Bloodborne has now been released on PS Plus, allowing those who have somehow skipped From Software's modern classic to finally sink their teeth into it. Now that a whole new audience of players are going to be introduced to the PS4 exclusive, Alan Wen describes why it's the best game of this generation.
This current console generation got off to a slow start. Despite the PS4 and Xbox One launching at the end of 2013, developers spent the following year still bound to the last lengthy generation, while the only games to stand out were essentially remasters, or the woefully buggy Assassin’s Creed Unity. Thank goodness then for From Software, who three years ago this month released Bloodborne, giving this generation its bite.
Some would have looked at its initial reveal and seen little more than a Souls game wrapped in a gothic Victorian setting with werewolves. Yes, there are familiar ideas — uncompromising difficulty, the iconic ‘You Died’, and the Blood Echoes you’d need to retrieve or lose forever upon death - but this is a different beast altogether.
Your first time wandering the cobbled streets of Yharnam is fraught with peril, a maddened denizen jumping out from behind a coffin an early sign that FromSoft isn’t above jumpscares in a game that’s a world away from the dark fantasy of Dark Souls but more in debt to the gothic horror of both Victorian literature and H.P. Lovecraft. While your first steps in a Souls game are always cautious, never knowing what dangers are around the next corner, you at least had a shield to hold in front of you. Such luxuries are absent in Bloodborne, and when you do finally come across a flimsy wooden board, it comes with a gentle trolling message: “Shields are nice, but not if they engender passivity.”
This town is not for the faint-hearted. When you’re surrounded by a murderous mob that’s reminiscent of Los Ganados in Resident Evil 4, the only way forward is to hit back hard. There's a lot of deaths in those early attempts, as you get a handle on how these new trick weapons work, how you can just slash away with the saw but also transform it into a longer cleaver, even better doing it mid-combo.
Perhaps the real delight in the combat comes from the gun that’s in place of a shield. While not powerful enough to kill, the blast of a blunderbuss can stagger back a crowd to let you catch a breath. But real mastery comes from shooting at just the right time to parry-stun your enemy, leaving them open for a brutal and bloody Visceral Attack. Parries were always a tricky thing to do with certain shields in Dark Souls, but with no other means to defend yourself in Bloodborne, learning this timing becomes absolutely essential against virtually any foe, especially against early boss Father Gascoigne.
Mastery is only one facet of what makes Bloodborne so richly compelling. Discovery is just as important. Yharnam may not be as huge as the labyrinthian Lordran, but by the Great Ones, it is Hidetaka Miyazaki’s greatest achievement, not just filled with environmental storytelling but literally hiding secrets in plain sight. Or should I say insight? A mysterious mechanic that you initially believe is little more than a number in the corner of the screen, your Insight increases during your time in Yharnam, such as when you defeat a boss or when you consume an item called Madman’s Knowledge.
Increased Insight allows you access to a new shop in your safe hub The Hunter’s Dream, becoming a currency for acquiring rare items or as a way to summon other hunters into your world when things get too overwhelming. But allow your insight to increase further and it starts ramping up the difficulty, with its real power allowing you see and hear things that you couldn’t before. To suddenly realize there have been higher beings watching you all this time in the Cathedral Ward is an astonishing moment, making you question just what else the game is hiding.
And there are really just so many secrets that one playthrough isn’t enough. The scares might dissipate but that just emboldens you to investigate Yharnam’s depths, seeking out an NPC you didn’t meet before, or finding out how to befriend a particular foe, all of it combining to form an intricate picture of Yharnam and its inhabitants. Those yearning for greater challenges can also descend into the procedurally-generated Chalice Dungeons, which lacks the authored designs of the main game but still conceals monstrosities you wouldn’t find otherwise, including a few thought to have been excised from the game altogether.
Bloodborne isn’t just the greatest game of this generation, it’s one of the all-time greats. A large part of that greatness is that it’s Miyazaki’s uncompromised vision, a singular masterpiece not bound by the sequelitis that has somewhat diminished Dark Souls, though The Old Hunters DLC also proves to be one of the greatest expansions ever made. After logging over 200 hours into, it’s a game I don’t tire of replaying, whether it’s uncovering a new questline I’d overlooked previously or mastering boss fights on the first go instead of the hours of pain and anguish before.
Yet nothing will quite be the same as stepping into Yharnam for the first time. So as this great game is made a gift for all PS Plus subscribers this month, I’m envious of the new prospective hunters who will be arriving. There’s now no excuse not to experience the genuine Greatness that the PS4 tagline has been touting all this time. Nonetheless, Souls veterans recently mourning the end of the online life of the last generation’s Demon’s Souls (arguably the game that started it all) should treat this as a Beckoning Bell to return to the true masterpiece that only comes once in a generation.
Hunters new and old, greatness awaits you all.