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Bloodborne – First Impressions

Bloodborne (cover art)This article was turned in late. My apologies. I was playing Bloodborne. I had every intention of writing this on Thursday, when I finally managed to get a few hours alone. I didn’t. Instead? I played Bloodborne. I had another chance Friday. I had a half-day off. The kids were at school. The house was clean. Dinner was taken care of. Plenty of time to write. What did I do? I played Bloodborne.

It is that good.

For those of you not familiar, Bloodborne is a PS4 exclusive that was released on March 24 in the US and worldwide in the subsequent few days. It is the spiritual successor to the Souls series of games developed by From Software. Demon’s Souls was a sleeper hit on the PS3. Dark Souls was an unlikely blockbuster on both PS3 and Xbox 360, and Dark Souls II shipped 1.2 million copies.

The Souls games are known for their punishing difficulty and highly complex lore. The first three games were firmly rooted in the “sword and sorcery” milieu and all three were amazing. I’ve said repeatedly that Dark Souls was the single greatest video game experience I’ve had as an adult. Even after playing some amazing games since—BioShock Infinite and The Last of Us Remastered come to mind—I stand by that statement.

Bloodborne (art 4)

Bloodborne is a worthy addition to the series. Set in the pseudo-Victorian city of Yharnam, the player takes on the role of a hunter, set loose in a nightmare landscape of monsters, raving madmen and villains more nefarious. The plot and lore, handed to the player in drips in drabs, is difficult to spoil—mostly because I’m only about 12 hours into the game. But I will say that I’m hooked by what I’ve learned so far.

While the setting isn’t necessarily “traditional fantasy,” I’d describe it as one-part 1600s Salem, MA, one-part Doyle’s London and healthy doses of Edgar Allen Poe and H. P. Lovecraft. Horrors physical, psychological and medical and spiritual all emerge in the opening hours of the game. The city of Yharnam itself is drenched in blood, filled with dark nooks and hidden alcoves. It rings with both the laughter of the insane and the growls of the viciously inhuman. Armed with a flintlock firearm in one hand and a blade in the other, your hunter is charged with purging Yharnam of the blood sickness that has taken hold.

Bloodborne (art 1)

The gameplay is exquisite. With a firearm used in the same manner as a shield in previous games, the parry and riposte system is deceptively difficult to master, but the results are elegantly devastating. Both enemy and player animations are a wonder to behold, and the combat system rewards bold play. This is not a game where you can sit back and hunt with ranged weapons. Combat is up-close, personal and bloody. In fact, the developers have encouraged aggression by instituting a “health regain” system that allows the player to recover valuable health by landing blows on an enemy combatant. It is a unique mechanic, and it definitely alters your gameplay strategy—particularly if you’ve played other Souls games.

Bloodborne is a fantasy enthusiast’s dream. Fans of grimdark, traditional sword and sorcery, horror and even the darker works of Neil Gaiman will have something to chew on as the game unfolds. The magical and religious undercurrents of the plot will be familiar to genre readers, but certainly aren’t presented in a tired manner. The story, as much as the gameplay, has driven my need to keep playing long past bedtime.

Bloodborne (art 2)

If Bloodborne were a book, it would be one that I couldn’t put down. The pacing thus far feels perfect. Periods of heightened tension, jump scares and a glorious sense of triumph after particularly difficult battles keep the player on an emotional roller coaster. The sound design is astounding. Play with headphones if you can, because there are so many sounds to absorb—both in the foreground and in the background of Yharnam itself. The sound design adds dark, constant undertone to the gameplay and heightens the creepy factor exponentially.

I have very few criticisms of the game thus far. Certainly, the loading times can become annoying—particularly since the load screens are simply title cards, as opposed to screens used to flesh out the lore of the game. And the use of a Demon’s Souls hub world—in this case called the “Hunter’s Dream”—as opposed to the bonfire system used to save and fast travel in the Dark Souls games is not my favorite, but that could just be personal preference. The presentation and visuals are decidedly next-gen, but the darker portions of Yharnam are difficult to see in less than ideal conditions. But these criticisms are minor and tend not to detract from the overall experience.

Bloodborne (art 3)

Bloodborne is darkly fantastical masterpiece. It combines precise, skill-based gameplay with a darkly unique story and setting that should please most, if not all, fantasy fans. Combining innovative new gameplay tweaks with tried and true Souls mechanics, Bloodborne seems to be hitting all the right notes. If you have a PS4, I’d consider it a must-play.

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3 Comments

  1. Avatar Nattles says:

    This game really makes me wish I had a PS4 right now.

  2. Avatar Greg says:

    You ever think of doing a lore series? There are a lot of good stories hidden in the game.

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