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Review: Bloodborne – Veteran Paradise and Novice Hell

Since Bloodborne won’t teach, you must then discover. Before playing, you need to create a character and select an Origin – a template with preset statistics. Brief descriptions explain each Origin, but why create a character with higher Bloodtinge? What exactly is Bloodtinge?  After the character creation, I discover the help menu detailing the statistical effects. It’s the only help menu available. I’m not asking for advice on efficient equipment or combat strategies; I at least want basic information. With or without a tutorial, Yharnam’s mystery won’t dissolve if message prompts told me I can level my character after encountering any boss. Ambiguity fills the plagued region of Yharnam, which makes Bloodborne both a compelling and unwelcoming game to explore.

The Souls franchise built a reputation of difficulty and fairness, not unjust punishment. Death – an unavoidable thing in both life and Bloodborne – happens from mistakes and overconfidence. I never died because of an unavoidable ambush or random pitfall; I died of my own fault. When you reach the boss after exploring a large area, it often means death. And with death comes a punishment in lost Blood Echoes (souls), progress and confidence. Just like Demon’s Souls on the PlayStation 3, Bloodborne’s punishment leaves an opportunity for a second chance to regain lost items.

Bloodborne forces players to remember enemy patterns or a chance of survival disappears. Some beasts and human enemies, even the weakest from Yharnam, punish overconfident players. Some enemies burst forward in a flurry of attacks while others charge attacks for staggering blows. If you apply enemy tendencies to your approach, combat actually become simple. If you reach a boss, it means you stayed patient and remembered enemy patterns. As a reward for patience, Bloodborne opens a shortcut.

These shortcuts help bypass the lengthy walks separating the Light Lamp spawn points and boss rooms; a sort of reward for progress. Other games may respawn players at the start of a boss fight, but Bloodborne isn’t like other games. You earn everything: Blood Echoes, healing items and rare weapons. Even with shortcuts and strong equipment, some bosses still feel invincible. You need to manage your ego, understand when your skills and character fail to allow progress.

The Victorian era themed region of Yharnam requires an exploratory approach. Many bosses or locked doors impeded progress. I often felt hopeless without any direction or nudge to the next best area. Then I wandered, met some of Yharnam’s weirder and nicer folk who hid from the plague. Then I started running past hordes of enemies, hoping to reach a Light Lamp or new area. My fearless running worked, but it didn’t feel right. I immediately got the feeling of “I shouldn’t be here” when reaching some new areas. Without confirmation or hints, just anything nudge me or new players forward, it exposed Bloodborne’s weakest aspect.

Bloodborne fails to explain basic concepts, and I don’t understand From Software’s resistance to beginner guidance. At the beginning of Bloodborne, developer written message litter the floor to explain controls and simple tactics. Some people argue minimal tutorials encourage player experimentation and discovery, but that just segments the audience. Players can only carry a maximum of 20 Blood Vials – Bloodborne’s healing item. A strange icon flashed whenever I collected more vials than I could carry, yet I never knew what it meant. Later, on a forum after I did some researching, I discovered Bloodborne’s automatic storage of excess items. Why keep that information hidden? My discovery changed my whole approach to item usage, which made me resent the lack of access to simple information.

The lack of in-game help can make Bloodborne an especially frustrating experience for new players. Through the online functions, players can leave cross-game messages assisting other players. These helpful messages can include warnings of traps, advice for effective weapons or just uninformative jokes. Player messages help when you already know how to play; they really don’t help new players. Unless instructed by friends or other writers, new players never learn the importance of not investing too much into lost items. To play Bloodborne or other Souls games, you need play with the mindset of failure, or else frustration just leads to early quitting.

If you overcome the initial difficulty and uncertainty, then very few games can match the intensity of general combat. Weapons like pistols, swords and hammers all suit different preferences. Many players love the Kirkhammer- a transforming sword and hammer combo. I didn’t like the slow, stamina depleting attacks, so I instead used the starting weapon – the Saw Cleaver – for the entire game. I also used Ludwig’s Holy Blade and then fell into a comfortable grove with my progression. Even with my most effective weapons, many bosses left me drenched in sweat after narrowly finishing the fight. Few games can match the sensation of feeling your character grow stronger. You can spend an hour trying to slay a boss only for it to demolish you in seconds. Then as your weapons improve, your armor becomes stronger and your character grows, the boss doesn’t survive longer than a few minutes.

When you find a comfortable weapons set, the repetition of Bloodborne’s structure emerges. Each stage follows the same structure of: kill enemies, open shortcuts and slay pray. The repetition goes unnoticed because Bloodborne’s variety comes through during combat with dozens of enemies.When familiar enemies start populating the new areas, your favourite weapons remove the challenge of combat. The later parts of Bloodborne try to increase challenge through more enemies, not tougher ones. Fights with hunters, AI controlled humans, require timely dodging and attacks. While these fights highlight the excitement of head-to-head combat, later stages ambush you with two or three hunters. It’s not challenging, it feels like a cheap way of increasing difficulty.

Players who want more from Bloodborne outside of the main story can practice in either Chalice Dungeons or online multiplayer. Bloodborne‘s multiplayer mode allows friends or strangers assist each other in bosses or clearing stages. Sinister players can instead ditch the friendly attitude and invade another player’s game to ruin their day. To ensure total dominance over opponents, the Chalice Dungeons offer the best loot for your character. The Chalice Dungeons, much like trial rooms or labyrinths, feel more like a grind than the exploration of Yharnam. People in love with the combat will clear the Chalice Dungeons, but you can finish Bloodborne without every playing them.

Souls fanatics will love Bloodborne’s overwhelming content, although it doesn’t represent an attractive selling point for newer players. The minimal in-game help overshadows the deliberate combat, menu simplicity and clearitems descriptions. From Software improved new player accessibility, yet not enough to help new players feel comfortable.

Souls fans will note Bloodborne as the best game on the PlayStation 4 or even the best game by From Software. Although I won’t forget Bloodborne’s outstanding expedition, I also can’t recommend it to anyone besides Demon’s Souls or Dark Souls fans.