Bloodborne’s village of Yharnam is a dangerous place. It’s full of werewolves, trolls, giant pigs and a host of other terrible beasts that want to kill you. And they can. And they will. But that’s all part of the fun.
Yharnam is a towering, Gothic, often claustrophobic place with buildings piled on buildings and dead ends everywhere. It isn’t a vacation spot, and it isn’t here to make you happy. It exists to give those who venture within exactly what they deserve, for good or ill. The village rewards those who take their time, study their enemies, and plan their moves carefully. And it punishes those who rush or are otherwise careless.
If you want to survive Bloodborne, you must be careful and learn everything you can about both your own and the monsters’ capabilities. This might take a while, but it’s a game in which progress really feels like progress, and you have nobody to blame for failure but yourself.
All of this sounds intimidating, and it is, but if you own a PlayStation 4, Bloodborne should be in it.
Here’s the setup for Bloodborne, which is rated Mature for the gory violence it contains: First, you design your character using one of the most elaborate and granular creation systems I’ve ever seen (it lets you set each eye color separately and includes half a dozen sliders for sculpting your Hunter’s chin).
Once you’re done there, your character arrives in Yharnam seeking a fabled cure-all medical treatment. Unfortunately, the town is suffering from some kind of “Beast curse,” with most of its residents becoming mindless zombies or worse. Your job is to carve a path through all the evil to defeat a series of bosses, the source of the plague that has made everything so difficult and killy.
The PlayStation 4 exclusive by From Software, maker of the similarly challenging Souls series, takes the basic idea of those earlier titles and swaps out the sword-and-shield gameplay for a more offense-based fighting system while maintaining the overwhelming sense of “you’re on your own” that players familiar with the series have grown accustomed to.
You receive a few tips in the first couple rooms you enter, and then you’re on your own aside from the hints and clues other players leave along the way. Even if you don’t use any of Bloodborne’s multiplayer features, the game is an online-intensive experience in which you can gain valuable information from other players. And if you do want to play with others, you can summon them into your world to help you with a troublesome encounter — or invade theirs to duel.
The core gameplay, however, involves exploration: finding and defeating bosses, and opening up new areas. And Bloodborne makes you work for every inch of progress.
Luckily, once you make your way (carefully) through one part of the world, you’ll usually open up a shortcut that will let you get there faster the next time you come through. And “next times” will always happen because your punishment for failure is that you must return to the beginning of the section, and all enemies will reset. You’ll also lose all your Blood Echoes — the game’s currency that you use to buy new weapons and level up your character — but if you can get back to where you died in one piece, you can reclaim them.
It’ll feel like fighting against a current most of the time as you inch your way through the game, reaching a new area, dying, making it a little further, dying again, and repeating until you defeat a boss and enter a new region where the process begins again.
All of this sounds like a frustrating drag, but it’s a lot of fun once you’re actually doing it. It’s hard to explain, but Bloodborne is a game that is all about earning everything and succeeding or failing based on your own abilities. Often, your abilities are lacking, but when you break through one of those walls, it’s incredibly satisfying.
It’s not for everyone, and it doesn’t need to be. But it challenges you to be constantly aware of your tactics, surroundings and opponents, and it won’t let you relax. Bloodborne is an intense, deep and ultimately satisfying experience — provided you are willing to meet the game on its terms.