For the few of you that aren't fed up of us bleating on about Bloodborne yet, we've got one last piece of weekend reading lined up. With the game clearly attracting newcomers to the acclaimed Souls series, we've brought together a handful of scribes who have slightly less experience with the franchise in order to share their initial impressions. Is it impenetrably hard? How many DualShock 4 controllers were maimed in the making of this article? Spoilers: we all rather like it so far.
Sammy Barker, Editor
I bought Demon's Souls based solely on hype when Bandai Namco brought it to Europe back in 2010. I was aware of the title, of course, as it had already blown up in North America by then – but I also knew of its frightening reputation. Fortunately, the PAL edition came with a pretty exhaustive guide inside its box, and so I soldiered on, hunched over the scribbles inside that book, trying to get through the game.
I lasted about a couple of hours, and, after beating the first boss, I decided to put it back on my shelf. It wasn't the punishing difficulty that put me off – I fared reasonably well if I remember correctly – but I just wasn't in love with the idea of a game that I'd have to read and do research into purely to progress. These days I find that my patience is such that I actively prefer story-heavy games like Life Is Strange to obtuse escapades like Dark Souls.
Bloodborne sounds like my worst nightmare, then – but as arguably the biggest PlayStation 4 exclusive to date, I had to give it a go. This time, though, I changed my strategy, and have been soaking up every morsel of information regarding the release for weeks. This has allowed me to go into the game knowing exactly which class, weapons, and strategy I'll need to employ. Moreover, I haven't been precious with spoilers, and have been watching people fight various bosses for days.
And, I don't want to come across like an egotistical idiot, but it's served me well so far. I can honestly say that the game hasn't really daunted me in any way, and because I have a decent knowledge base to build from, I'm not pouring over a coffee table sized guide trying to figure everything out. I died once on my way to the Cleric Beast, and finished the foul nasty off first time. And while Father Gascoigne is giving me a few headaches, I certainly haven't rage-quit yet.
Perhaps my only disappointment so far, then, is that I know I'm never going to have the free time to give this title the attention that it deserves. I love what I've played thus far, and would probably be willing to invest the 60 or so hours required to see it all – but I've got a website to update. As such, I'm sort of hoping that it gets impenetrably hard soon, so I don't feel quite as sad when I inevitably have to leave it behind.
Dan Carter, Reviewer
Bloodborne is something really, really special. Of course, a lot can be said for the perfectly tightened combat mechanics and the way in which it gives you an amazing sense of control and exhilaration as long as you're doing everything right, but the underlying knowledge that a single misstep, a lone greedy attack could mess everything up in an instant is worthy of praise as well. You can be in control, but you can never be safe. A lot can be said for the imaginative and often gruesome enemies too, for the boss battles that serve as the most delicious topping to affairs. But, what really stands out to me above everything else is the world building.
It's clear that this is a living world, densely and meaningfully interconnected, packed with enough lore and backstory to rival any exposition obsessed 40 hour RPG spectacle if you wish to seek it out. Take the first main area of the game as an example, Central Yarnham. As you climb up to your first safe haven – accessible within minutes of playing – and take a glimpse at the backdrop in the distance, what doesn't quite sink in until later is just how real all of this is. That cluster of spire topped buildings off in the distance? That's the Cathedral Ward, an upcoming major explorable section. Linking it to Central Yarnham you can see the main bridge blocked off by a certain early boss, and a smaller, less obvious bridge a little further away that looks like a utility passage of sorts. Sewers, soon to be conquered, are easily visible.
Most of the world takes this shape, each section slotting into the last and next and all those in between perfectly and like a working, realistic universe should. Late-game arenas will open up shortcuts back to places you explored as a brand new hunter, motivating you to check back up and see what's changed in your absence. Everything is literally dripping with charm and a coherent theme, too. This dark Victorian setting, oozing with eldritch horrors and a mythology that seems to be directly inspired by H.P Lovecraft novels and is certainly all the better for it. Progress causes the overall tone to slowly but noticeably shift hour by hour, as NPCs begin to crack and break, the world itself begins to visibly warp, and the beasts come out to play.
Bloodborne is something absolutely incredible.
Graham Banas, Reviewer
I am definitely a newcomer to this series. I've probably played a combined 45 minutes across all three previous Souls releases, and I just never got the appeal. I had what I could call an above-average understanding of the series, as I live with roommates who adore it – well, maybe not Dark Souls II – which exposed me to a lot of the gameplay. Adding that to the fact that I was in desperate need for a great exclusive to justify using my PS4, I decided to take the leap and buy Bloodborne in hopes that it would change my opinion of the series.
This idea has been at least partially successful. My feelings about this game have flip-flopped between adoration and hatred so many times that you could make a bona fide sine-wave out of it. Of course I expected to be challenged by this game. It's not like I was expecting to just prance around the environments, hardly exerting myself, but damn... After about 12 hours or so, I think my feelings are starting to bottom out. I've – naturally – died countless times, but just so many of those times have felt cheap even within the parameters the game has set for itself.
Did I swear when I climbed up a tall ladder only to be immediately shot in the face by a blunderbuss, knocking me back, so that I fell to my death? You bet I did. But it felt fair. It was my fault that I died in that instance. Did I swear when a giant pig clipped through the wall of my raised platform, killing me in one shot when it shouldn't have been able to get me at all? You bet I did. But this time, it most certainly did not feel fair.
Some things are great, like the satisfaction of obliterating a boss without getting hit once (I'm looking at you Blood-Starved Beast), or cashing in a huge number of Blood Echoes and levelling up a bunch. Likewise, exploring the gorgeous environments, paired with the amazing score is marvellous. And it's in those instances that I can start to see why there's so much fuss about this series. So in that respect, I guess Bloodborne has accomplished a great deal. There's now some admiration and enjoyment mixed in with my feelings of indifference, but there's quite a bit of hatred and frustration thrown in as well.
Joey Thurmond, Reviewer
My affiliation with From Software's games can be summed up in a single phrase: it's complicated. I may own the Souls titles and love the insanely tough yet rewarding game formula common to each one, but I haven't completed any of them. As massive time sinks and experiences where you just have to put away the controller for a while out of frustration sometimes, I've always unintentionally drifted away to new games, and shorter, less taxing ones since I feel like I play "more" this way. Dying for hours against one boss or in some area isn't as appealing of an alternative, but regardless, I will make time to play them all someday since they're genuinely exciting. But why get Bloodborne now?
There's brilliance in From Software's work: the subtle story told through the engrossing environments and strange characters; the refined action-RPG gameplay that tests the limits of your reflexes and skill; the unforgiving, raw power of the epic bosses that make you feel on top of the world once you overcome them…these familiar elements and more are passed on to Bloodborne, but it's without question the most distinguished and – from what I can tell – accessible out of its brethren.
While the first two hours leave you with many questions about what you're supposed to be doing, getting into its groove is a blast. What's immediately apparent is the offensive gameplay, which is a far cry from the 70 per cent of time spent behind a shield in past games. This is encouraged with the duel-wielding of deadly weapons that switch between two modes on the fly, and small firearms and fast-paced dodging. The new Regain system is greatly appreciated too, which lets you recover lost health in a window of time by attacking an enemy after it hits you. With a gorgeous, ominous gothic atmosphere, the cleverly interconnected level design of Yharnam, and a choir and orchestral-driven soundtrack with eerie, religious undertones to boot, Bloodborne isn't only captivating to play, but to observe and listen to as well.
Despite repetitively trekking through foes to defeat a tough boss sometimes, and weird frame rate issues, I still couldn't recommend the game enough. While it may be a time investment and trying at times, the exhilaration of battle, camaraderie of online co-op, and overall exploration of the disturbing yet fascinating world is a dark journey you should consider accepting the invitation to join.
Are you new to the Souls series, and how is Bloodborne treating you? What's your favourite thing about the game, and what are you less keen on? Prepare to die in the comments section below.