A world reminiscent of Victorian England, home to massive Gothic architecture, is now in lockdown for the night of the Hunt. Beasts and madmen roam the streets attacking any still sane thing within sight. Your character, a hunter, is tasked with moving through the streets to rid them of these beasts and protect the citizens holed up in the homes alongside them. But these beasts and madmen are not the only creatures at large, and when the hunter gets deeper into the world, a more cosmic horror presents itself.
Bloodborne, to this day, is still the most perfect story that FromSoft has ever created. It not only creates one of the most horrifying mysteries in the first section of the game, but it builds it to some unforeseeable cosmic level in the latter parts. This is all peppered with wild revelations about the Healing Church and the Choir, Byrgenwerth, and, of course, those in the DLC. Up to Vicar Amelia, the game seems to simply be a Victorian-era game in the horror genre – specifically with madmen turning (or already turned) into beasts, rabid crows and dogs, giants, and the hunters who pursue these creatures. There are hints to the church once tampering with a certain type of blood which may have led to the sickness and beasthood. The hunter treks deeper into the city in order to discover the true root and hopefully rid the streets of these monsters to protect the citizens hiding indoors. And this first section is also home to many bleak but beautiful character side quests ranging from the little girl and her father Gascoigne, and Emelia the Crow.
As you begin making your way closer to Byrgenwerth, things begin to slowly yet drastically change. The beasts are still there but there is a first encounter with a Celestial Emissary and many more to follow. It begins planting questions in the players mind of whether this is a later stage of beasthood or some other experiment gone wrong. The question of alien life is present yet it stays at the back of the mind in these first encounters. Then comes Byrgenwerth with even stranger alien-like life forms, and Rom, the first non-bestial boss. That is when things truly change. The world is now open for seeing what was once behind the curtains – Amydala cling to buildings, childrens’ cries can be heard in the distance no matter where you are, brainsuckers plague different streets, and the character enters lecture halls filled with gelatinized students that lead to portals to different nightmares.
The final sections of the game begin to touch at what was going on. There is a seeming connection between Byrgenwerth’s studies and these cosmic entities. Did they somehow travel to different planets in other galaxies or commune with them? Is that administered blood not from human life? And what caused the anger of these creatures to inflict such a horrifying curse upon Yharnam? But the main story ends with a few options: to be killed by the first hunter and reawaken, to kill this same first hunter and become his replacement, or to destroy both him and the Great One known as the Moon Presence, and become a Great One yourself. All endings are brilliant in their own right, but there are still questions to be answered – which is where the DLC comes in (I’ll talk about that later).
Bloodborne has one of the most difficult gameplays of any Souls game but ends up being one of the most satisfying because of that. The combat is genius – staying away from the typical sword and shield style fantasy by the use of trick weapons and a gun. It ends up being some of the fastest and most aggressive gameplay yet – forcing the player to not block and instead rely on dodges, parries, and being aggressive to gain back health. Fighting the enemies and the bosses is some of the most fun that I ever have had in a Souls game and it is gratifying to explore the variety of weapons at your disposal.
The leveling system was also great, being more akin to the fewer level types in Dark Souls 3 while still providing a high level of build customizability. The completely unique magic style (arcane spells) is also one of the most entertaining Souls combat styles that have ever been introduced. However, the bloodtinge aspect was pretty underdeveloped in intrigue and weapon choices. Weapon upgrades, blood gems, and runes once again add to this perfect customizability. Even though Bloodborne is the Souls game that has the fewest choices of weapons and levels (not including Sekiro of course), it still manages to feel like there are more options for combat than ever before.
While most of the gameplay is close to perfect, there are still some missteps. For one, certain moves (i.e. visceral attacks on stairs) seem to consistently fail which either leads to unnecessary deaths or to the player going out of their way to avoid these types of fights. Another is that many of the beast bosses feel a little too similar in design (Amelia, Paarl, and Laurence, for a few). And the Chalice Dungeons as a whole, while they are completely optional, most of the time are entirely uninspired. The Chalice Dungeon bosses are sometimes outstanding but more often they are either boring rehashes, buffed regular enemies, or just not that good. The areas there are also boring and get infinitely more boring the further you delve. I will admit though that most of the bosses in the game outside the dungeons are some of my favorites that FromSoft has ever done.
The architecture of this game is extraordinary. Yharnam is one of my favorite cities to explore and the changing lighting that comes with the phases of the moon is amazing. Different areas such as the Nightmare of Mensis, the Castle Cainhurst, and especially the DLC areas, are also equally beautiful. Unfortunately, there are quite a few uninspired areas like the forests and my personal least favorite area in any Souls game, the Nightmare Frontier. The Chalice Dungeons would fit right in that category but I already discussed my gripes with them in the last section. Despite these bad areas, the game does mostly take place in what are some of my favorite areas in any Souls game.
Another Hunter nightmare, this time taking place in a warped version of the past. This DLC provides the best lore, bosses, gameplay, worldbuilding, and storytelling in all of Bloodborne. It opens in the Cathedral Ward which is now run by Hunters killing beasts who cower in fear at them and at you. The Hunters are your enemy as well as you trek through this version of the past. As you make your way up the Research Hall towards the Astral Clocktower, new forms of experimentation are revealed. And finally, when the Astral Clocktower is used to teleport you to an alien world, Bloodborne’s true theme and purpose are revealed.
Byrgenwerth has committed an interplanetary genocide. They have killed or somehow violated Kos, a true Great One worshipped by the Fishing Hamlet. They have experimented on and tortured the citizens of this hamlet, and thus evoked the wrath of Kos. This is the origin of the curse – it is where beasthood began and thus necessitated the Hunters to kill, driving them (and all of the society) mad in the process. It adds so many layers to the story of the main game, making the curse rooted in something far more human and more real than the tampering with magical blood.
Of course, the gameplay in the DLC is just as good, and while it does still have those minor issues, it adds some of the most fun weapons and items in the game. Every single boss (yes, even Living Failures in my opinion) is incredibly fun to fight. All of this makes Bloodborne‘s DLC my absolute favorite DLC of any FromSoft game yet (and probably my favorite overall FromSoft creation). It surpasses what I still consider a perfect DLC, Dark Souls 3: The Ringed City, by a fair margin. It is simply one of the best stories told in this style of narrative, and everything surrounding it makes it infinitely replayable.
Bloodborne is easily one of my all-time favorite games. The story is perfectly executed and tells the Lovecraftian tale of bestial and cosmic horror with some of the most unique twists and changes that could have been asked for. The DLCs story roots this into an even more bleak but human origin. While the gameplay has some small problems (specific attacks) and just a few large ones (the Chalice Dungeons) it still is some of the most fun and challenging gameplay to come out in recent memory. And of course, the level design is astounding on nearly every front – the castles, the churches, the other world, are all mindblowing in their execution. Bloodborne is a game that is so atmospherically dense that it has stuck with me since the first time I ever played it, and this playthrough further cements that idea.
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