Republished on Wednesday 28th February 2018: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of March's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
It's been an excruciating nine months since Bloodborne was first unveiled to wide-eyed spectators, as, much like more life-damaging addictions, the mere knowledge that this twisted continuation of the Souls saga existed in some form was enough to turn its fan base into the mumbling horrors that litter Yharnam's streets. Having spent the two weeks since launch furiously dying in glorious PlayStation 4 exclusive Technicolor, we've given it plenty of thought and consideration, and have decided to agree with the general consensus: this game is really very good.
Given that it's a spiritual sequel, the outing apes many of the key mechanics featured in previous entries. Souls, for example, are still present, but are now called Blood Echoes; Blood Vials replace Estus Flasks as the healing item of choice – albeit one that doesn't regenerate – and the welcome sight of a bonfire is now the welcome glow of a lamp. The Blood Echoes – and blood in general – make up much of the foundation of the twisted world that you'll find yourself in, and are harvested from ruthlessly slaughtering your foes via the title's near-perfect combat system.
This combat system will feel familiar to series veterans, with R1 launching light attacks and R2 dealing heavier, more damaging strikes. Holding R2 allows you to cause some serious damage, but uses more stamina and opens you up to attacks from the beasts that stalk you. L1 is now used to activate the secondary mode of your primary weapon, either wielding it in two hands, or unfurling it into a longer, more dangerous version. However, it's when combined with the major decision to ditch magic and shields, and introduce firearms in their place, that the release truly claims its own identity.
Locking onto a single enemy and entering the dance of death that this revamped approach allows for is extremely satisfying. The slightly altered dodge button now focuses more on darting from side-to-side than rolling, and makes every battle a mad, frenetic affair that challenges both your reactions and the mastery of your weapons and surroundings. That is, until a second and third participant roll up and want to join in.
The new sidearms don't offer much in the way of damage without serious buffs, but serve well to finish off a foe, or, if fired at the right moment, stagger your opponent to allow for a brutal visceral attack. Another departure is the general lack of weapons and clothing found around the world. This new stripped back attitude to equipment keeps things simple while encouraging you to be efficient with your arsenal.
The spending of spilled blood is reserved for the game's central hub, the Hunters Dream – a creepy hilltop house similar to Firelink Shrine, Majula, and The Nexus. Littered with gravestones and boasting a 'Moaning Creatures feat. Nails on a Chalkboard' soundtrack, this shrine of unpleasantness is where you'll come to upgrade said equipment, purchase new items, and level up by "channelling" with a concerningly life-like doll.
Using rare items pilfered from corpses, you can use the Hunter's Dream's workbench to alter and buff your weapons and character with bonus stats. The long-standing feature of fortifying utensils returns, using the likes of Blood Stone Shards and Chunks, but you can also use Blood Gems to provide a weapon with a non-permanent stat increase. As well as Gems, up to four runes can be assigned to your avatar at one time to grant various bonuses, from a five per cent health increase to significant energy regeneration upon executing a visceral attack.
Gone are the bonfires that allow you teleport between areas at will, and instead the Hunter's Dream's gravestones act as the level select menu, similarly to the Archstones originally featured in Demon's Souls. This move away from the lethargic approach to map traversing is definitely a step in the right direction, and marks a return to the seamlessly connected world of the original Dark Souls. In its sequel, there were frequently disconnects between locations, as if the creative spark had gone out, but Bloodborne ditches all of that and manages to keep a common theme throughout.
While the narrative may be a complicated and messy beast, there's clearly a consistent premise throughout the game. Men, tainted by unholy blood, have started to turn into horrific beasts, losing their minds and humanity in the process; different locations, while all truly desolate by their own design, carry this theme and establish themselves as part of the game world. Enemies are similar looking, but somehow totally different, and as you progress, the world evolves and morphs to the point where you can return to an earlier area, but it won't quite be the same.
With the repulsive mind of director Hidetaka Miyazaki once again at the helm, there's a hideously complicated labyrinth of lore and backstory that will keep the most scholarly of players deciphering for a good few months. As for what we understood? Very little, to be honest. There are underlying themes of gods and infanticide, but this series is ultimately defined by your experiences, and with a game this challenging, defining moments are rarely few and far between.
With a learning curve that isn't so much of a curve as it is a wall that's falling directly on top of you, Bloodborne is really bloody hard. Mastery of your weapons and foes is essential if you want to proceed, and with the ditching of the standard sword and shield focus, the combat is as offensive as ever – it's either fight or flight. It took us hours to beat the first boss, not because it's too hard, but because the game was slowly, torturously moulding us into the player that we needed to be to survive, and that's how it goes for the rest of the game, too. If you're too rash with your decisions and attacks, you will be punished, you will drop all of your Blood Echoes, and you will want to hurl your controller across the room.
Certainly there are moments where you don't feel like failure is your fault, with enemies that swarm on you in droves and manage to trap you in corners, taking turns to hit you so that you can never escape; sometimes they'll hit you through walls and when you feel as though you're well out of their reach. Ultimately, turnabout is fair play, because you know, when given the opportunity, you'll have abused the same system in precisely the same way.
If everything becomes a little too challenging, you can always summon in co-op partners for assistance, and as is tradition, it's been made to be just about as convoluted as possible. Towards the beginning of the game, you're given a Beckoning Bell with which to summon allies that have rung their Small Resonant Bell. However, it's possible that many will overlook this second item, as it must be purchased from a special vendor in the Hunter's Dream that only appears after you've gathered ten Insight.
Insight is a special consumable item that's received upon entering a boss area, defeating a boss or invader, or using specific items. Whenever you desire assistance, you must consume one Insight in order to ring your bell, with no guarantee that you'll find assistance. While it's true that this is a real issue, the previous system meant that you had to scan the floor for Summon Signs that represented other players, whereas now you can connect to anyone, anywhere, within the same section that you are, meaning you don't have to stay put while searching for help – even if this results in a desperate search for your co-op partner.
You can also set a password so that you and a friend can find each other more easily, but in our experience, this process was a bit hit and miss. We often consumed two or three Insight as we re-rang the bell and waited for the game to connect us, and as there's no indication of whether it's going to work, even in non-friend-based co-operation, you can sometimes be waiting for several minutes before you find someone. It's also very rare that you'll get a full complement of two partners.
From the same vendor that provides the Small Resonant Bell, you can also purchase the Sinister Bell, but fair warning, this is only for total scoundrels. Ringing this bell allows you to invade the world of others, and as we're not total scoundrels, we've only ever been on the receiving end. While it usually devolves into who runs out of Blood Vials first loses, the satisfaction received when besting an unwanted guest is second only to beating a boss that's been grinding you into the floor for the last few hours.
New to the existing formula are the Chalice Dungeons. During the course of the game, chalices are recovered, and can be used in conjunction with special items to create challenge arenas. These areas contain extra bosses, special equipment and items, and more chalices, some of which are used to generate unique, random areas, with their own bosses and treasures. It's a great addition which will keep you engaged after you've exhausted the main game, but with no real explanation as to how it all works, there's quite a tough barrier for entry.
From start to finish, Bloodborne revels in its unique – if somewhat masochistic – approach to entertainment. There are very few games that cause you to curse their developer one minute and sing their praises the next – but this is one of them. It is, quite simply, a sensationally designed and superbly refined offering.
@Swiket Even I like it!
@Swiket A 9 usually means it's not good, not great, but amazing.
@BLPs I've not played this yet, but I did spend a lot of time with Demon's Souls. I died a lot, but never thought it was down to bad design. A good example would be the end of the first Valley of Defilement. After eventually managing to cut my way through Defiled Ones, the insanely brutal Giant Defiled ones, plague rats, shamans, and god knows what else I finally made it through the the boss. The cinematic played, I armed my poison resistant armour and added fire damage to my sword, then promptly fell to my death because I failed to notice the cliff in front of me due to the dark lighting. I nearly cried.
BUT! After a brief grieving period, I was able to start the game again, and having learned the best way to handle enemies and not have to worry about finding hidden pick ups and such, I was able to get to the end of the level that much easier, and regain the souls I lost. And I also remembered to use the light of my fire sword to tread more carefully. Boss killed, save point established.
In the souls games, dying is never the end. It's integral to the game. Anyone who doesn't understand that has no business buying these games.
I hate when people call this game hardcore or masochistic...T__T
The first week when I got this I totally got caught in the hype surrounding the game; it is a From game and one of the first titles this gen to actually be excited for. I played it and loved every minute of my playthrough. But when I was finished, and some time had passed, I realized that although this game is the best so far on the PS4 (alongside Diablo), it's isn't as good as I made myself believe.
The game has some technical issues that made me don't want to start NG+ or another character, but more importantly: by lowering the treshold stats- and classwise, in the end it feels like "Souls- Lite". I just don't feel like experiencing everything again because all classes, weapons and playstyles feel more or less the same whereas the Souls games have so many different development paths that it stays fresh even on your 4th playthrough.
So where I first got caught in the hype and would have given a 9.5, I now feel that's it's a very solid 8 and I would strongly recommend every PS4 owner to check it out, but it probably won't make my top 5 of this generation in 5 years.
@Gemuarto is there anything you don't hate?
@Batman Just ignore him.
My main problem with 'the From Software game' (for there is only one) is that checkpoints (or whatever you want to call them) are so few and far between. If I've proven I can beat enemies x, y and z, I shouldn't need to fight them again get to get another chance at big boss x. That's punishing, not difficult. The difficulty factor in that equation is only in the fact that the boss is clearly hard because it couldn't be beaten the first time.
You guys let Ben review a game that doesn't suck?
@BLPs I might do an article on this. I, like you, was terrified by all of the comments regarding the game's difficulty before I bought this, but I decided to give it a go purely because it's a Sony published game and I felt that I should play it. I'm glad that I persevered.
The game is hard — I've died more times playing this than any recent game I can remember — but it's not really unfair. As @rockman29 pointed out, every time you die, you learn something new. Whether it's a way to get back into the action quicker, a tactic that's helped you take down the boss, or simply a method that helps you be more efficient, you're always learning. It does take real patience for sure, but I think the comments about difficulty are a little overblown; as long as you go in with the right mentality, you'll triumph.
I say all that, but I'm now banging my head against a brick wall in the Chalice Dungeons. They are optional, though, so I'll let them off.
@RaymanFan2 I can't really speak for the other games, but there are plenty of shortcuts here to help you cut out huge areas that you've tackled previously. The level design is outrageously good. I've also found that, in most cases, you can sprint past most enemies. I'd prefer a quick retry button on the bosses to be honest, but I get why they designed it in this way.
I got this game yesterday and is a blow mind beautiful difficult game, it is a must have for the young ps4 indeed.
Well, I currently do a 5 min play session, procede to die...and rage quit. Rinse and repeat.
I'm gonna try it out after I've played Witcher 3, Scholar of the first sin and Shadow of mirror. Might be a while. Very much looking forward to it though.
@Batman If you think for a little bit, you will understand that I like this game. That's why I hate when people call it masochistic. Sometimes it's good to think for a change. Just telling =))).
@Shellybird27 Gimmi moar hate, buddy.
@BLPs I havnt played Bloodbourne, but spent time with the first 2 souls games and although you say this games difficulty is stopping you buying it - without the difficulty it wouldn't have a fan base to be in production. The difficulty is part of the allure. Also that £9000 lecture (presume your in uni so really good luck), dont take every word as verbatim as what @rockman29 says is spot on. That lecturer was giving his own viewpoint on the industry. I studied a completely different subject and in 2 lectures right after each other I had conflicting accounts and lectures of the effects of a national minimum wage and I was completely baffled. It turns out they both didn't have as clue.
@Batman Vests? Oh wait that's francis.
I love the game, would even probably rate it 10/10. It's a true masterpiece and I was no fan of the "ultrahard" games. I agree with the review mostly, only the part about the coop I disagree. It works fine if you know everything you need to know. If you have beaten the boss in the area, you cannot ring the beckoning bell anymore for that area. Only the small one to JOIN others, but you can only CALL for others as long as the area's boss is still alive. Also there is a level range that you and your potential partner need to be in, the formula is LEVEL+10%ofLevel+10. So if you are Level 32 it's like 32 + 3,2 + 10 = 45,2, which means you can play with people up to Level 45. As long as I was within range with my friends coop worked wonderfully with 2-3 minutes waiting time at the max until we connected. Also make sure in the network settings to use the exact same password and set your region to worldwide. Then it works like a charm!
So love love love this game and when I am done with it, and Helldivers, and MKX, and Project Cars, THEN I'll pickup (by the time hopefully price reduced) Dark Souls 2!
I really can't get that masochistic and hardcore label.... I enjoyed this game very much and it wasn't too hard to platinum it. And death in this game is not like game over in other games, it's much more forgiving.
@Gemuarto True, but you have to also understand that people play games to relax, and maybe don't want to overcome the difficulty and obtuse nature of the title. I don't think @Batman meant it as a slight against the game — clearly not, it received a 9/10 — but it's still an important point to make.
I absolutely love dying in games. It means that my skill needs to improve to proceed. Nothing worse than games that I can play through first time or only die here and there for silly reasons. Unfortunately many modern games are like this. Bloodborne sounds like a fantastic game. Can't wait to get my hands on it.
The Whitcher3 Dark Difficulty will make some interesting reading on here then.
Bloodborne is an excellent game, hopefully it'll get some DLC, hopefully.
I kinda expected a 10, but 9 is still great, thanks for the eventual review. So many games to buy, I think I'll buy this after Witcher. Just cuz of one game a month rule for myself.
@eLarkos Completely agree! I love the feeling of improving my skill and beating a brutally difficult game that sees me dying repeatedly to the point of wanting to give up. That being said...I have no idea why I haven't bought this game yet.
I love this game so much myself. I love that it's combat is fast and fluid, I love that the difficulty straddles the line between good and unfair (generally speaking, I can Chalk my deaths up to overconfidence or stupidity), i love it's atmosphere, really just everything.
@LordBagardo thesauruses are expensive...
About the difficulty, I wouldn't call it ultra-hard actually. Not masochistic for sure and definitely not unfair. I'd call it "oldschool". Games were like that in the past and they usually were better for all the learning and moments of success involved. A triumph only feels that much better if it was preceded by countless defeats!
I'm itching to play this, and Dark Souls 2.
Although I enjoy a fleshier story that doesn't always have me guessing where the hell I'm going and why, but that's the draw for these games I suppose.
I loved Demons Souls, but didn't like Dark Souls at all.
It came across as less about dying giving you insight, but more like the more you die the more you repeat the exact same thing, until, by that repetition you beat an enemy.
Not due to learning its weaknesses necessarily, by skill or strategy, but by the fact you have already done it fifty times, losing all the stuff you've collected up to that point.
But my biggest problem with Souls, is no pause menu to begin with, and that's never a positive for me, I have a son who may require my attention, and the fact I'm forced to play offline, as to stop anyone jumping into my game, and killing me for no other reason than to be a c**t.
I remember being at the start of the game, just after the tutorial area, and some guy kills me, then messages me calling me a noob etc.
That happened 3-4 more times and I though f this, I'm out!
Will wait for a price drop. Too difficult to tell whether my patience will persevere through something like this, and I don't want to feel short changed if the experience doesn't satisfy. Witcher is a definite, and I'm still working my way through Dragon's Age with a second run-through likely. @rockman29 and @BLPs, completely off topic, but if there's room in anything you're developing for original music composition, let's chat.
@GraveLordXD Thats what I meant. The combat was fine it was more the un turnoffable invasion mechanics and the lack of pause.
But lets not overcomplicate things, the games are hard regardless.
Im a huge fan of Ninja Gaiden and DmC, and without sounding big headed, Im very good at them, I find it easier than some no doubt but they are hard all the same.
@GraveLordXD Yeah thats true. Altered Beast springs to mind!
I believe it was only offline if you physically didconnected, and IMO you shouldnt be forced to do so.
I wouldnt mind so much if you could just turn off invasions
Its not like youd have an advantage over anyone else.
Thx for the great review. I love this gem of a game. Every one should have this game in their collection.
I don't get why they just don't incoroporate a difficulty setting with the game. Just make it so some trophies can only be earned by playing it "as is" but allow a mode which basically boosts your stats.
Best of both worlds, the special snow flakes will get their true experience with trophies to acknowledge the fact... but it'd make the game open to an audience who hasn't played or is put off by the difficulty. World of Warcraft raiding comes to mind as a comparison.
It's a shame so many people will not play it because it's a great, beautiful looking game - but I totally get why people won't even consider it.
That's my two cents anyway; great review btw.
Brilliant game, and a fantastic example of survival horror.
It's much more scary than most horror games.
People who aren't considering playing this at all are(I'm only guessing and don't mean any offence) probably on the young side..i know there are a few older gamers on here(myself included..im 43yo and been playing since I got my first "console" in 1977)that grew up playing a lot of arcade games and early computer games(zx81, spectrum, c64)and then onto the early consoles...the souls Games and bloodborne are no more difficult than most games I played as a kid(the original manic miner was stupidly difficult) in fact souls and bloodborne are quite similar to how old school shoot em ups played..enemy A appears at this point and does this attack, enemy B appears here and does that attack..learn the movement patterns and attacks, I know I'm stating the obvious, but I just think a lot of people don't get that about souls games..if you have decided it's not for you then any amount of reading about or watching bloodborne won't change your mind...but if you do get the chance to try it out it would be great to know what your opinions are afterwards.
Thanks for taking the time to write up such an excellent review. I was wondering why you didn't post it a few days after release.
Wait a minute, there have been walkthroughs for this game on this site for two weeks, but the review only now went up?
@BLPs No worries there. Without sacrificing any personal contact information, what would be the best way to connect with you (e.g. website, PSN account, non-private email, social media, etc.)?
It's a great game, but the loading times are very long. I don't understand why, when you die in some area after having killed a few monsters, it takes so long to "reset" the map. It's like the game is loading the whole thing again.
I've never played any of From Software's previous games, but I was intrigued by this one from the first screenshots. All the hype about how difficult their games can be was a little off-putting, but I purchased Bloodborne on release day. The long load times were painful and so I didn't play it until the patch came out to speed them up (which they did and they're no worse than any other game, i.e. DA:I).
"There are very few games that cause you to curse their developer in one minute and sing their praises the next." Yes, Ben. This is how I feel too. I have agreed with games as of late "hand-holding" us gamers a little too much and I appreciate how Bloodborne drops us in the "deep end of the pool" with little fanfare.
This game is visually stunning and filled with tiny touches that keep me immersed in the world of blood. The animations and textures are beautifully done. As with any good fantasy/sci-fi novel, the need to keep pushing forward until understanding the new realm we have found our character in is very prominent. I enjoy discovering new hidden areas and shortcuts; strange characters and twisted elements. I love the gothic art.
I have found the combat to be some of the most fun to play in a game in a very long time. There is no button memorizing, no silly button pressing cutscenes, and no master-plan-of-attack-that-works-on-all-enemies. I enjoy trying different tactics on new enemies and either reap the rewards or rue their failures.
Jump-back, strafe-left, jump-attack, quick-slash, dodge-out, circle, dodge-behind, quick-slash, heavy-attack. Or just timing a good visceral attack (that was the key for defeating Father G).
It's those type combat rewards that bring a smile to my face. The grumbling comes from the lack of a pause. Hey, life happens and I shouldn't be penalized for a phone call or a knock on my door. We don't always have the luxury of finding a safe place to hide. There could be a few more save points, too. The repetitive nature gets a little time weary when working your way through an area and die.
I do enjoy this game very much. It's been a long time since a game has occupied my mind while not playing, "Hmmm, how can I do better at getting through that section?"
Bring it. I'm up for the challenge.
It's weird. I so want this game (based on reviews), never played Souls series. But for me, gaming is my stress-escape activity. For this reason I think I'm going to skip this, realising I'm missing one of the best game ever made..
I don't get the point of games being designed to prevent the player from finishing. This game is filled with great moments but I couldn't get past the idea of a dilibratly difficult game.
Exactly, just started playing last week, its good and the combat is great, but the lack of checkpoints and the needless grinding are a turn off. Why should I fight the same enemies over and over. I know you can run past them, but if you lose the echoes and are short on items, you have to farm. One wrong move and its back to square one....meh, no time for this....its a pity as with a few design changes it could be truly great.
This game, shadow of Mordor and metal gear five were the first games I bought on PS4. Bless Nintendo for royally screwing me over forcing me to leave the perfect company for the evil empire aka Sony. Never knew what I was missing out on.
What a great game. I spent 55 hours and still need to finish it. Easily on my top-ten games of all time. The atmosphere and everything else are all so amazing, it’s just a spectacular game.
Best soulslike game
Defo making a new character and invading some scrubs when it goes free 😂
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