The streets of Central Yharnam are empty of friendly faces. Patrols of hounds and savage villagers patrol, attacking any outsider roaming their city. Knocking on door after door I am turned away, mocked for my stupidity at being caught outside on the night of the hunt, or derided as a foreigner there is no refuge offered. The only bit of comfort I find is the voice of a child, asking after her mother and offering me a small music box in return. I descend into the darkness of the sewers below Yharnam to carve my way through crawling corpses and giant rats towards my next foe: Father Gascoigne.
After the jump, how many days since your last confession?
My biggest impression after spending about eight hours in Yharnam is the atmosphere. Even though I have much more game to explore, the variety you can see in New Yharnam, the sewers of Central Yharnam, and the treacherous, burned-out ruin of Old Yharnam is astounding. Every street, every alley, every vista has a sense of brooding dread. Those people you can speak to through tightly shut doors typically have nothing but malice in their voice, and those who do speak to you are not doing so altruistically, but rather they want help.
Like the other Souls games, each boss you defeat opens up different areas of the map to explore and offers new lanterns to move around the world with. Each of the areas I have visited thus far have added new enemy types that increase in lethality and increase the challenge of passing through the area on the way to the boss. Thus each new area you encounter is like a new puzzle to solve. Each slash of your sword, each pebble you toss to attract the attention of enemies, each item you find and use is another satisfying piece clicking into place. What really drives the Souls loop for me though is that you can click all the pieces into place and still end up with gibberish. Maybe you used too many blood vials for healing. Maybe you aggro’d the wrong enemy in a group and found yourself taking on a much larger pack than you thought. Maybe you make it to the boss room, clear it in one go, and have no idea how any of that just happened. Its like one of those triangle puzzles where everything fits no matter how you put it together, but the picture you created is garbage. By slowly tweaking your path, being more careful with your resources, and finding the shortcuts you eventually start to make sense of the whole picture. Thus far, the level design is a marvel. While each path is treacherous and foreign at first glance, upon repeated pass-throughs you wonder why this place ever gave you so much trouble in the first place. Of course, Bloodborne wants you to feel this way so that you eventually gain enough confidence and become complacent, dying to something stupid and insignificant and sending you back to the grave.
The most unfortunate moments of the game so far are the deaths. Of course you should expect to die and die often a game like this. That comes with the territory and it has in the past Souls games as well. However, unlike the other games, when you die here, you face a loading screen like the one above that feels interminable. Unfortunately this doesn’t just happen when you die. When you move around the world via the lantern system, each step of the way requires a long load. When you return to your own world after being summoned you have a long load. It’s unfortunate, and From Software is working on a patch, but if makes the experience feel less polished overall. It slows the pace of an otherwise fast paced game, leaving unwanted breaks in an experience. I have found myself getting up to get a drink or check e-mail due to the pauses, where I really just want to be right back in the world.
On one of my trips back to the Hunter’s Dream (the central hub and merchant area) I noticed that new weapons were up for sale. As a fan of strength weapons in these games, I decided to spend some souls on a Kirk Hammer. It is rapidly becoming my favorite weapon thus far. Unlike the saw cleaver, which simply transforms, the hammer is in two pieces: a sword and a large hammer. The sword is used for quick attacks and when you transform the weapon it becomes the hilt for the hammer. After transforming, it becomes a two-handed weapon which disables the use of your gun. This means that not only is it slower to attack, but it leaves you without a defensive counter other than dodging. Thus, you need to be careful when wielding it to go for opportunities you know you can connect with, else you will be left staggered. It is likely my favorite weapon in a Souls game thus far, and by issuing transform commands during rolls or attacks you can string together interesting combos like the one above.
Back in Central Yharnam I finally arrived at the location of Father Gascoigne. This boss is really a tutorial in the counter system and training for fighting off invaders. Initially in human form, the Father is armed with an axe and blunderbuss. If you leave yourself open while attacking he will counter you with a shot and unload massive damage on you. Thus it’s important to watch his move set and tackle him by actually countering his attacks with parries of your own. As usual patience and precision are your greatest allies here. I discovered in this fight that if you play the tiny music box the girl gives you when you go to search for her mom, the boss will freeze in place allowing you to get a combo in. That is until he flies into a rage and transforms into a beast. Fortunately I was able to dispatch the beastly Father on my first try. Sadly for the little girl, I found her mother’s body on top of a roof nearby. I guess we all can’t have happy endings.
Andrew Kneller is a chemistry graduate student and avid gamer. When he isn’t busy kicking laser tables and trying to teach undergrads, he and his wife play videogames and watch movies together. You can find him on the Quarter to Three forums as TREOS. Check out his Rogue Legacy game diary here.