Right now, the gaming world is in a state of nervous excitement. If you’ve played and love any of FROM Software’s Souls series, then Bloodborne is the only game you care about right now – hell, it’s probably the reason some of you bought a PS4 recently, right? Well, after playing the opening hour of Bloodborne, I cannot wait to play more.
It’s clear right away that FROM haven’t suddently forgotten the Souls series. Numerous mechanics return (albeit tagged with different names here), but there are some changes that, although they may seem slight, actually impact how you play in dramatic ways.
From the off, Bloodborne feels somewhat darker, more cinematic. While it still doesn’t hold your hand, it at least gives some form of context for what’s happening, if not why. You awake on a hospital bed, and are told that in order to have a blood transfusion, you need to sign a contract. This is FROM’s way of getting you to create a character, basically, and I chose the Mr. Average of the bunch. A cut-scene plays, which I won’t spoil here, and you awaken in the same dilapidated “hospital” area, quickly meeting your first enemy. As usual, you’re unarmed and this is a way of teaching you that death is part of playing. That said, I reckon you can take this enemy, and I can already see the speed-runs in my head for Bloodborne, sans-weapon. You crazy, future people, you.
But I did die. Of course I bloody did. Awaking (again) in a hazy, dream-like area, you get your first weapon, and find tutorial messages which explain the basics, before returning to Yharnam to start the game proper.
A quick note about Yharnam, actually: it’s hugely atmospheric. The Souls architecture has always been fascinating, but my first hour in Yharnam felt on a different level. Sprawling and open to exploration, I found a ladder and started encountering enemies.
In the Souls games, I would often walk around with my shield permanently raised. You know something is going to attack you, so you become a defensive, patient player. The shield is a vital component in how you play: it’s your way of coping. “They can’t kill me straight away, I have a shield!”.
Bloodborne doesn’t let you do this. At all.
It might seem small, but this drastically changes the entire focus of the gameplay. You cannot be a shrinking violet any more. No, you must go on the attack; you’ve got to be aggressive. If some pitchfork wielding maniac is coming at you, it’s fight or flight time. In this early section of the game, running away is an option, but the enemies seem so high in number that the smarter choice is to keep a cool head and end them, violently. Crimson will flash from them as they drop, which seems to add to the overall feeling that this is a more mature game.
Progressing through the region, the enemies appear more varied than usual. While they’re obviously the “base” grunts of the game, they don’t all look identical. Some attack with furious flurries, while others almost stalk you, Terminator 2-like, with pitchforks. Approaching what can only be described as a terrifying bonfire surrounded by a ridiculous amount of enemies and a loud, constant banging, I quickly remembered that you don’t always have to kill every enemy. But I wanted to. So I died.
Here, I noticed another significant change. As usual, you lose all your souls (this time called “Blood Echoes”) and have to traipse back to the place you died to reclaim them. Only FROM have taken this idea to another level, because now, an enemy can pick them up and walk away with them. Bastards. Thankfully this can actually work in your favour, as I found mine near a lantern (bonfire’s are now lanterns) – you can tell which enemy has them, because their eyes glow white.
Anyway, second time round, I snuck quietly up behind them, quickly taking out a few that were in my way, and continued approaching the banging noise with a sense of foreboding terror. Oh my, this is a big boy, and he’s banging on the door to try and get to those villager-types by that bonfire. “I’ll just leave him be”, I say to myself, out loud (FROM-games do things to me) and continue in the labyrinthine darkness that is Yharnam, only to find more enemies blocking my path, who (thanks a lot) alert big-dude to my presence.
I manage to get rid of the grunts and it’s just mano-a-mano with Captain Large. These moments are the ones that define your play style. A new enemy is in front of you, and you have no idea how he’ll attack, or if you can even hurt him – until you try, that is. I defeat him. The elation is the biggest I’ve felt in a game in 2015 so far. Fucking hell, FROM, you magnificent bastards.
I died later, of course, at the hand of a four legged beast, and I try again, and defeat both of them. That’s the thing, you see: Bloodborne and the games that precede it are only punishing if you take them for granted. Here, you need to be more pro-active. Here, you need to be aggressive. There’s so much I’ve barely touched on, even just from an hour’s play, but I don’t want to risk ruining your first 60 minutes. I’ve not mentioned the fact your weapon can be adjusted to change up your range (crowd control), or the parry system your sidearm makes possible.
It’s incredible what the seemingly small changes have done. From trepidation to jubilation, from shield up to balls out – I cannot wait to get back to Yharnam, because if this opening hour is anything to go by, we’re all in for a huge treat.