Sometimes, games can be bland. And when we say “games” we mean game. And when we say “game” we mean Dark Souls. It isn’t that we dislike it; in fact we enjoy it for what it is: beautiful, dark, painfully difficult at times, but also incredibly satisfying. Our main criticism of it is that, in our opinion, it lacks life or any real atmosphere. Areas definitely have a bleak tone, but they feel empty and abandoned; the orchestral score only really picks up during boss battles; enemies stand idle until you cross an invisible “attack” line. It just doesn’t have a pulse.
After spending a few hours with Bloodborne, we’re happy to say that From Software have flicked on their atmospheric switch and given birth to a Gothic horror nightmare. No longer were we running through barren areas or skulking around dreary castles (thank goodness the Renaissance and cannons vanquished all of those forever). A real world has been created here. One that we will be more than happy to explore.
Starting out, we chose to play as a guy who looks a bit like a bird, and so from this moment on we will call him Bird-man. Bird-man is very agile, and uses twin blades to slice and dice at his enemies. We could roll easily away from attacks, come in for a quick slash and then retreat hastily away before any creeps could take advantage of us. Bird-man is fast, but if that doesn’t sit well with you, you may prefer another guy that we call Hammer-man (he carries a huge hammer). Hammer-man is slow and lumbering, but also very powerful, as we were able to do massive damage to anything that came across our path. He may be strong, but we found him to be too slow to suit our preferred play style, and while Bird-man was exceptionally quick, his attacks are a little on the weak side.
The perfect medium between the two would have to be… we suppose we could call him Saw-man, because of the giant serrated blade that he uses as a weapon. He has a high level of agility, while also being relatively strong thanks to the aforementioned cleaver and his huge antique blunderbuss. Cutting and shooting enemies was a blast and wasn’t hampered by the hulking movements found in the previous Souls games.
For those of you that are worried about a watered down Dark Souls experience because of the more offensively slanted gameplay, you need not fear: Bloodborne is still very, very hard. It may be easier to attack, but the ability to block has been removed, meaning that dodging is your main form of defence. The hours of running around in a castle with your shield up are gone – quick reflexes are now needed to remain alive, something which we feel will be trickier to master than deflecting sword strikes. Difficulty also comes from the amount of enemies that are waiting to kill you. It seems that fighting up to ten at once is commonplace here, and most of our deaths stemmed from being overwhelmed by pitchfork waving maniacs.
These denizens feel like they’re part of a real ecosystem in the game. They seem aware of your presence from the outset, and react to situations appropriately. At one point, you see a group meandering through an alley; a bell then rings, and they head towards a stake with a burning dead monster on it. It was as if they responded accordingly to the bell’s call, something that would have never occurred in the game’s predecessors.
Not only are they aware, but they are also significantly horrific. They wield farming blades, walk like zombies and screech profanity at you while attacking. Other enemies are equally disturbing, such as the giant, murderous crows and the block-holding ogres. There was even a creepy, old man in a wheelchair that appeared out of the darkness to show me his shotgun. We, of course, killed him immediately. Horror is obviously a major theme here with the monster design, and we must say that the everything we faced was terrifying in one way or another.
The horror aspect again carries over to the overall design of the city of Yharnam. It feels truly Gothic, as spikes and gargoyles proliferate buildings, coffins litter the cobblestoned streets and haunting statues remain in a state of everlasting prayer. It’s a bit like Halloween Town, but with a lot more blood, and a lot less singing. Shrieking is heard from all around; candle lit lamplights flicker realistically; fog surrounds you; grotesque trees and buildings shoot up into the night’s sky; a giant spider hangs precariously to a spire. This world is full of nightmares, and every little detail adds to its ambience.
As we reached the end of the level, we wondered if a boss battle was coming our way. Sure enough, the Cleric Beast reared its incredibly ugly head. The best way to describe it would be to say that it’s a sort of giant reindeer covered in vines, kind of. We decided to stick around its legs, attack it with our saw, and occasionally blast it with our gun. This method seemed to work, as we defeated it the first time. The Cleric Beast is just another example of Bloodborne’s terrific enemy design. It looked seriously menacing, and we felt that it fit in with the game’s Gothic aesthetic extremely well.
Bloodborne seems to fix our major gripes from playing Dark Souls, by providing a much faster gameplay experience, and actually giving life to an amazingly imagined city. We can’t wait to play in more environments, see more monsters and get brutally murdered in all manner of ways. We don’t mind the dying, but we sure hope that Saw-man has got some good life insurance. He’s going to need it.