And so another yarn has arrived from Yharnam just in time to remind us why Bloodborne is one of the best games of the year. The Old Hunters is a full-blooded expansion, boasting nightmarish new environments and a bevy of brutal beasts to slaughter, but it's the vast array of original equipment that will have moon slaves practically salivating over this add-on. As far as DLC goes, this is one of the stronger sets that you're likely to see.
Everything about it is as ambiguous as you'd expect, but that's always been one of the primary appeals of the package as a whole. To access the Hunter's Nightmare – one of the new locations that you'll be visiting – you'll need to sacrifice yourself to a giant space beetle clinging on to the Cathedral Ward wall. Once you're away with the not-so friendly fairies, From Software's familiar gameplay loop starts to formulate – it's hunt or be hunted in this gothic otherworld.
The combat, as described in our review, is so far ahead of its peers that it's not even funny; howling wolf people hiss and groan as you decorate their torsos with irreparable wounds. But it's buoyed here by the introduction of new weapons: the Whirligig Saw is a great hunking club which transforms into a mechanical sawblade on a stick, while the Boom Hammer can be heated for a short period in order to provide extra elemental damage to your strikes.
We're particularly keen on the Gatling gun, an arm-mounted cannon that allows you to pepper enemies with quicksilver bullets. There's also a knuckleduster for those who prefer the close and personal approach, as well as the Loch Shield – a welcome addition for the Dark Souls faithful, which comes in useful against the Queen of the Astral Clocktower, an especially unpleasant individual named Lady Maria.
The five boss fights are much as you'd expect: abhorrent, brutal, and brilliant. Ludwig – a character who'll be familiar to disciples of Bloodborne's lore – is a hefty individual, defined by an abundance of teeth and stringy sinews. He contrasts heavily with the Living Failures, grotesque gelatinous substances which are willing to die in order to protect a wilted sunflower. Each is more challenging and memorable than the last, with the final encounter proving a real test.
But it's not just the big battles that shine here, as the sense of discovery is also a highlight. The Research Hall is a gigantic vertical staircase littered with the remains of failed experiments, while the Fishing Hamlet is a barnacle pocked seaside port, cursed with corpses covered in silverfish and aquatic adversaries who gurgle and sputter as you put them to the sword. The level design is excellent, though the sheer diversity of the locations means that they don't quite overlap as well as the main game.
Still, even in spite of this minor oversight, the art direction remains as squalid as ever. Crooked turrets pepper the skyline of the opening environment, offering a twisted fairytale-esque introduction to the add-on. But as you progress things get progressively darker; the gothic architecture is expertly crafted, and while you will happen upon recycled assets, tiny touches such as bloody bodies banging against closed gates help to illustrate the depths of despair in this dreary dream world.
And the incredible thing is that after over 15 hours of exploration, we're still yet to see everything that the DLC has to offer; locked doors elude us, while the Simon's Bowblade – which has featured heavily in pre-release press materials – remains an undiscovered scythe in our side. But it's secrets like this that are going to keep us playing long beyond the review process; even the final boss, a fearsome fire foe, took us a number of hours to track down.
We should stress that beating that final beast is very much a worthwhile endeavour, as it unlocks a new rune which will enable you to indulge your darker side. In fact, there's an absolute ton of loot alongside the weapons that you can take back into the base game, with a dizzying degree of costumes and accessories for you to experiment with. For hunters already drunk on the main outing's offering, this DLC will ensure that you remain intoxicated until Dark Souls III arrives.
Bloodborne: The Old Hunters is much more of the same from what is already an outstanding game. The new environments and boss encounters add hours to the main experience, but it's the deluge of additional equipment that will keep veterans most occupied. If you've been yearning for a reason to return to Yharnam, then this DLC practically demands your Blood Echoes. Just remember that the life of a hunter is defined by death – and you're going to die a lot.