Bloodborne is the latest game from the Japanese developer, and once again we go beyond death. We play as a traveller searching the ancient town Yharnam for a cure to a deadly disease, only to find the place has turned into a hellish nightmare. Most of its residents have transformed into horrible beasts that stalk the streets, altered into killing machines through exposure to cursed blood. The town's church has sent out its hunters to clear the town of this blight, killing indiscriminately. Madness grips this world.
Beast-hunting requires practice and skill, but your choice of weapon is all-important. The hunter combats all forms of evil, and thus they must be prepared for any eventuality. For this reason, the local artisans have created a range of killing tools than can tackle any threat.
Ludwig's Holy Blade is the perfect example. It works as a nimble sword, keeping weaker enemies at a distance and offering some breathing room. Yet with a button tap it can be transformed into a massive blade which can cut tougher opponents in half. While the weapon count has dropped when compared to the Souls titles, what's on offer is more unique, and using rare blood gems can refine and increase their deadliness. There's a similar forging system to that found in Dark Souls, though Bloodborne's redesign makes using it much simpler.
The new ranged weapons change the combat system to such an extent that we have to unlearn what we know and start again. Attack is the best form of defence and by using valuable silver bullets we can disrupt enemy attacks... though as you'd imagine from From Software, things aren't that simple.
The shot must be taken from close range and the timing perfect, and even then there is no guarantee of success. However, taking a hit after missing a shot isn't a sign of failure because of the new Regain system. You've a five-second window from taking damage before your body absorbs it. If you can touch the spilled blood of your enemy within that space of time, your body's healed. Courageous acts then, are rewarded.
Bloodborne is a spectacle for fans of bloody action. Down a particularly large enemy, and blood will rain from the sky, coating the floor, walls, and your person. These violent encounters with bosses are the highlights of the game, the creatures often filling the entire screen. But as with every other enemy, each has a weak point that'll serve up critical damage.
The weak point won't be immediately apparent. And attacking your prey only makes it angrier. The more damage inflicted on the enemy, the more aggressively it fights. When it starts getting desperate, it'll develop new attacks and special abilities, making battles even harder. Fights must be approached with patience, with plenty of dodging while still chipping away in attack until the gap in its defence appears.
In Bloodborne, enemies that have robbed our corpses can be spotted via their glowing blue eyes, and we've one life cycle to reclaim our dropped experience, or else it's gone forever. Incidentally, healing items are no longer restocked, and additional items of this kind are rare.
In many ways, From Software returns to its roots with Bloodborne. There's a tighter world design. There are shortcuts and secret paths everywhere, though you have to fight to earn them. Demon's Souls had a central hub that took us to different worlds - here it's called the Hunter's Dream; a safe oasis in the middle of a besieged city.
There are clearer lines of communication between developer and player this time around. Instructions and warnings are more obviously signposted, while background info can be discovered that'll outline exactly what's happening. In addition, side quests are now easier to understand, even if the rewards don't quite match the challenge. One such quest had us passing on a deceased mother's jewel to her daughter, our only prize being the awful feeling of watching the girl break down in tears.
Bloodborne's aesthetic is dirty, mysterious. The city is creepily atmospheric, its design making us almost feel that we're wandering a real place. Though there is that disappointing disconnect when we easily spot lower textured areas that aren't built for player exploration. You'll also see some texture loads if you rush through the streets, and there's some long loading times.
We've been spoilt with the score; orchestral music sweeps in during epic clashes, and on spotting a particularly dangerous beast, a vocal choir cuts in to forewarn us of the danger ahead. Such cues get the blood pumping.
In addition, we're gifted with a new game mode. The new Chalice Dungeons allow us to delve into randomly generated areas to decrypt the last secrets of this world. Each dungeon has several levels and is continually demanding. Although the dungeons are not directly related to the story, they differ little from the rest of the game. There are deadly traps, monsters, and brutal bosses - everything as usual then.
The level structure is different every time we create a new dungeon, but we can also share our favourites with other players and even search online for more. Along with the New Game+, the Dungeon mode offers plenty of additional play time, and once the day one patch is installed, you can invite other hunters into your dungeon.
To sum up: Bloodborne brings together some of the strongest elements of the Souls series while adding to the formula with its own ideas and unique style. The gameplay is as demanding as ever and the new dungeon mode just adds more content. The game's more accessible in some places, that's true, but this is only so new players will be able join the hunt. To say it's easier, or even more welcoming, would be wrong. This is the best action-RPG made by From Software's to date.