“Nightmares exist outside of logic, and there’s little fun to be had in explanations; they’re antithetical to the poetry of fear.” This is a quote from horror author Stephen King and it sums up From Software’s newly released title, Bloodborne, perfectly. The Souls series have always instilled fear into gamers, fear of dying a lot, fear of massive progression being lost, and fear of feeling incompetent and vulnerable in gaming, a place where we are usually immortal. There has always been the upside though, the feeling of accomplishment after a victory we thought was nigh impossible, and for some the ultimate feeling of joy when seeing the credits roll after the games completion. Yes the Souls series has always been somewhat of a nightmare, Bloodborne feeds on this, bringing the nightmare to full fruition.
Yharnam, the city in which Bloodborne is set, resembles a Victorian London, only it replaces the black plague with something far more sinister. The locals are infected by a virus that taints their blood and eventually once fully infected they are transformed into beasts, werewolf like beasts. It seems the only cure is pale blood, and this cure has never been discovered. Fortunately infusing any blood holds off the infection in part, the downside is that constant infusion destroys both the mind and the soul, leaving behind half mutated beings that crave blood and will do anything to hold of the plague longer. Yep, rainbows and lollipops, Yharnam is not! You play as an Outsider, on a quest to find the pale blood, relieve the curse and free the souls of the infected, piece of cake!
Although Bloodborne has a very different setting to the Souls series, plenty remains the same. Blood stains of the fallen are everywhere, the game offers next to nothing in the way of help, combat is still based on timing and intelligence and it is hard as hell, bringing all of those mixed feelings that defeat and victory have previously achieved. The skill tree remains similar, Souls are replaced by Blood Echoes which are realistically the same thing and the controls feel smoother but similar. Yet Bloodborne still manages to feel different, and I am not exactly sure why.
Perhaps it is the story which is constructed the same limited way as in the past, feeling like a riddle or a piece of poetry that has to be put together like a jigsaw puzzle to become complete. Perhaps it is the premise of the characters, the hunters especially whom have the seemingly impossible task of freeing the townsfolk from there cursed infection and finding the pale blood before their own madness creeps in. Perhaps it is the use of a fire arm as a secondary weapon that is fuelled with silver ammunition, the fabled weakness of many mythological beasts. I’m not sure, perhaps it is the mixture of all these, whatever it is, to me Bloodborne feels fresh.
From Software has always been masterful with their level design and Bloodborne is exceptional in this area. The city of Yharnam is as fantastically beautiful as it is deadly and this carries n to the Forbidden Woods, the area which surrounds Yharnam. As with the Souls games before it, Bloodborne rewards progression with the unlocking of gates and doors that both progress to new parts of the world and those that act as short cuts which are necessary when experiences death, something that happens extremely often. Unlocking areas takes time, with success coming after learning through your many failures but when it happens the new area alone feels like a huge reward. Each area feels uniquely different and although the world map overall is not that huge, the time it takes to open it and the variety shown makes it feel enormous.
Once again the combat is fantastic. This time round most enemies can be stunned via your fire arm, then slaughtered whilst stunned with your hand, your beast like hand that reminds you of the plague that runs through your blood stream. Timing is important, and with practice you will be slaying enemies, both big and small with sublime precision. However, this is still a Souls game and confidence leads to feelings of indestructibility and over confidence leads to frailty and death. Many times I found myself on a roll, even slaying mobs of enemies and having huge progression only to come to an enemy type I had slayed many times before and in my stupid confidence, met death and loss like no other game delivers.
As with previous From Software titles the level design and enemies are the real heroes here, standing far above what most games are able to deliver. Stumbling across Werewolves known as Scourge Beasts, Giants and Ogres seems daunting enough but meeting any of the thirty one bosses in Bloodborne sends shivers down your spine and sweat to your palms. As soon as the music shifts letting you know where you are, fear ensues, and tension builds. Prayers come from your thoughts and your fate lies in your willingness to protect yourself long enough to realise the method required to grant glory.
It can feel like you are getting nowhere at times with death coming often and occasionally feeling cheap. However there are no cheap deaths here, you die it’s your problem, your fault and From Software have nothing to apologise for. It becomes a deja vu of kill, die repeat and it is up to you to break the cycle. This time though there seems to be a better balanced level progression and things can start to feel easier much earlier than in previous games. Again, a warning, this is where over confidence sets in and the cycle reignites.
Overall Bloodborne is another masterpiece From Software production. Yes the story is bat shit crazy and you will possibly come to your own theories throughout. I imagined one that had the world being part of a nightmare of a person in our real world who lived in the Victorian era and was suffering from the black plague, I’m sure you will have your own theories. I know many of you won’t want to try this game or will give up after two or three hours, I implore you though, stay true to the task and your reward will be there with one of the best games not only of this generation but of all time.
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