August 13, 2018 at 3:15 AM #688
Rating: 3.0 – Fair
Fairly entertaining, more for it’s level design than anything else.
Bloodborne. A PS4 game that has received an almost mind boggling amount of praise among some circles, a From Software game in the style of Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. These games are known, for better or worse, for having a high degree of difficulty. Not being a fan of the series I can’t give a more detailed introduction than that, so let’s move on to the review, shall we?
The writing in Bloodborne is fairly good when it’s present, which isn’t as often as I like. FromSoft did a good job in putting world building details in the descriptions of items, to the point where merely checking your inventory and detail can start to paint a picture of exactly what the hell is going on in this crazy world. Unfortunately they took this a might to far, leaving some key aspects without concrete answers even after the release of the Old Hunters(in fact, that expansion created a few more for me). While I certainly appreciate leaving some details in places that you’d have to actually look for(I am a fan of the Legend of Heroes games, after all), I also appreciate it when important details are clearly laid out. Outside of that, essentially every character you meet will in some way reinforce the fact that the town of Yharnam, central setting of the game, is headed straight to hell. Well, long story short: What’s there is good, but it needed fleshing out and more direct exposition.
Typically not an aspect I bother with these days, yet I feel it deserves a mention here. One of the strengths of Bloodborne is how absolutely twisted it’s world is, and to that end the visuals are used to great effect. The town is creepy as all hell(I’m getting a bit redundant with that one), bodies littered here and there, locals with one extremely long, hairy arm showing they’re in the early stages of turning into a beast, giant wolves with scraps of clothing showing how things could end. It really pays to have an eye for detail here, as there’s a lot of detail packed into this world. The music, when it’s present, doesn’t have any tracks I can call memorable. Some games have music that I enjoy so much I can play the whole track in my head from start to finish. Nothing of that caliber in BB, but the music DOES serve it’s purpose in setting the mood for each fight.
So. This is where I was left in an odd space between "largely disappointed" and "pleasantly surprised". Some aspects of the gameplay worked very well. The level design and uniqueness of each weapon, for example. Some aspects, mostly combat, were just a let down. I should note right now that I’ve always avoided these games specifically because the combat looked too slow for me. However, BB was put up on the Instant Game Collection so I figured it was as good a time as any to try it.
Let’s start with the combat itself. The combat was pretty much as slow as I’d feared, with even a faster weapon like the Rakuyo being rather underwhelming. There are few, if any cancels in the game, so once you launch an attack you’re pretty much stuck in that animation unless you take a hit. Add in a stamina meter and you get boss fights where you stop attacking to let your stamina refill, stop attacking so you can start timing a dodge, or both. The vast majority of the bosses also attack rather slow. They can generally kill you in very few hits, but if you properly abuse the short window of invincibility(also known as an I-frame) during a dodge, you’ll be getting through most of any boss fight unharmed.
At which point we run into a problem I had on more than one occasion. Fighting the boss and slowly chipping away at it’s HP, dodging attacks like a ballerina and generally doing well. Boss hits a certain phase due to low HP and uses an attack I either haven’t seen before, or have seen but I’m still working out the best timing for a dodge or counter. I mess up, get hit, die. This can be flat out annoying depending on how long it took you to drop the thing’s health in the first place. And there are two more annoyances to be had: First, if you die, your Blood Echoes(used for leveling up and buying most items in the game) fall somewhere near where you got wasted. And when you die in a boss fight, in addition to redoing the whole fight you need to manually work your way back there from a checkpoint. No retrying from the same area, the devs saw fit to waste everyone’s time with that. The bright side is you can open shortcuts on the way to the boss room to drastically cut down on the time needed to get back to the fight…but it’s still a straight up waste of time.
There’s some good here, however. I’ll openly admit that I love the Visceral Attack system. Basically, get a charged R2 on an enemy from behind, or shoot them with the right timing when they attack, and they’ll stagger. From there, you get up in their face before they recover and rip their insides out, doing a ton of damage if your Skill stat is high enough. But there’s a downside to this as well. In PvP, lots of players will basically bounce around firing shots in the hopes of getting a stagger, doing a VA and ending the fight in one hit. This can and usually does drag the fight on far longer than it needs to while you’re opponent does essentially the same single trick in a hope to win. Effective or not, it’s another annoyance about BB combat. Mobs are barely worth mentioning. They exist, and they’re slow, predictable, and almost always weak. Can be a threat depending on location and positioning, but more on that later. What difficulty is present in combat comes from your character being relatively unimpressive as far as an ARPG protagonist goes. I have absolutely had harder fights than anything BB threw at me with characters that can run circles around the Hunter. Sephiroth from Kingdom Hearts 2, for example, kicked my ass more than the Orphan of Kos or the First Vicar could ever hope to accomplish.
Now, another good part of the game(this time with no downsides) is the variety of weapons. Each weapon is essentially an entire playstyle unto itself, with it’s own two movesets, stat affinities, special traits and so on. While fights themselves were generally underwhelming, I genuinely enjoyed finding, upgrading, testing, and customizing the various weapons in the game. Customization is fairly simple. Weapons can hold up to 3 Blood Gems, which each have certain effects and can fit into slots of the right shape. These gems generally just raise one form of power or another. Some have set conditions, others have negative effects, and some do things besides making you hit harder or making you hit with fire. These gems can be found in the story maps or in Chalice Dungeons. Runes also act as a way to change your abilities. Up to 3 normal and one Oath(which…doesn’t really matter much for the most part). Raise you HP, Stamina, immunity to certain ailments, etc. Again, standard stuff, not worth mentioning. Some of the Oath runes can, however, cause you to fight people who you summon for back up and vice versa. Lastly, as I mentioned earlier, levels are a thing here. Leveling up raises defense and any base stat you want by 1 x the number of levels you went up. Level caps somewhere in the 500s so you can get pretty ridiculous.
Last things worth mentioning, I think. The game’s level design is great, and can add to the challenge or be used as a tool. While mobs in the game are generally slow, predicable, and as smart as a bag of bricks, they hit like everything else in the game: Hard. FromSoft placed enemies in positions where they’d ambush a careless player and do massive damage, if not kill you outright. I spent the majority of my time walking, however, so ambushes would spring early and I’d watch the greatest whiffs of all time. Tying in with the former, the Chalice Dungeons are a series of procedurally generated dungeons that are arguably the best part of the game. Exclusive enemies dwell here, as well as traps and treasures. Lastly, one thing I definitely enjoyed was running around with a friend. The frustrations can become amusing when you have someone to share a laugh with.
Bloodborne is a game that I found enjoyable largely on account of it’s writing and world, and less on account of the gameplay itself. Yes, one sentence is my summary.
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