[Before reading our Impressions Post please watch our Bloodborne Let's Play Video for a closer look at the game's mechanics and systems]
Many games are actively referred to as spiritual successors, but most wear the banner with some qualification. Bloodborne, however, is as true to the moniker as can be expected.
As a genuine spiritual successor to From Software’s Demon Souls and Dark Souls games, Bloodborne is every bit a more polished version of those extremely difficult action RPGs. Moreover, based on our early time with the game (about 15 hours or so), Bloodborne is seemingly what fans want when they say Dark Souls/Demon Souls sequel, even if it doesn’t actually carry the series’ name.
With that comes a game that is every bit as challenging as its predecessors, and therefore very demanding of its players. Like Dark Souls, Bloodborne is all about trial and error, patience, and a fair bit of luck. In other words, expect to die a lot.
That challenge is part and parcel with the experience of Bloodborne, though, and is more a call to do better than a discouragement. Because the mechanics of the game are more refined here the feelings of frustration are far less frequent. In most cases, when an enemy takes the player character out it’s a result of their own mistakes – either being too reckless or not reacting fast enough.
Mechanically, Bloodborne features a set-up that should be plenty familiar to Souls fans. Attacks come in the light and heavy variety, with an added charge up move for extra damage. Players can also dodge out of the way of enemy attacks, which is a more important mechanic this time around. Because Bloodborne is a slightly faster paced experience, dodging is essential. Blocking and feeling out an enemy’s movement patterns may have been a big part of past games, but Bloodborne forces the player out of their comfort zone. Sitting back is still encouraged, but now the risks when diving in are greater.
To help combat those risks, Bloodborne introduces a slew of weapons that fit a variety of situations. Dubbed “trick” weapons, these blades, axes, spears, etc. are capable of transforming from short range to long range with the press of a button. So rather than forcing players to lock into one specific type of attack, they can alternate between the two: fast strikes for quicker enemies, and longer deliberate hits for the big foes.
Along with the transforming weapons, Bloodborne adds guns to the mix for yet another gameplay wrinkle. Where players would typically brandish a shield in their off hand, these handguns and shotguns will serve as a type of staggering mechanic, knocking enemies out of their attack animations and freeing them up for a few quick jabs. It will take time for players to adjust to the guns' role as support tools, but once players learn their utility the guns become essential. Where shields would save the day in the past, a well-timed shotgun blast can mean the difference between life and death.
Packaged altogether, the combat in Bloodborne is faster, more varied, and much tighter. A key complaint from the Souls games was their lack of fluidity, but here the options and animations are far less rigid. In some ways Bloodborne even feels like a character action game, but it has not abandoned its trademark deliberate approach. Every swing must be carefully considered, and no enemy should be underestimated. But even then players should expect to die…a lot.
While the combat may have a slightly faster pace bolstered by weapon variety, it’s impossible to mistake that trademark Dark Souls feel. It starts with the difficulty curve, but extends throughout Bloodborne’s DNA. For starters, Bloodborne uses a HUB world, called the Hunter’s Dream, for all of players upgrading and item buying needs. Think of it like the Nexus from Demon Souls, only without the NPCs. From the Hunter's Dream players can travel to any unlocked lanterns (Bloodborne’s version of bonfires) within the delightfully macabre Yharnam. Each of these lanterns serve as checkpoints, but are far scarcer than Dark Souls’ bonfires. Rather, the game uses shortcuts and new pathways to give players a sense of progression. So where getting to a lantern may be a big sigh of relief, even just opening a previously locked door feels like a tiny victory.
Currency and upgrading is also handled in the prototypical Souls fashion, only Bloodborne refers to its "money" as Blood Echoes instead of Souls. Blood Echoes are absorbed upon every enemy defeat, and can be used in any number of ways. Every way, actually. Blood echoes upgrade the player character’s stats, which are thankfully pared down to only 6 categories (vitality, endurance, strength, skill, bloodtinge, arcane), and are also spent on healing items (Estus Flasks are now Blood Vials), new armor, and better weapons. Even though they are extremely important to upgrading the player, Blood Echoes are a completely disposable currency, left behind at every death. Upon resurrection (at the nearest lit lantern), the player is free to reclaim their Blood Echoes but not without surviving the respawned enemies once again. Even worse, in Bloodborne now nearby enemies can absorb the fallen player’s Blood Echoes, thereby forcing him or her to defeat the foe and reclaim the Echoes.
From my first 15 hours with the game, Bloodborne has shown little technical fault, and runs at a consistent 30fps frame rate. The demonic touches mix well with the gothic and paint this sinister Van Helsing concept. Enemies are varied in design, and plenty are appropriately gruesome. There isn’t much of a story so far, but the world still feels rich with detail; players will just have to pick up or intuit those details as they go.
The only major gripe to be head with the game thus far is the loading times. At every transition – either when traveling between the Hunter’s Dream or upon death – the game takes close to a minute to load. Yes, there is certainly a way to optimize this, but right now the load times are a bit of a nuisance. Bloodborne is all about learning from death, and while some deaths may feel cheap (check every corner!) the load times only add insult to injury. It’s not enough to completely turn players off, but is no less disappointing.
As a fan of Dark Souls and Demon Souls, it was easy to fall back into old practices with Bloodborne. The feel of the familiar is unmistakable in nearly every aspect of From Software’s PS4 exclusive, but the new console has helped the developer make a sharper looking and better playing iteration. The new elements enrich and improve the experience, without drastically changing its identity.
Even so, those who are looking for something different from Dark Souls will likely come away disappointed by Bloodborne. This is a game for that same crowd: who love the challenge that those games present but were perhaps hoping for a new setting and some slight gameplay tweaks. In that regard, From Software has delivered in spades. Bloodborne is addictive, thrilling, and punishing in a good way, but more importantly during our 15 hours it has been a game that’s hard to shake.
Are you looking forward to Bloodborne? What has been your overall impression of the game?
Bloodborne releases March 24, 2015 for PS4. Game Rant was provided a PS4 copy for review purposes.