-darkening world. Instead of being taken back to the start I was taken back to the hub. Now, I don’t know if I’d triggered this by reaching the boss or I’d died a specific number of times, or maybe it’s just a part of the game’s organic arsehole DNA, but the Doll character had finally woke up.
This meant that I could spend blood souls again. Crucially, I was allowed to increase my stats by buying an extra level in different areas. Some of these would bump up multiple stats. Naturally, I didn’t have any souls to spend (I’d just died remember) and there was no way I was going to be able to recover my bloodstain from the boss. But that didn’t matter! The first upgrade cost was about 800 souls, I’d be able to earn that in a few minutes and dive back in to the hub via the checkpoint and buy the upgrade, I’d finally start growing, become stronger and more resilient to damage. And just like that, my enthusiasm was reborn. However, Bloodborne is a game that seems to always take away more than it gives. After buying a stat upgrade, I found that not only was the next level in the same category considerably more expensive (standard RPG fare), but the price for the first upgrade to all the other stats had gone up too. It felt like I was going to hit another wall soon.
So what’s a downtrodden, but ever so slightly stronger hunter to do with his remaining time in his first night in Yharnam? Well, I’d given up on the idea of finding new checkpoints, I’m guessing they’re behind that boss on the bridge. So instead, I investigate every nook and cranny to find these shortcuts. I made a point to break as many coffins and crates as possible. There were never any items in them, but I did discover a couple of new routes and passages behind them that I could drop onto.
In fact, I found a whole new area, with multiple paths. Knowing that death lurked around every corner, and that the nice bundle of souls I’d hunted was increasingly at risk, I stepped into the unknown. I was in equal parts excited and terrified. On spotting a pair of ogres, I’m not ashamed to say I ran away. But I did at least find a route to the bridge that skipped past the werewolves. I could have done without exploring that incredibly dark house though.
A little bit lost and knowing that I might have to go back the way I came, I happened across a gate, as I approached, I expected it to be another one that was opened from the other side. But wait, it looks familiar over there. That’s the one near the start…it opened! Why was I so excited about a gate opening that put me back near the start? Because even if I died, that gate would remain open and I had a relatively simple route to the boss fight. This was huge progress and the most rewarding moment of the night. I immediately returned to the hub and spent my 5000 souls on some more stats. Not wanting to ruin the good vibe that I’d worked so hard for, I decided I should probably seek shelter from Yharnam’s murderous intent soon and call it a night.
Knowing I still wasn’t ready to take on the boss, I thought, screw it, let’s see how good this new shortcut is and pick a fight with him anyway. The bastard is basically a rip-off of the Heartless end boss from Kingdom Hearts (sort of). Let’s go spit in his eye at least.
I died, obviously. But I died with dignity this time (didn’t set myself on fire). In fact, I took at least a third from his health bar by spamming the dodge button and trying not to get too greedy with combos. I died a good death, knowing that I had an easy route back to him and would be able to farm some XP and take him on even stronger next time.
So, as a self-confessed newb am I now a convert ready to profess my love for the game? Not yet, I’ve only had one night fleeing and fighting through the streets of Yharnam and I spent more time despairing than having fun. Will that change? Well, I expected this whole review process to be utter misery and while there’s definitely been a fair share of that, I’m really looking forward to tonight when the sun goes down and I take on Yharnam with a better understanding of how to press forwards and make each life count. As expected, Bloodborne, is bloody hard and crushingly unfair, but I’m not ready to let it win just yet. I’ll see you at sundown, with a thirsty cleaver in hand.
I’ll have more for you on Bloodborne soon as I’ll be pushing on through the weekend. We know lots of you are massive Dark Souls fans and have probably picked up the game today. So let us know how you’re finding it. Share some tips. Let’s hear from some fellow newbies too.