There are many things fans of From Software’s ‘Souls,’ games are familiar with; death, frustration, exhilaration and triumph are key among them. The series’ uncompromising yet fair difficulty leads to many deaths, but it also leads to a greater sense of accomplishment once players finally overcome the obstacles in their way. On March 24, From released a new game, with ‘Demon’s Souls,’ and ‘Dark Souls,’ director Hidetaka Miyazaki once again at the helm. The PS4 exclusive ‘Bloodborne,’ takes players back to the familiar style of From’s previous titles, but players will find that things have changed in the game’s troubled world of Yharnam.
The setting and story stand on their own, and interested games don’t need to have played any of the ‘Souls,’ games to understand the cryptic plot. While its sister games were set in a grim high fantasy style, ‘Bloodborne,’ charts new territory in a dark, Victorian setting with a healthy dose of inspiration from the cosmic horror of H. P. Lovecraft. Most magic elements are gone, though not entirely, and guns make up a new addition to a player’s weapon choices. The primary weapons of the game also have a new spin, each of them being a so-called trick weapon that can transform or alter to change up its attack style, speed and damage. One of the initial weapons, the threaded cane, can be used as a short, bladed weapon or broken out into a longer, but slower, whip.
The gameplay itself fits comfortably in with the previous titles, but with some fine-tuning to encourage new play styles and faster combat. Players take on the role of a hunter, arrived in the disease-ridden and crumbling city of Yharnam and thrown into things without much explanation. The level design exemplifies the game’s philosophy of caution and exploration; traps and hidden enemies can wait around any corner, but valuable items and shortcuts through the level can also lurk just out of sight. In the first area of the game this is clearly displayed in its layout. A straight run from the lightpost, the game’s checkpoints, to the main boss could take half an hour or more without utilizing any of the shortcuts in the level.
Veterans of the ‘Souls,’ games may find that their ingrained reflexes and habits will both help and hinder their time in ‘Bloodborne.’ Player characters and enemies both move and attack much faster than in previous games, one wrong move can throw a player right into an enemy attack. The equipment pool also has a distinct lack of shields, with only a measly wooden board representing. When hit the player’s health is not immediately gone, but can be gained back by quickly counterattacking. This, combined with the new counter system which involves timing a gunshot to throw an enemy off during their attack, encourages players to be more aggressive and take risks in combat.
The game’s multiplayer elements will also feel immediately familiar to ‘Souls,’ fans, with cooperation and invasion once again playing a role. Players acquire three bells during the course of the game, each with different roles. One allows a player to summon an ally to help progress through a level and kill a boss, and those helpers are players who were ringing the second bell to search for players to assist. The third, more sinister bell allows more mischevious players to invade the game world of other players and attempt to defeat them. With the new speed of combat, PvP action has also taken things up a notch. Players must react quicker and be more aggressive to take advantage of the game’s health recovery system and pace.
Apart from the active coop and PvP, the game also features returning asynchronous elements in the form of notes and spectres. When a player dies, as they often do, they can leave behind a small tombstone in other player’s games that plays back a ghostly clip of how they met their fate. This allows a cautious player to get an idea of what might lay ahead. The notebook item also allows players to string together preselected phrases and words to leave behind helpful hints in other’s worlds. Others viewing the messages can then rate them as either “fair,” or “foul,” and having positive ratings can restore the health of the player that left the note.
The game’s art direction compliments the new horror aesthetic of ‘Bloodborne.’ The cramped and dirty streets of Yharnam are filled with the sounds of screaming, burning fires and the scrape of a rusty axe on cobblestones. At one point in the game, the sky becomes filled with a bloated, massive blood moon that casts a red tinge on the environment. The enemies and bosses are terrifying; some are twisted and malformed by the plague, while others are creatures from beyond the normal scope of reality. The bosses feel fresh and varied after ‘Dark Souls 2,’ and it’s procession of large armored humanoids. Instead we are treated to a macabre parade of the horrifying.
Some network and framerate issues are present, From is already at work on delivering patches to improve user’s experience. One particular gripe, made more noticible by other changes such as requiring players to return to the hub world to level up or buy items, is the rather long loading times.
While some bugs may be present, ‘Bloodborne,’ is still another engaging and visceral experience. The soul of From’s previous games runs deep in the crumbling world of Yharnam, it the nightmare takes on its own style to set it apart from its predecessors