Bloodborne is such a huge game for Entertainium that we couldn’t just review it as we would normally do it. Callum and Eduardo are die hard fans of the ‘Souls series, and what better reason is there to do a co-op review than to have a look at From Software’s latest? There isn’t. Prepare for jolly cooperation!
And here we are, Callum. A new Souls game is out. It wasn’t that long ago that we were playing through the Dark Souls II DLC, right?
Bloodborne looked amazing when I checked it out at E3 2014. So even though I had my fill of this type of game after finishing Dark Souls II, I couldn’t wait to play Bloodborne. And while I have a few issues to nag about it later on, I mostly had a blast with it.
Let’s start out talking about how the game begins. It doesn’t really pull any punches, huh? I had a tough time with it right from the get go. I only really started getting into a groove about half way through. The starting bits were very tough on me. The main reason for it, though, might be the radical shift in gameplay in Bloodborne, the focus on aggressive tactics that ditch the series’ hallmark shield in favor of counterattacks.How did you feel about that change in gameplay, Callum?
I like it. The speed of the combat and the shift toward more offensive play was difficult to fully grasp when I saw it at E3 last year, but I once I played it, everything clicked immediately. It felt good — nice and swift and very responsive. I was able to charge enemies and take them down before they were able to deal any hits against me, or at least back off safely with no harm done. Definitely a big change from the usual cautious approach of Dark Souls — you know, raise your shield, move in, circle around them maybe, strike when there’s an opening, and repeat. Thought it would have taken longer to work past those old tendencies, but it was practically instantaneous.
The hard part was applying those tactics to bosses. I kept trying to wait for an opening while fighting the Cleric Beast rather than just getting in close and letting loose. Kept nearly dying to it, but I somehow pulled through. It was a really good, harrowing encounter for being the first proper boss fight. Though it’s also a good example of how poor the camera is against massive foes/tight spaces. For all the talk about how it’s always been bad in these games, I’ve never had as much trouble with it as I have with Bloodborne. I don’t know if it’s because of the faster pace or something else, but I know a lot of my deaths could be attributed to the camera instead of poor play.
Bloodborne is probably the first time I’ve ever been completely lost during the opening hours of a Souls game. That it just drops you into Isosefka’s Clinic with no weapons only to put a werewolf in your path was definitely something else. I recall being a little distressed after karate chopping the wolf to death and finding myself out in Yharnam with no idea where I was supposed to find my weapons, doubly so when I accidentally brought a mob of foes with me to the first lamp. If I didn’t decide to warp to the Hunter’s Dream by chance (I missed the pop-up message about it due to being under attack), I probably would have kept exploring until I got myself killed.
And I think that really speaks to how little direction Bloodborne provides. At least in the opening sections of previous Souls games, you always started with at least an idea of where you were supposed to be going, what you were trying to accomplish. Instead, the most you get in Bloodborne is some passing mention of Paleblood and a pointer to head toward the Cathedral Ward from an NPC you can easily miss. It feels like the game isn’t just encouraging you to explore, but forcing you to wander around to figure out where your next goal is. Which is great! Because Yharnam is such an intricate space, it makes exploration rewarding since you’re practically always discovering tons of different pathways that intersect with one another. It makes the place feel vast even though it really isn’t that big. Not even Dark Souls had this many tightly interconnected paths.
Did you ever have trouble figuring out where to go? I feel like, even with its lack of guidance, it still at least gave me enough areas to investigate that I was rarely hitting any walls.
Oh wow, so you killed that first werewolf with your bare hands, first go? Impressive!
I had a different experience making my way through Bloodborne in particular. I rarely attempt to rely on or try to do any research for the Souls games, so finding my way through this proved to be a bit confusing in the early parts. So much so that I actually managed to come face to face with a boss fight that was leagues ahead of my character progress at the time, very early on in the game.
That wasn’t the only time I hit my head on the wall trying to beat a boss that probably wasn’t supposed to be fought that soon. But that’s the charm of these games. Bloodborne, frankly, felt a lot more tighter about where to go, especially after my directional mishaps. I actually only ran into that NPC you mentioned during my (still in progress) new game plus. The only real written tip about where to head to came from a few of the key items the bosses dropped — some were pretty detailed, which felt strange, considering how cryptic these games tend to be.
Still, as with previous games in the series — excluding Dark Souls II, which felt like one theme park ride connected to the other — Bloodborne‘s geography makes sense. Every bit of the world seamlessly flows into the next, each more visually stunning than the last. It’s worth noting how incredible the architectural design is in this game. Dark Souls‘ Anor Londo teased how much From Software’s designers dig gothic architecture, and Bloodborne just amps that exponentially. Blooborne feels like the next big Castlevania game, with huge, gorgeous moonlit sky boxes and numerous castles, churches and towns. And most importantly, these places aren’t just there to be looked upon. You actually get to go to just about every single area you can spot in the distance. Truly an impressive feat.
But there are some parts of Bloodborne that felt toned down, for good or bad. What did you think about the much shorter list of weapons that the game has to offer? Did you stick to any one in particular?
Yeah. I didn’t think to run past it, and since its health was already halfway depleted, well… figured it was worth a shot.
I don’t think I ever encountered a boss before I was ready to take them on. For how much Bloodborne doesn’t try to direct you anywhere, its progression feels much more linear than the previous games. Like, you can’t access the Cathedral Ward until you’ve slain Father Gascoigne, nor can you access the Forbidden Woods until you’ve taken out Vicar Amelia. There’s no shortcuts you can use to enter those areas straight from the game’s start, unlike how you could enter Blighttown in Dark Souls immediately upon touching down in Lordran with the master key. Though it doesn’t make the world feel as disconnected as Drangleic, since the lay of the land still makes sense on the whole, whereas Drangleic took a ton of liberties. Only downside, I suppose, is the lack of visual variety Bloodborne has. Though I don’t really mind, especially when what’s there is beautiful.
The whole “See that thing in the distance? You can go there” thing is pretty popular these days (that was practically the line from every other E3 demo last year), but there’s something about the Souls series that still make it impressive whereas it’s played out in so many other games. I guess it’s because the level design is so intricate. In an open world setting, it’s not terribly impressive because there’s just so much space to explore that it becomes an expectation to go everywhere you can see, whereas with games like this, there’s enough you can’t access that it keeps the imagination alive.
On the subject of weapons, though, I think the smaller number is for the best. While Dark Souls may have had dozens of weapons to choose from, most of them were mere variants of each other. The broadsword wasn’t very different from the longsword, for instance, nor the scimitar from the falchion. The lower number of weapons may limit your choices early on, but the fact that they’re also two weapons in one more than makes up for that. I mean, a sword that turns into a scythe is not only awesome, it’s got far more applications than either one of them on their own would. It allows you to get some additional range with the press of a button, to completely change how your weapon acts and how you use it. Makes the process of learning each weapon a more involved process since you’re essentially learning how to use two very different weapons. Also makes each one unique.
I stuck with the Saw Spear for the entirety of my first playthrough. Simple, but reliable. Definitely one of the easiest to grasp. Played around with the Burial Blade (the scythe) in new game plus, and the Blade of Mercy (a dagger that splits into two separate blades) on my second character, though I don’t think either of them stacks up against the Saw Spear for me. It’s the perfect balance of speed and range, its moveset versatile enough to handle just about any situation. What about you?
Haha, yeah, I guess you caught me in that clichè. It certainly rings true for this game, though, you’re right!
Likewise, I stuck with a weapon for the entirety of my playthrough. In my case, it was the Threaded Cane. At first, I wanted to choose something that went away from what I expected a lot of folks would go with — the weapons featured in demos and the box art. The cane was a surprise find. It proved to be the best choice I could ever make, fitting my personal play style like a glove. The range on its second form is amazing, as is its wide ‘area of effect’. Like I mentioned before, I’m a big fan of Castlevania, and the cane feels like it was inspired by Gabriel’s chain cross weapon from the criminally overlooked Lords of Shadow.
I spent some time experimenting with other weapons during my visits to chalice dungeons, but I haven’t really stuck with anything other than the cane to be honest. I love the idea behind the Burial Blade but I haven’t found my groove with it yet, although I’m curious to try out the rest of the arsenal whenever I get around to investing time creating a new character build that favors the specific stat needs for the other weapons.
I’m on the same page as you in regards to the weapons. I liked the fact that Bloodborne simplified them by including only a single one of each type. Unlike Dark Souls, I was never torn between two weapons that basically played the same. There were never two canes and I didn’t think twice before upgrading my starting weapon to the max when the time came. Having fewer weapons gave From Software the chance to imbue them with personality, and they sure managed to make them feel unique and awesome. Switching from weapon modes by hitting L1 feels incredible, thanks to how well they’re animated and fit into combos. Bad ass!
I know for a fact that both of us are currently tackling the immense time sink that chalice dungeons are, at the moment. Although they mostly look the same because of the repeat use of textures and titles, it certainly feels like Bloodborne could go on for much longer than any of the other Souls games. They basically shape dungeons you can run through by making you use special reagents dropped by enemies or that are looted off the main game and other chalice instances. It’s a fantastic addition, to be sure.
But not all additions or changes went as well as the weapons and Chalice Dungeons. I touched upon From Software cutting back on features in Bloodborne, for both good and bad. We talked about the good. So now let’s talk about the elephant in the room. What about the multiplayer, Callum? Do you miss the summon signs as much as I do? Those bells, man… *cringe*
The Burial Blade’s tough to get the hang of because it’s a touch slower than most of the other weapons, even when used as a sword. It’s like the Hunter’s Axe in that regard; especially since it deals and regains so much damage. Like, seriously: it’s so much easier to regain health when using that weapon, particularly in scythe form. I’ve had plenty of instances where I would lose half my health and regain it all in like three or four strikes because I was using the Burial Blade. It’s a fantastic weapon if you can get the hang of it.
I think the problem I had was adapting to the moveset. Like, in the previous Souls games, learning a weapon was mostly a matter of determining their speed and reach, since the weapons had pretty limited movesets. Whereas with Bloodborne they’re so diverse. Makes a lot of their attacks feel more situational than something you can use whenever. I couldn’t often rely on using my Saw Spear with the blade extended, for instance, because that form seems made for attacking foes as they attempt to back off. I never really got the hang of it during my initial playthrough, but now I’m doing all sorts of fancy swordplay (sawplay?) with it. I’ve gone from just relying on getting close and attacking relentlessly to swiftly extending and retracting it mid-combo, only to seamlessly fire my gun and stun an enemy to perform a critical attack on them. It makes mastering each weapon far more satisfying, because you can do so much with it once you know the full extent of its abilities.
And that’s another thing: the guns. I don’t know what was expecting out of them at first, but to act as a makeshift shield certainly wasn’t it. Makes parries so much easier to pull off, which makes it useful for once. Especially given how most of the bosses can be parried. Makes battling them much more interesting, since it adds an additional layer of strategy. Instead of just bobbing and weaving around them, whittling down their health, you can take a stand and try to stun them in the hopes of landing a visceral strike, which is immensely satisfying. Doubly so when it happens by pure chance. Wish the differences between guns were more pronounced. Doesn’t feel like they differ much aside from the recovery period after firing.
I’m of two minds on the Chalice Dungeons. I like it on the grounds that I like all instances of procedural generation (the unpredictability and variety, namely), but the amount of grinding you need to do to find the correct materials to use is frustrating. Makes it difficult to keep moving through them when I have to stop and load up another variant on a dungeon I’ve already cleared in the hopes of finding some materials I need. It’d be one thing if it was just for modifiers — which add new enemies or make existing ones stronger — but when it’s for gaining access at all, it destroys a lot of my motivation to clear them. They’re plenty of fun once you do have access, of course, but getting there often feels like a chore if you don’t take proper precautions/tackle them in the right order.
The multiplayer’s been a lot more functional for me recently. I still have trouble bringing anyone into my game, but I’ve had more success now than I did before. Had at least one instance where I joined a friend via password as well. Definitely seems to be in working order now (for the most part). I’ve encountered this weird bug, though. Sometimes after doing co-op extensively, I find myself teleported into the boss chamber. First time it happened I ended up in the boss room right after being returned to my world, the second happening after I tried using a Bold Hunter’s Mark (i.e. Bloodborne‘s Homeward Bone). It was… very surprising.
For as much trouble as the bells gave me, though, I kinda prefer them to the summon signs. Makes multiplayer completely opt-in instead of something that’s forced on you. That’s maybe not the best approach for co-op (I assume the trouble with the beckoning bell comes from how it doesn’t start matchmaking until you’ve rung it, as opposed to Dark Souls which seemed to be always doing matchmaking in the background), but for invasions, it’s the best possible outcome. Instead of constantly worrying about a potential invasion, I can choose whether I want to be invaded, since ringing the Sinister Bell also starts matching you up with other people who’ve rung that bell in addition to trying to invade someone looking to summon for co-op. It’s a fantastic solution to the old problem of wanting to avoid player-versus-player combat without having to go offline.
My biggest gripe with it all is that I wish the level range were lager when trying to connect via password. Maybe then we could have teamed up finally. I need to look up whether we have to be on the same new game level to connect. If not, then maybe we can work something out with those Chalice Dungeons. Did it ever start working better for you?
The switch to guns definitely felt a little weird. I have always role played a virtual turtle in the previous games, with few exceptions where I ditched the shield in favor of casting magic. I had no idea the guns were used as a way to parry and riposte attacks in Bloodborne for about half of my way through the first playthrough. I only used my firearm as a ranged attack to attract the attention of individual enemies that happened to be packed in a tight group, or who I found patrolling around and wanted to ambush around corners. The whole visceral attack system felt incredible after I started using it, though. And for as silly as some of the situations I used them in might have been, like skewering a giant pig, they were always ridiculously satisfying. I just wish I could get better at pulling them off!
You make a great point about the bell mechanic that I haven’t thought of before, even though I have plenty of bits to pick from it. And while I would still much prefer to have something more akin to the old summon signs so I could have a way to tell if anyone’s actually there for me to call upon, i.e, at a boss door. There’s also the matter of not having much of an incentive to jump in and help, other than the possibility of scoring some blood echoes and a drop of Bloodborne‘s equivalent to humanity, insight. I played practically the entirety of Dark Souls II joining in and summoning random players, which proved to be a ton of fun, especially as part of the co-op oriented covenant in that game. I never felt compelled to do the same in Bloodborne, which to me, is a missed opportunity, considering how much more it has to offer past the main content, via the Chalice Dungeons.
After finding out what the chalices were all about, I made a conscious effort to leave them for my second playthrough, which proved to be good and bad, depending on how I look at it. The good was that all the reagents for crafting the initial and mid tier dungeons were all there and ready to go once I was done with my initial game and jumped into new game plus, so I never went through that grind — at first. On the other hand, leaving all that content down to later in my time with the game turned out annoying because everyone I could possibly play the dungeons with were ridiculously over leveled by the time I was ready to go.
Still, I think waiting was the best decision in the end. I might be going out on a limb here, but I imagine that my previous MMO experience has probably helped make me become a little more used to repetition in games, via farming, grinding, etc. In all honesty, the material gathering in Bloodborne isn’t as close to being as bad as in a game like World of Warcraft. So far in my game, anyway. At least in the former, there are no requirements for spider legs from spiders that simply might not drop any. It happened to me many times in WoW, don’t laugh!
But coming back to the connectivity issues with the game, I can’t say I’ve been having an easier time finding people or even joining up with pre-determined players. Even when I had everything set to play with friends over the weekend, we still ran into the ridiculous situation of having to have all our characters standing at exactly the same spot in our respective games and ring our bells in unison. That didn’t even guarantee connection for half of our attempts. Eventually we were blessed with success, but more due to our insistence than anything else. It’s a fraction of the game that manages to incredibly disappointing, and it makes me baffled because they had a system that worked fine in the previous game.
Adding passwords so friends can connect to each other is a brilliant addition, but its implementation is far from perfect. Even more so if you take into account the fact that you still have to go through the rigmarole of ringing a bell and waiting, hoping that the game finds whoever you are aiming to connect to. Not only that, but there should have been a way to keep that player in your game after finishing the section they were summoned in. In a situation like the chalice dungeons, it’s even more moronic having to go through the motions of summoning your friend again for whatever’s next. And to make things worse, whoever is joining up a dungeon in progress is required to run the rest of the dungeon up to your current progress. So if your buddy gets into a bind of his/her own on their way to you, tough luck.
It sucks that such a terrible online experience comes from what otherwise is a terrific game. I never minded having my game invaded by other players in previous Souls games, so I can’t view the option of not having invasions as a plus from the trade off in the multiplayer matchmaking. This is a game, after all, so using the word “punishment” is a little dumb, but keeping in with the review we’re considering this article to be, I’ll rely on it to describe that change in multiplayer. In its current state, players like me, who enjoy cooperating are getting the wrong end of the stick in order to avoid being bothered by confrontations. Having to wait for over an hour in order to maybe find some help for a particularly difficult boss fight is just plain dumb. It happened to me more than one throughout the game and it was enough to somewhat sour my experience, even when I did manage to connect to folks right away a few times.
The other side of the terrible matchmaking, though — to bring this back from all the negativity — has been the system put in place for sharing the chalice dungeons. After unlocking a certain tier of dungeons, you’re not required to spend the materials in order to conjure up another random copy of it. By going into the search options that are made by using a specific item that’s dropped very early on in your chalice dungeon experience, you can call up anyone’s instance, be it from a friend or from anyone else who set up theirs as public content. I found that system to be brilliant, mostly because even though most materials are relatively easy to come by, some bits take an extra effort to procure.
Overall, I came out of Bloodborne really liking it. That’s obvious due to the fact that I’m still playing it every night since getting it. My progress in the game was very uneven and at times I just wanted to quit playing, but I insisted on going for the chance of writing such an article with you, Callum. I’ll admit that if I were to play this on my own pace, I would probably have spread out the time I’ve spent with it in smaller chunks. It’s a gorgeous game, one that rewards you for your blind exploration, for the sake of discovering your own way through. I certainly did carve my own path, one that hit plenty nerves, but in the end, online blistering warts and all, Bloodborne felt like it’s worth it. It’s much simpler in many gameplay facets for the benefit of functionality, which is to be commended.
Souls were all I was ever really after when cooperating with other players in past Souls games (well, that and to just help out), so I didn’t mind not having any other benefits. It’s always been a source of easy experience points, especially since it allows you to easily grind blood echoes without the monotony of running through the same area again and again. Though the lack of covenant-centric activities was definitely disappointing. I like how they each give you specific attribute bonuses like the rest of the runes do, though. Gives them more uses than just modifying matchmaking.
Scaling back on covenants makes sense given the world, though. The hunters seem like a loosely organized group that’s working toward a common goal as opposed to the undead who were all basically doing their own thing independent of one another. Made sense for covenants in Dark Souls because you would then be joining a group who had their own goals and ideology, giving you a purpose in those worlds while you went about your own business. Whereas with Bloodborne, they’re more of a side-job to supplement your primary occupation of beast hunting. Not a lot of room for opposing factions given they’re all constantly working together. I mean, Alfred outright says, “Our prey might differ, but we are hunters, the both of us,” when asking you to cooperate with him. It suggests there’s some camaraderie between hunters, regardless of whom they associate with.
There’s still more I want to see and dig into before I’ll feel like I’ve got a full grasp on Bloodborne, but I’m confident in saying that it’s the best the series has been since Dark Souls. The return to the intricate, interconnected world design is marvelous, and the faster combat revitalizes the Souls formula in a ton of great ways. It’s definitely smaller and more focused than it’s predecessors, but I think that’s to the game’s advantage since it allows it to avoid becoming a slog in the same way the latter half of Dark Souls was. I’m really curious to see where they’ll go with the series from here. I’d like to see them iterate on Bloodborne‘s foundation, but I wouldn’t mind seeing them continue to switch things up either. I’m sure we’ll see a Dark Souls III eventually, but I’m more curious to see what the next step for the series is.