Developer: FromSoftware

Platforms: PlayStation 4

You awaken, bleary-eyed, your blood-induced sleep plagued by nightmares of lupine beasts and ghostly figures, to a run-down back room littered with books and medical equipment. A single hand-written note gives you the only hint to your purpose in the game; “Seek Paleblood to transcend the hunt”.

Thus opens From Software’s Bloodborne. And if that sounds at all ambiguous, then you’d better get used to it; Bloodborne is not a game in which the plot is hand-delivered through cutscene after expository cutscene. Instead, it is up to the player to piece together the plot, bit by bit, based on what little information they can glean from the game world and through various bits of lore associated with each item they pick up. It sounds frustrating, but FromSoftware have created a game – a whole mythos, even – so compelling that it’s hard not to get drawn in.

The events of Bloodborne take place in Yharnam, a sprawling Gothic city ravaged by a plague that infects everyone unfortunate enough to be caught outside on the Night of the Hunt. Taking up the mantle of the Hunter, it is up to you to venture through the beast-infested streets, seeking a way to end the hunt and bring about the dawn.

Bloodborne is not a game to be taken lightly. As with its spiritual ancestors, the Souls series, the difficulty is part of its draw; completing it becomes somewhat of a badge of honour. It’s a brutal game but fortunately not one that is impassable; whilst it’s remarkably easy to find your health reduced to zero after a mere few unfortunate swings of an axe, or an unlucky claw swipe, there are a number of mechanisms that FromSoftware have implemented that, once you get the hang of them, make the game a lot more fun. Eschewing the very defensive style of play from Dark Souls in which your shield is your best friend, the gameplay of Bloodborne calls for offense and agility; it encourages you to bait your enemies, ducking and dancing around them, waiting for an opportune moment to strike…it’s as much about not getting hit as it is about landing them. Taking the shield’s place is your trusty firearm, and whilst the damage it deals is laughable, a well-timed bullet can interrupt an enemy, opening them up to an extremely powerful – not to mention graphic – visceral attack. And when you do get hit – and believe me, you will – you can mitigate the damage through the rally system, whereby a narrow window opens up after you’re attacked in which you can restore some of the health lost by landing a few blows yourself – all of which make for some incredibly fun fights.

Checkpoints – taking the form of lamps, replacing the bonfires of the Souls games – are few and far between. As well as serving as the respawn point after your inevitable death, they allow you to traverse to the game’s central hub – the Hunter’s Dream – where you can spend your hard-earned currency to buy new equipment and level up your character and weaponry. It’s easy to be put off by their scarcity; there’s little more disheartening in the game than fighting your way through hordes of enemies only to fall at the last hurdle, losing all your blood echoes (the game’s currency) and having to retread your steps once more. However, here is where Bloodborne’s level design shines; fight your way through just far enough, and you’ll inevitably find a shortcut leading back to the last lamp. As you progress through Bloodborne’s story, you begin to realise how labyrinthine Yharnam really is; it’s a feat of digital architecture, interconnected in completely mind-blowing ways. It’s also utterly stunning, and the attention to detail is incredible; it’s amazing how much of Yharnam begins to make sense once the plot is laid fully laid out. Never have I seen a game world be so inextricably influenced by its own mythos.

Bloodborne is a game that isn’t for everyone, I concede. It requires a certain bloody-mindedness (pun very much intended) to commit to in order to progress through the game and unravel the story, but that just makes it all the more rewarding; it’s frustrating and exciting and terrifying all at once, and a game that’s well worth your time.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★★½

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