Bloodborne: a midsummer night’s terror

, | Game diaries

I awake in a hospital bed. A man I do not know has just given me a transfusion of “Yharnam Blood”. As if that wasn’t enough to disturb me, a pool of blood appears and expands on the floor next to my bed. Some sort of bloody wolf surfaces and begins crawling towards me. As it extends a razor-sharp claw towards me, I am completely incapable of helping myself. Suddenly the beast bursts into flames and its life is snuffed out. My relief is only temporary, however, as a pale arm appears at the foot of the bed. I am horrified as I am surrounded by what appears to be the animated, decaying corpses of small children. They climb all over me, their horrifying faces fill my vision, and darkness takes me.

After the jump, what fresh hell is this?

Bloodborne is the spiritual successor to Dark Souls and Dark Souls II. As a fan of the Souls series (full disclosure: I have not managed to play Demon’s Souls yet), this game is the reason I bought a Playstation 4. Though I spent hundreds of hours on Dark Souls with multiple playthroughs and NG+++(and so on) including a Soul Level 1 Gwyn and Manus playthrough (SL1 Darkwraiths Represent!), Dark Souls II never got the same level of hooks into me. I thought maybe it was the combat, or maybe it was the charm of your first Souls game always having a hold on you like a first love, or maybe it was the way the world had an interesting and deep lore that was rewarding to search out, but hidden if you didn’t take the time to find it. No matter what the cause, I went back to Dota 2 and Diablo 3 after my initial time in Dark Souls II. But as I spent time last night getting my first dozen or so deaths out of the way in Bloodborne, it started to feel like the first time Dark Souls started to click for me.

Bloodborne starts out much like the other Souls games. You begin the game by choosing a class that has pre-made stats that are ambiguously explained by the game and customizing the appearance of your character. Suddenly you are in the game, waking up on a cot, and making your way through an abandoned infirmary. The basic controls are conveyed to you by messages left in the environment by the developer, but later these in-game messages will be left by other players. Eventually, I encountered the first enemy in the game and being empty handed and with a still-tenuous grasp on the combat; I died shortly after the fight began.

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You awaken in what serves as the hub world in this game: The Hunter’s Dream. Here you will later upgrade weapons, level up, purchase items, and warp between worlds via the headstones located around this hub. On this occasion, the “blood messengers” as they are called gave me items: a gun and trick weapon. You are offered the choice of a pistol or blunderbuss, and the choice of a threaded cane, saw cleaver, or a hunter axe. Right away the experienced Souls player will notice a couple of differences. First, where are the shields? A perfectly valid tactic previously was to button up behind as big of a shield as you could find, wait for the enemies to spend themselves whacking away on the shield, and then dispose of them. Here, however, we have a firearm on our offhand. I ended up picking the hunter pistol for my first ranged weapon, which is effective at medium range to draw the attention of enemies to you and lure them to favorable terrain where you can dispatch them with ease. For my starting trick weapon I took the saw cleaver which you can see in the picture above. It’s a powerful all-around weapon that doesn’t scale particularly well with either the skill or strength attributes, but it does the job through the opening areas. The “trick” to this weapon is that it unfolds into a scythe like weapon which gives additional range to your melee strikes, and allows for interesting combo possibilities.

Armed with my new weapon I returned to the upstairs room of the infirmary via the headstone portal and quickly dispatched the enemy which had troubled me so much earlier. Exiting the infirmary, I made my way along a street or two, then climbed a two-story ladder and found my first lamp, which allows you to return to the Hunter’s Dream, serves as a checkpoint when you die (and you will), and opens a new point to travel to via the headstones in the Hunter’s Dream.

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As I made my way through the streets of New Yharnam, I encountered my first patrol. Unlike the static worlds the previous games presented: in stasis, but taut as a steel trap waiting for the unsuspecting mouse, the world of Yharnam is kinetic. Enemies move about much more freely, traversing the streets, and suddenly joining ongoing engagements. There is nothing quite as startling as the appearance of a pitchfork jabbing into the back of your character from a previously unseen enemy as you are preparing to take down a pair of hunters. This is only one of the ways the game encourages a much more active approach to combat. Don’t dally around with a couple of enemies, as you never know what may be lurking around the corner of the alley behind you. The other is the interesting new recovery mechanic. After taking a hit from the enemy, you have a limited window to land strikes on an enemy, gaining health back for each hit landed. Where the previous souls games encouraged careful play and retreating to heal when taking damage, Bloodborne wants you to scratch and claw your enemies eyes out, ferociously cutting down large groups of enemies.

Another major change is the size of enemy groups. The first bonfire you come to in New Yharnam must have 20 enemies around it, and it is a tutorial in itself learning to manage enemy aggro, and stunning enemies with the new firearms. I died quite a few times around this bonfire, learning patterns of enemies, figuring out how to reliably dodge the hard hitting riflemen, and learning the new parry system which is based on landing a gun shot on an enemy during the attack wind-up rather than batting away an attack with the shield as was the case in the Souls games.

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Finally I made it to the first boss of the game. As is the case in games of this type, the bosses may vary in appearance, but they are almost always lethal the first time you encounter them. I did my best, but only got the cleric beast down by a quarter of its health before ultimately being bested by the boss. I did my best to keep my distance and try to learn attack patterns, getting a smack in here or there, but ultimately the cleric beast devours hunters who stay far back; leaping on them to deal nearly all your health in damage and stunning them until they cannot recover much health at all. Determined to give it another go, I made my way back to the fog gate and traversed it to challenge the beast once more. This time I stayed close up on the beast, not giving it a reason to leap on me and fared much better, removing half its health before it flew into a rage, killing me instantly. Third times the charm, right? This time, when I saw the beast rage I backed away till it cooled and tried to leap on me, I dodged, coming up behind the beast, and frantically swiped away at the beast with my saw cleaver, stopping only to roll back the beast’s backside as it tried to turn towards me. My heart racing, my voice raised in a barbaric yawp, I struck the beast a final blow and saw the words “PREY SLAUGHTERED” float up. One boss down, many to go, and Bloodborne feels like falling in love for the first time all over again.

Tomorrow: prepare to load

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.

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