I have put off writing this review again, and again, and again. I did so because I was never certain I had seen everything. I’m still not certain, but I feel positive that I can talk about Bloodborne with some authority now. So how does what is perhaps Sony’s biggest release of the year stack up? Read further for our Bloodborne review to find out.
Let’s get the basics out of the way on this beast. Bloodborne is exactly what has been promised, and maybe a little more. The graphics actually feel like they’re taking advantage of the next-gen hardware as opposed to the HD remakes we’ve been getting used to in this long drought. You really notice it when tearing into a group of enemies with their slick blood clinging to your clothes under the gorgeous backdrop of the moon. The counterpoint to that, while not nearly as bad as naysayers on the internet would have you believe, there are frame drops. While fortunately few and far between from what I witnessed, when they do occur you will be hard pressed not to notice them as the game will outright stutter. It won’t affect your average gameplay, but it’s unfortunate to see it this far into a consoles lifespan.
Musically they’ve hit a high note. Bloodborne employs three separate composers to assemble its soundtrack and scratches all the right itches. Some of the songs won’t touch the high notes of previous souls tracks, but here every song has its place and the album overall is stronger for it. Sound effects are visceral and satisfying, screams, growls, gunshots, you’ve got it all. Those fortunate enough to have a pair of headphones that qualify for Sony’s special headphones app can download a special set of presets and programming just for Bloodborne, and it is fantastic. Playing this game with headphones is a different experience and will elevate your time playing considerably, which brings me to my next point.
Early reports were that Bloodborne was a horror game. I can 100% confirm that is true. Strictly speaking all souls games have that element of horror in them, but none so effective as this title. In a dark room with the headphones on this game is going to get to you, with whispers and jump scares coming out of nowhere. You have never dreaded turning an unknown corner in a From Software game more than here. Between this and the aggressive combat system which employs guns, the average fan will find that Bloodborne very much is identical to previous titles visibly. Once you play it however you start to realize that they play very differently. Old proven strategies will send you back to the last lamp you lit on your face.
This new system excels for PVE, but unfortunately everything PVP in Bloodborne is a step backwards from Dark Souls 2. The summoning system is more obscure than ever before and requires a bit of a buy in before you can benefit. The covenants involved in PVP are tied to powerful runes and therefore hidden well in the game. You won’t stumble into them 10 minutes into the game I can promise you that. I was fortunate enough to have done both co-op and a couple of rounds of PVP and I honestly don’t like what I’ve seen. Co-op is, while theoretically easier for some parties, an exercise in frustration for people looking to summon random help. Gone are visible signs that you can summon, replaced by an incomprehensible match-making system. Bad business is a system that will often kick you back to the main menu after devouring the precious Insight required to summon. If you’re actually summoned to help someone online you’ll find your health reduced severely making your participation in combat even more dangerous. PVP isn’t much better, the difference is now that speedy combat will be a lot of insane dashing and mashing that ignores the more refined combat of earlier souls games in exchange for presumably quicker matches. With invaders able to chug their own blood vials you’ll instead find yourself mired in expensive grudge matches that offer very little benefit to either side for winning. I was invaded twice during my play through, I won once and lost once (it was close…) but I was never satisfied.
Equipment is also different, both good and bad in Bloodborne. There is a “less is more” approach to armor and weapons that change the dynamic. On the one hand, what armor and weapons you do find are unique with their own quirks and variety. This is especially apparent with trick weapons altering the nature of how you fight. Armor is strongly weighted by its resistance which will give you a reason to change your outfit often to match your opponent. That’s all great, but it removes the drive from earlier titles to dress how you want and play with what is different and interesting. There simply isn’t the volume to sustain a fashion-souls experience, which hurts replay value. The chalice dungeons they have introduced to give the game some longevity suffers from being mostly uninteresting like most randomly generated dungeons. You will have to do them to gain some unique equipment and materials, however, so you will do a number of them like it or not. They are optional only in the sense that they are not necessary to beat the game. Sadists will be happy to know that chalice dungeons may be altered to be stupid difficult per their taste.
There’s so much more I want to say about Bloodborne, and I might do a separate write-up or video about it just to get it all out of my system. For now I want to make it clear to anyone reading. The old Souls caveat applies. Bloodborne is not for the casual or the faint of heart when it comes to gaming. It is both more and less accessible than ever before. It is at its heart what it has always been intended to be, a game for people who really love video games. As a Playstation 4 exclusive, this is a hardware-moving piece of software, I give it a Buy.