- Street Date:
- March 24th, 2015
- Reviewed by:
- Brian Hoss
- Review Date:1
- March 31st, 2015
- Game Release Year:
- Sony Computer Entertainment
- From Software
Digital PS4 version reviewed. Review is light on spoilers.
'Bloodborne' arrives on the PS4 as one of the biggest exclusives of the new generation, and with good cause. Though it seems like just yesterday that 'Dark Souls II' made its debut on the PS3 and 360, From Software made their most indelible mark back with the PS3 exclusive 'Demon's Souls,' which remains to this day a one platform title. The next 'Souls' game, 'Dark Souls,' had a much higher profile and availability that likely has attracted a significantly greater number of players. With 'Bloodborne,' the game's direction comes courtesy of famed developer Hidetaka Miyazaki, and once more, the game is exclusive to Sony's newest platform. But as with the many nuanced details that flavor these action RPGs, there's more to 'Bloodborne' the just being the newest game. The iconic shield and armor of the 'Souls' games is gone. The dark medieval world has been set aside, and its place a darker Victorian setting.
These games are famed for their challenge and depth, and at the same time, for being an acquired taste. Beyond that, 'Bloodborne' is the first such game to make its debut on one of the new consoles. With that mind, let us venture guardedly into Yharnam.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
Well, first off I have to admit that I'm dyed-in-wool fan of the fan of the 'Souls' games. I consume them quite readily, and love to ferret out some of their advanced secrets. Replays aside, I stop there, well short of those real hardcore types.
Granted, the games aren't for everyone, but I'd be hard pressed to point to a better set of games in the modern era (at least design wise, they are a franchise). Having spent several hundred hours enjoying the series, I was pretty sure that I would like 'Bloodborne.' After all, I know and love many of the game's tricks. The whole dying early and often thing. The sedate and innocuous story with its hints of epic of myth. The careful working through the world beset with small mysteries and giant, brutal bosses. The odd, but oddly enjoyable ways to go co-op and PvP.
In fact, my biggest question going in was how exactly the game could appeal to those who had already rejected the 'Souls' games? Sure, the setting is different, and trick weapons and guns have replaced bows and shields and whatnot, but there's no question it's still a 'Souls' game.
For all of that obvious similarity and requisite appeal, the beginning of the game had me scratching my head. My first few hours were much tougher in 'Bloodborne' than I can recall since learning how to patiently move through 1-1, the Boletarian Palace of 'Demon's Souls.' Never mind shields; venturing into central Yharnam is all about knowing when to really press an attack, or falling that, when to just move forward into the next little area. And just as the game seemed to have taught this old 'Souls' player to feel comfortable attacking groups, that pair of lycans dispatched me easier than a boss.
Of course, as I'm sure less rigid players did right away, I made adjustments. Getting over the first boss or two I found the groove. I relaxed and found what is traditionally my favorite part of the games, the early time when I'm low level and the game's world is vast, full of danger and potential triumph. I learned to be disciplined with my cane, only using the chain version when needed. Later on, I hit another hump of difficulty, but a mix of leveling and co-op boss play allowed me to proceed systematically through most areas. (Lots of manageable enemies starting paying out high amounts of blood echoes a little ways into the game.) I did have a few "Ok…" moments, when I felt plucked from one area and cast into another. (Having Insight sucked from me was akin to encountering a Like Like, more a disturbing violation than a loss of commodity or progress.) I never bumped into a Pyromancy trainer and had to grind for hours to pay for absolution, not did I get completely jacked by Basilisks.
Fighting those NPCs Hunters was a special joy, especially since I routinely avoided invasion. Without the automatic coming to life of the previous games, it rarely made sense to spend insight on invasion. (I expect that will be tweaked with a patch.) That may change as the Oath/Covenants populate, but it's almost a welcome respite from the constant invasions of 'Dark Souls II.'
That special quality that the series has to make the player feel like a coward and a badass is here in spades. When I became comfortable enough to look the toughest, most daunting enemies in the face (even if only in moment before they killed me), and when I could feel orderly about approaching new areas, then I felt like my ability to play the game had leveled up. A comfort level beyond that is fun, but always less satisfying.
As an aside, I am really surprised that anyone thinks that putting a piece of the environment between themselves and a tough enemy or a boss is cheating. It might make things comparatively a snap, but it's not like no one at From Software ever considered this idea. Quite the opposite. And usually it's that same longer reach move that the enemy can use against the player. That's the game's fairness at work.
It can't be all that surprising for series' veterans that the game's early story might as well use the world "soul" instead of "blood." The link between otherworldly power and ultimate corruption is as explicit as ever. While the Victorian setting is different from the realm of sword and sorcery, that can be easy to forget outside of the city or in one of the many church like structures. But what I initially identified as a move to make the game darker and more horrific turned out to be an old Lovecraftian friend. The gruesome otherworldliness suits the game just fine, though I may have missed some NPC interactions this time through. Those easy to break quests are often memorable.
Just as it is everyone else, the load time whenever leaving the Hunter's Dream hurts. That to do anything, like buy items, level, equip gems, warp, or reset the world, requires going back to the Hunter's Dream, compounds this flaw. (We'll see what a future brings. At least part of this equation should be fixable. Maybe have Patches hang around the lanterns.) Hours traipsing through from lantern to lantern would make me forget, but coming up against a hard boss would highlight that too long loading time once more.
For the first time I can recall in the series, I lost my Blood Sign. I don't always bother to go get it, but when I do, I find it. Except this one time. It had about 20000 blood echoes in it not all that far from a lantern, but it was gone. The blood echoes were easy to replace, but the principle of it annoyed me. It was the only time I noticed.
The online messages and blood stains were mixed as usual. I was glad to not constantly see "praise the sun" and "the real blank begins" messages, and people have been good about noting items, paths and ambushes. In contrast, blood stains continue to be pretty worthless. For one thing, they didn't even work for much of my playthrough. No animation would play. Unsurprisingly, when they did work, it always seemed to be someone who attacked an NPC, got surrounded by the only nearby enemies, or just ran off a cliff or fell into pit. At this point, I'd rather see signs for players who beat a vicious hunter or one of those annoying ranged henchmen.
I did have the sense in places that the game was possibly rushed. Not shipped while broken, but more like scaled back in some areas. These areas felt only partially done. Not ugly, but not as dense visually or with gameplay as their size should warrant. The simplified character leveling, and drastic shift in how armor was handled was less disturbing to me. It felt streamlined, but not having to farm so many materials or titter over boss souls is fine by me. Using trick weapons is its own addiction, and one that's clearly focused on gameplay and not crafting.
Ultimately, playing 'Bloodborne' for me is like reading a favorite author's new book or watching a favorite director's new movie and noticing that the work is still potent and hasn't yet had that inevitable severe decline. That sense is much more important to me than trying to decide if the game had enough weapon sets, areas, or variety of bosses.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
In times past, the 'Souls' games have had to lean heavily on their excellent art style for a visual punch. With so many dark and muddy areas, the games can present an ugly atmosphere, but then the most remarkable appearance of a creature, or boss, or new set of armor would blow away all that murkiness. 'Bloodborne' takes the baseline to higher level. I was initially almost flustered by the amount of detail found littering Yharnam's streets. Shiny metal coffins seemingly wasted as mere path barriers. Eventually, I adjusted to this new shiny and dense world, which unfortunately, isn't as diverse as I would like. Reused towers and other bits of the environment have an odd impact on exploration. Notice a gap in railing on this tower, and it'll be there on the next use of that tower. It only leads to pit every other time.
Still, the game's environments are quite intricate and manage to capture that hidden path feeling while stepping up the presentation. Banners hang and bonfires blaze without ever sticking out. Smoke billows from the earth, obscuring waiting enemies. Strike a smoking urn, and it topples, with the smoke effect playing out without any sort artifact.
Light fall-off and shadow depth are executed deftly. Pulling out a torch casts an enjoyable light. A real first for the series. The cowering enemy animation, however, is all too familiar.
Normally, a Lovecraftian approach to boss and creature design would laudable, but I miss the more outlandish designs of past games. Hunter designs suffer from a certain uniformity and yet, the detail is exquisite. My first elevator descent elicited a Marilyn Monroe like exposure for my hunter, but changing to thicker gear, and the weight dulled the fly up effect.
Unfortunately, some areas are frequented by severe hitching. This isn't the typical, the game dropped a few frames complaint that is the norm these days. This is severe, though it never was an issue that effected combat, but rather an unsettling blip in exploration. Likewise, in such a dark game, aliasing can be as noticeable as a light leak. The rare moments of per object full brightness can be noticeable but nothing like the PS3/360 days.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
The sound design seems much more restrained than the preceding games, which often had almost gimmicky moments of the loudest benign actions and objects. The normal disquiet is there, but this time around, there is a host of enemies and NPCs that speak. The chatter is well executed with everyone being more crazy than despondent.
While I enjoy the game's adherence to a normal state of quiet, it's all too easy to play for hours with little to no real exhibition of the narrative or even any side narratives, and that consuming part of my brain grew impatient after the second boss. Many levels/areas have interesting environmental contexts, but the subtlety can wane. Player stories about crazy things that happened with enemies are more fun. At any rate, I longed for something more to break up the minimalism of the sound. (These coincided with my growing comfort level, which in turn placed a lower premium on hearing enemies.)
To my surprise, certain areas have surprisingly loud music, and I felt like the game was trying a new trick on unsettle me.The technical issues that I mentioned before also affect the sound in an unpleasant way. A certain gun toting hunter inadvertently sent distortion my way repeatedly.
I should note here that I spent a half dozen hours using the special 'Bloodborne' sound profile with the Sony Gold Wireless Stereo Headset, and I recommend it for anyone that needs to confine their game-playing the wee hours.
Replaying the main game either from scratch or in NG+ is worth a very high score on its own. As is getting more in depth with the online features, though the covenant system seems a little shallow right now.
Chalice Dungeons are likely one of the biggest bullet points on the box, and I have a love/hate relationship with them. The step down from the expertly crafted main game to the modular Chalice Dungeons is readily apparent. (Chalice Dungeons are very dungeon like even if the avoid the sameness of say 'Skyrim' dungeons.) And yet, I fought some enemies and bosses in the Chalice Dungeons before ever meeting them in the main game. They seem easy at first, but it ramps up considerable after the first few levels. So there are sights to see, challenges to best, and items to be had. That's a nice microcosm of the game, but it's the potential to share and find more interesting variants that has me wanting to see more. I look forward to tackling some more both alone and with friends.
'Bloodborne' is neither perfect nor is it a slam dunk to suit all kinds of players. It's still an acquired taste, but for those that take the plunge and survive that first crest of difficulty, the ensuing experience is as satisfying as anything on the market today. Furthermore, fans of H.P. Lovecraft have something wonderfully nebulous to enjoy on the PS4. On the Night of the Hunt, one of this generation's great exclusives has arrived. I expect it to withstand the test of years while sustaining the hardcore and newcomers alike.
- Online Co-op
- Online Versus
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