Where did all the magic go?

Bloodborne

HIGH: Cainhurst Castle

LOW: The Unseen Village

WTF: Well, Rom sure was easy. I guess I'll walk up to this wailing woman and…..OH MY GOD WHAT IS HAPPENING?

"Isn't that game supposed to be super hard?" is the first question I usually get when talking about any of the Souls games with a non-Souls player. The series has a well-earned reputation for challenge, but the difficulty has never been what defines them for me.

Unlike traditional ‘hard' games that test reaction speed and timing, Souls is more about situational awareness, preparation, and learning from one's mistakes. While quick reflexes are important, they have never been the core of the experience. I deeply enjoyed all three Souls games, and these titles have engrossed me over the past year to the tune of several hundred hours. After getting used to the systems involved, they became a gaming journey like no other.

Why am I giving this preface on Souls? I think it's important to show that I'm no slouch when it comes to FromSoft games, and I want to use that knowledge to properly convey the weight of my feelings towards Bloodborne, which might otherwise be interpreted as a lack of understanding of this developer's work.

Bloodborne…is just too hard.

As a fourth ‘spiritual' entry in FromSoft's series (although it's technically an all-new IP) Bloodborne takes us to the city of Yharnam, where the residents are rumored to use blood in magic healing rituals. Of course the city is a ruined hellscape, so the player must deal with all manner of creatures and traps while on the quest to find a cure for their disease.

Bloodborne is a very well-made game. The atmosphere in Yharnam is grisly and creepy, and perfectly sets up a strong Lovecraft theme — and I mean that in every sense of the term, not just ‘Cthlulhu shows up at some point.' Along with the aesthetics, From's mastery of level design is on full display here, with clever pathing and shortcut placement. In this sense, Bloodborne feels very much like a superb 3D Castlevania.

However, Bloodborne's combat asks much more of the player than previous FromSoft games. This shift was clearly a calculated design choice, but it was tough for me to appreciate the differences after becoming so aggravated from dying to the same cheap shots over and over.

Previous Souls games have taught the player to be cautious above all else. Learning when to defend, attack, dodge, and when to run are skills one must learn to survive. That's changed with Bloodborne, as defensive tactics are almost nonexistent. With no worthwhile shields available, protecting oneself is limited to dodging and parrying.

This change means that Souls vets will essentially have to learn the rules of play all over again, this time without training wheels. It's an interesting evolution of the Souls formula, as it rewards a much faster and more aggressive style of combat. Supporting this is a mechanic to regenerate HP, restoring lost health to the player if she returns damage immediately after receiving it. It's clear that the focus is now on offense more than it ever was before.

Bloodborne

Unfortunately, this focus on aggression comes with a few drawbacks, the most obvious being that other playstyles viable in previous games are obsolete, or simply don't exist here. One of the best things about Souls is that the player could tailor their character build to their own personal preference – be a shield-carrying tank, a nimble dagger-user, a long-range spellcaster, and more. Any of these were options that gave the player choice. In Bloodborne, the focus on speed and reflexes means there's only one style that works. Sure, there are different weapons with different movesets that can be changed depending on the situation, but they all boil down to the same close-in melee playstyle, which is disappointing given the variety that players could previously count on.  

The lack of defensive options especially hurts when it comes to bosses. Their patterns and animations can be hard to read, meaning that it's easy to be caught off-guard and quickly killed, especially with the persistent problems I had with the camera. Too often my view of the action was obscured by scenery or when the camera would get hung up on geometry in smaller areas. It would also get tangled up with some of the larger bosses as well — a common cause of many defeats.

Bizarrely, Bloodborne reverses recent series improvements by making the player rely on consumable healing items. Blood Vials dropped by enemies or purchased from the shop are the only common healing item available, and if the supply is exhausted when the player's low on cash, the only choice is to go back into a previous area and farm enemies that drop them. I'm not sure what the experience of replaying old areas multiple times was supposed to add, but it's disappointing that the auto-replenishing Estus system from Dark Souls was removed.

Another serious concern is that the online experience in Bloodborne is abysmal, and seems like yet another step backwards for the dev. I attempted summoning help several times in tough spots and never successfully connected with another player. Not only does this mean I was left unable to use the in-game assist system, I also spent the valuable resource needed without actually getting the help. On the opposite side, I was invaded only once over the course of the entire game, but the experience was incredibly laggy and not the heart-stopper such an event should be. The ‘specter' system which shows how other players died didn't work for the majority of the time, either.

Certain aspects of Bloodborne like the level design, audio design, and art direction show that in most regards, it's an exceptionally well-made game. Every change feels like a conscious effort to create something that stands apart from the developer's previous work, and such an attempt is commendable. However, Bloodborne bumps up the overall difficulty while taking away the options that made Souls approachable to all players. In its current state, it feels like it caters too much to the twitch experts, and doesn't bend for the rest of us. A challenge that feels like a learning experience is welcome, but Bloodborne too often felt like it was kicking me in the balls and leaving me helpless to do anything about it. Rating: 7.0 out of 10.


Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 70 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed 1 times) and 1 hour of play in multiplayer modes. The entire game was played with online enabled.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood (duh!), gore, and violence. The game is called Bloodborne. There is a lot of blood and gore. Although there are no sexual situations and no questionable language, there are definitely no kids allowed.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: I find the Souls games in general to be very audio-reliant, and Bloodborne probably moreso than any of them. Sound is a crucial factor in determining when enemies are near, and I can see players with hearing issues having a lot of trouble without it. In terms of dialogue, all speech is accompanied with subtitles.

Richard Naik

Richard Naik

Born and raised in St. Louis, MO, Richard received his first console (the NES) at the age of six, and from that point on games have been an integral part of his life, whether it's been frittering summers away with the likes of Mario, Mega Man, and the Zerg or partaking in marathon sessions of Halo, Team Fortress 2 or Left 4 Dead. After being a longtime reader of GameCritics, Richard joined the staff in March of 2009, and over the years Richard grew into the more prominent role of part-time podcast host.

In 2016, he spearheaded a complete rebuild of the GameCritics.com website, earning him the title of Chief Engineer.

His gaming interests are fairly eclectic, ranging from 2D platformers to old-school-style adventure games to RPGs to first-person shooters. So in other words, he’ll play pretty much anything.
Richard Naik

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31 Comments on "Bloodborne Review"

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Mike S
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I only have one complaint that agrees with this review: Blood vials being a non-replenishing healing method is a boring chore. I ran into one boss that gave me fits, 10 runs and I was out of what I thought would be plenty of vials for the game. It really, really takes me out of the game. Bad design choice From.

Anonymous
Guest
There are several workarounds to that. One is a farming spot in the Lecture Building that lets you ramp up hundreds of thousands of echoes quickly, which you can use to stock up up to 600 vials. Even in the late game when vials become more expensive, you can easily fill up your storage quickly. This would last over 20 runs using even as much as 27 vials every time, and takes only a few minutes to replenish. Another trick is to not burn vials excessively when learning how to fight a boss and save them for the serious attempts… Read more »
Nick
Guest

The game was literally not that hard at all. The difficulty of a difficult game should not be the basis for a negative review. If you can’t have fun with the game because it’s too hard for you then you are not the target audience. All FromSoft games have a very niche audience and apparently you are not there. I found the game to be incredibly fun, rewarding and the locations and atmosphere memorizing.

Android
Guest

So your review was based on what you experienced with Dark Souls in comparison to Bloodborne? You do realize this is a new IP and not another Souls game, right? Why would you want this game to be exactly like the Souls games? It’s nice to have a change of pace from them. Personally, the Souls games have become very stale to me. Bloodborne was a nice change of pace. Pretty poor, rookie review, dude.

Jack
Guest

So you’re telling me you had better taste in games when you were 10 years younger? Bloodborne did strip a lot of features away, mostly because they gave easy outs to bad players. They decided to cater to people who like to become skilled at the game instead of people who want to cower behind a shield and blast overpowered spells at things.

Sackbreath
Guest

I don’t think Bloodborne is more difficult than the souls games, it just requires different tactics. I never felt that a death was a cheap death, the same principles of trial and error apply here as in the previous games. I think the reviewer is just bad. There are plenty of play styles in this game as well, a long distance spell caster is perfectly viable. When the reviewer says all u can do is melee, lolz. Get good

Anonymous
Guest

Your entire review of this game is based around other games.. that’s really not a fair shake. In almost every paragraph you mention the souls games.

HowlPendragon
Guest

So wait, are you saying that the score of 70/100 that Metacritic got was purely off of your mention of playing the game for 70 hours? Because other than that I see nothing else that mentions a score of 7/10

MatroxDeRasta
Guest
Id like to hear from you about DS2 issues because it’s not my favourite part as well. What is bad? I think that scary and emotional feeling was gone, its just started to be typical fantasy ”not dark fantasy”. Drangleic world is not that interesting,characters are boring, graphics are not impressing(it’s worse than DS) and bonfire system makes world less complitaced so its not that surprising like the previous titles. Finally i think it’s focusing too much on multi(for me). Of course it has many advantages and improvement but its still not my favourite part. What you think?(sorry about grammar… Read more »
Anonymous
Guest
Looking at the game and simply saying “It doesn’t have as much content as that one” really isn’t a fair way to review it. You rely far too much on what the previous games were, while Bloodborne feels like it’s trying to be different. It feels more like an action game than ever before, and that won’t be welcomed by everybody, but it’s certainly an improvement for the combat. The lack of content has only allowed From Software to finely tune what we have much more than they have before, too. Of course it’s a shame to see dwindling build… Read more »
Anonymous
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Dark Souls 2 will always be known/remembered as the weakest as a whole. Because it didn’t exceed the Elements of the first game,it repeats them. Which Dark Souls did better. Anyone who sticks with this game will see what a twisted, horrible masterpiece it is. Make no mistake this is actually not just another Souls game. While the mechanics are very similar, the experience of the progression is entirely different. There is nothing else that takes you on a nightmarish journey like Bloodborne. It is utterly unique in the experience it provides.

Anonymous
Guest

Miyazaki. Bloodborne core game format is closer to Demon Souls.< Which makes Bloodborne a Souls game at it's core.

Anonymous
Guest

Miyazaki the game core format is closer to Demon’s Souls. Makes it a Souls game at it’s core.

Li-Ion
Guest
Hello Anonymous, [quote=Anonymous]It is a Souls game at it’s core.[/quote] Says who? The people who made it seem to disagree with you. But what do they know? What makes a Souls game? For me a Souls game was about slowly creeping around a corner with my Shield up, playing some sort of heavily armoured archaeologist who explores a civilization that failed and has a cyclic nature to it. Bloodborne is about hunting beasts in a city undergoing a crisis that might very much undo their entire society (not more here, because: spoilers). Souls game: you visit a once living place… Read more »
xXIdleHandzXx
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After beating every boss and optional area on NG and NG+ in Dark Souls 2, my first 3 or so hours with Bloodborne was very frustrating. I almost gave up on it. I was so used to the slow play style of strafing and blocking in Souls 2 that I was too timid when I first started playing Bloodborne and got my butt handed to me in the first area over and over again. Once it finally “clicked” I haven’t been able to put the game down. I’ve beaten every boss and optional area on NG and NG+, and did… Read more »
Fuchal
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Sorry to hear that BB didn’t resonate with you as From Soft’s previous titles have. I really appreciate the other games but was woeful at them despite several attempts. Most progress I ever made was 4 bosses in Dark and 3 bosses in Demons’. Bloodborne has really opened itself up to me, for many of the same reasons you dislike it. Being forced to think quickly and weigh up the pro’s and con’s of counter attacking when taking damage; being forced to learn the gun parry early on; enemies dropping healing items has you play. All of these got me… Read more »
Anonymous
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It is a Souls game at it’s core.

Skybane
Guest
I am surprised you found this game to be more difficult. I actually found it to be a step above Dark Souls 2 but easier than the first two games. I prefer many of the things that you feel were drawbacks. It definitely sounds as though you wanted this to be more like Dark Souls than an attempt to change a few things. Opinions always make it tough for people to gauge what they may like, if only because the lower score seems to reflect that you didn’t like the changes made. However, your issues with the online portions actually… Read more »
Li-Ion
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[quote=Li-Ion]Because apart from the fact that you can grab your bloodstain […], similar button layout and that NPC don’t move their mouths while talking, there is really so much in common.[/quote]
gah, shouldn’t write replies on the way to bed, should of course read “they have really not so much in common.”

Li-Ion
Guest
[quote=Richard Naik]I fault the game for these things since there were ways to mitigate those painful points if you wanted in the previous games.[/quote] There are still ways to make the game much easier. In the early game many enemies are weak to fire. Stocking up on Molotov cocktails makes a big difference. Unlike the Souls series, there is a strong emphasis on consumables in Bloodborne. Spending blood echoes to stock up on otherwise scarce resources is a good option throughout the game, which is one of the reasons why it’s in my mind closer to horror games like Resident… Read more »
Jay
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My opinion closely echoes yours. As a Souls fan, I was let down by Bloodborne’s simple list of weapons and lackluster list of effective builds. Most of the bosses didn’t measure up to past From Software games, either.

I had some great moments during my 35 hour stay, particularly because of the excellent world design, but have no interest in ever returning. I’d rather play Dark Souls or Dark Souls 2.

Richard Naik
Guest

Highlight the end of the text 🙂

Kyle
Guest

It says you gave it a 70 on metacritic.com but I don’t see it on the review?

goatart
Guest

Also, I was only commenting on your argument (or kind-of-argument), not the overall review.

I have only just scratched the surface. If I had the same experience with playing online as you, then I too would be pretty disappointed. As it happens though I’ve been able to call forth help on one boss so far, and another player joined my session and helped show me a couple things.

I’m still as lost as a child who wanders into the middle of a movie, but that is juuuuuuust how I like it heehee.

Anonymous
Guest
Interesting take, I didn’t find the game particularly difficult outside of a couple boss battles, but even they weren’t over the top difficult. Of course, this is the first “Souls” style game I’ve played extensively since King’s Field (Which is extremely different, so I guess it’s more just a From title). One thing that I will credit NG+ mode with is how much it makes you reconsider your boss strategies, and you can really see how they were intended to be taken down. Love the absolutely ambiguous nature of the game as well, everything felt like a discovery and it… Read more »
goatart
Guest

What makes it a Souls game for you is really just what makes it a Miyazaki game, or a From game, not a Souls game. That’d be like watching Blue Velvet by Lynch and instead of saying “Oh that’s so a Lynch movie” you’d be saying “Oh that is so Lost Highway.”

Just because similarities are present (which is clear since it’s made by the same artist), does not mean that it is the same exact thing as previous efforts. Too reductive.

Richard Naik
Guest

I fault the game for these things since there were ways to mitigate those painful points if you wanted in the previous games. Without them I had a really, really tough time getting through, which is why this review is being posted a month after the game was released :p

And even with the simplified mechanics, the basics of souls/recovery/zone construction/etc. are still there, and very very Souls-like. Miyazaki can call it whatever he wants, but nothing will convince me that this is anything but a Souls game.

Li-Ion
Guest
[quote=Richard Naik]I’m well aware that I’m responsible for that rather than the game, but that’s just how I’m wired.[/quote] So, why do you fault the game for it? 😉 It’s like reviewing a racing game and giving it a low score because you just don’t like to use the brakes. Is it really the fault of the game if you just don’t want to adapt to the game mechanics? I’ve been discussing the game in various forums and one thing that struck me was how people perceived very differently what is ‘difficult’ about Bloodborne. I was cursing and swearing when… Read more »
Richard Naik
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[quote=”Li-Ion”]It seems more forgiving when I start mashing buttons in a panic and fewer attributes to worry means fewer wrong choices when levelling up.[/quote] See, that’s one of the places where the game lost me. When I panic I instinctively try to defend or back away, which is the wrong move in Bloodborne. I’m well aware that I’m responsible for that rather than the game, but that’s just how I’m wired. I really felt the game was boxing me out in those situations. [quote=”Li-Ion”]It’s quite easy to keep an enemy (with the right weapon even groups of enemies) stunlocked when… Read more »
Li-Ion
Guest
Strange to hear the main criticism being “omg the camera” and “game is too hard”. I’m not done yet with the game, I guess I’m a bit more than halfway through. But so far I found it easier than both Dark and Demon’s Souls. It seems more forgiving when I start mashing buttons in a panic and fewer attributes to worry means fewer wrong choices when levelling up. It’s also easier to keep 20 healing items around, while Estus meant that you’d only replenish 5 from a ‘fresh’ bonfire in Dark Souls, while you had to search and collect shards… Read more »