Immediately setting the tone for Bloodborne is an atmosphere straight out of a classic horror novel, just oozing with mystery. It looks beautiful in a terrifying way, this place does not feel safe and it most definitely isn’t. The atmosphere is so powerful, not only in drawing you into a new world but also by providing a tense, edge of the seat feeling that is carried through every second of the experience. It is the perfect setting for a mystery.
And speaking of mystery, at its core Bloodborne is a game built around discovery. You will discover passages, you will discover items but more importantly you will discover yourself. I don’t mean that in a philosophical way but more from a gameplay perspective. There are a few notes here and there to help you get started but for the most part Bloodborne tries to keep everything from basic gameplay mechanics to the objectives of the game a complete mystery. I have heard some people complain that this isn’t how games should work and that it is a bad user experience. And in many games I would agree but Bloodborne isn’t your typical game. Learning who you are as a character and player is the single largest ingredient in drawing you so deeply into this experience. Whether it is discovering a strategy to an encounter, realizing a new path, or unearthing a new item that enhances your abilities, figuring things out is not only rewarding but it adds so much to the immersion of the world. You will have many “ah ha” moments while playing Bloodborne and they are glorious.
This lack of information up front also really opens up the social aspect of the game, learning from other players notes and experiences is another added layer of mystery if you choose to play online.
In the same token of there being no tutorials, there are also no maps in Bloodborne. Luckily the paths are very linear but there are still plenty of secret paths to be found and explored. In fact, the level design in Bloodborne is nothing short of brilliant. An intricate system that continually interconnects and grows as the game keeps moving through an ingenious use of shortcuts. The world is like a huge puzzle, with each piece fitting together. And it is hard to get lost when the encounters with enemies are so memorable. I would often find myself thinking, ah yes, this is the place so and so destroyed me and took all my echoes “money”.
Which leads us to the meat of Bloodborne, which is the combat. It felt like 90% of my experience in Bloodborne was fighting enemies and luckily From Software delivers one of the deepest combat systems I have seen. The way combat works in Bloodborne is your primary weapon which will be some sort of blunt object such as a cleaver, axe etc with have two forms. One form is a single handed weapon and the other is a two handed version of the same weapon. In the first form, you can also use a secondary weapon which will in most cases be a gun. The gun isn’t used the same in Bloodborne as it is in most action games, this gun is mostly used as a shield. Shooting enemies during attacks will stun them similar to a shield in most games and also give you an audio cue of when you can pull off special attacks called Visceral Attacks which do a huge amount of damage. There aren’t a lot of weapons in Bloodborne, but the reason for this is because the weapons are so unique and mastering them will take a lot of time and experience. The experience of learning weapons and leveling them is so rewarding though, I can see many players playing through the game multiple times just to master different weapons and their styles. Certain enemies are definitely more vulnerable to certain weapon attacks compared to others, but you can take down all the enemies in Bloodborne with any given weapon although your strategies will vary which is what makes using different weapons so much fun.
Combat is much more than just weapons though, it is all about positioning and strategy. Your character has two modes. One is free mode, and the other is locked on to a single enemy. Depending on the mode your movement changes. In free mode you can roll and run away easily, in locked mode you can dodge and attack quicker but cannot get too far from the enemy. It took me a long time to master mixing all the modes and which forms of the weapons for each battle. Most times it is trial and error until you see the patterns of your enemy, but once he shows his cards it is all about finding his weaknesses and using your movement and weapons to exploit it. And like any RPG, you will also find items that enhance your abilities and weapons that will change your gameplay as well depending on what you have in stock.
And trust me, you will need to master every part of the combat in Bloodborne. The enemies in Bloodborne are brutally unforgiving. They all have unique patterns and they can all kill you very quickly. Even after figuring out the weaknesses of your enemies, it will take precise timing and skill to stay alive. The combat is so unforgiving it teeters on frustration at times but it is always a fair playing field and knowing you can figure it out is what keeps you coming back over and over. That feeling of skill and accomplishing something that at times feels impossible is what makes Bloodborne tick. There were many times I was tested so greatly by an enemy that I was on the verge of giving up but no matter how frustrated I would get, that feeling of finally figuring it out is the ultimate reward in gaming.
However, there is one technical issue that makes this experience a little more frustrating than it needs to be. The loading times in Bloodborne are very long, the main reason is they are loading the entire section in one large chunk to avoid loading when moving around the game but the problem is if you come across an enemy you cannot figure out, you could end up spending as much time staring at a black screen as you do playing the game. This can especially be frustrating at the beginning of the game where you are likely to die often. And when a game is all about figuring out patterns and experimenting this can be excruciating. I could see many gamers giving up during the initial learning phase because of this issue and I do hope they are able to fix it with a patch. However, I do encourage users to get past this first section. If it means looking on youtube for videos to learn patterns or whatever it takes, you will eventually get it and dying will not be as often as it is early on. You will still die throughout your gameplay, but as you get more experienced even the hardest enemies will usually be lengthy battles which means the loading screens will be further between.
This loading issue also carries over to the process of leveling up your character. Unlike most RPG games, you don’t level up your character as you go, but instead you must travel to a special location to progress your characters abilities and weapons. The loading in this case is still aggravating especially if you are trying to farm areas, but much less so than the initial learning phase.
Despite a painful technical issue, Bloodborne is a masterpiece of discovery and adventure with an unparalleled immersive gaming experience. With most games I am happy to beat them but with Bloodborne it is different, I felt that I had to master it in order to even have a chance. It is a simple story, but an epic adventure that pushed me to the limits of what I thought was possible to accomplish. I entered Bloodborne feeling unsure of myself and maybe after an hour even questioning if I was good at playing video games but I finished Bloodborne feeling like a video gaming god. And that is a great feeling, even if it isn’t true : ).
One of the greatest experiences I have had playing video games.