Quest Board is our answer to the Let’s Play genre, and in this series we’ll be documenting our first playthrough of one of the PS4’s most intriguing exclusives.
Bloodborne (2015), the Souls Series’ over-achieving little brother, has the same timeless quality as its siblings – those first steps into Yharnam feel oh-so-mysterious, and yet the world is steeped in nostalgia; a sure sign that the FromSoftware formula is a winning one.
The journey begins with the familiar character creation screen, which tasks players with the monumental task of chiselling out a protagonist from the swathe of monstrosities the game has stored as presets. Once done, you’re then expected to choose from one of nine obscure character classes, differentiated by flavour-text and nigh-on-unintelligible stats. There’s depth there for those that want it, but those less discerning can feel free to pick the seemingly feckless ‘Milquetoast’ or ‘Waste of Skin’ classes – after all, trial-and-error is key here.
Tonally and aesthetically, the world of Bloodborne is strongly reminiscent of Lordran (the setting of Dark Souls I, II and III), and – like most younger-siblings – it has clearly had access to an abundance of hand-me-downs. Fortunately, however, there’s more than enough to differentiate it from the previous titles. For one, there’s no block mechanic to see you through the unforgiving combat – so far as I can tell(!) – and fights are consequently somewhat punchier.
In place of a shield, players have a choice of firearms to equip in their off-hand, with which they can stun the host of foul beasties they must do battle with. The fact that aged-firearms such as pistols and blunderbusses form part of hunters’ arsenals is a sign that – whilst there’s clearly an overlap in terms of the fantasy which marinates the lore – Bloodborne is set in an entirely different era to the Souls series.
Whilst Yharnam is seemingly more populous than Lordran, roaming the world is no less solitary an experience; early on, players will come across several homes occupied by faceless citizens of the realm, but will find the doors held firmly shut. If you’re lucky, though, the occupants might – through charming diatribes – evince their distrust and misliking of your character, and Hunters in general.
In very, very general terms, the lore in Bloodborne revolves around a practice of imbibing blood as a means of healing. This practice has historically been prevalent in Yharnam, and has the nasty side-effect (in some, if not all) of corrupting users, and transforming them into beasts… beasts born of blood, geddit? Predictably then, the Hunters’ vocation – and by extension the objective of our ill-fated protagonist – is to, well, hunt these beasts. From a gameplay point of view, this translates into a formula essentially identical to that in Dark Souls: you’ll find yourself roaming from area to area, almost on a whim, in search of the next inexplicably brutal boss encounter.
In Bloodborne, FromSoftware has once again exhibited their trademark, chaotic approach to world design: to say the world map is labyrinthine is to criminally understate the situation. The game seemingly delights in putting the player’s sense of direction to the test; and, if you’re anything like me, you will be judged and you will be found wanting. There were times that I felt as though I was aimlessly traversing a nihilistic Rubiks cube; however, after a good amount of cursing, dead-ends, and wrong turns, I was eventually able to find the first boss – Father Gascgoine.
Gascgoine, like the player character, is (or was) a hunter of beasts; however, perhaps as a cautionary tale – or as foreshadowing – having lived a bleak, and somewhat tragic life, he’s become completely unhinged. This becomes clear not only through his crazed dialogue, but by his mid-fight transformation into a bulging, Lovecraftian horror.
Having survived the Souls games, I thought Bloodborne would be fairly manageable once I’d succeeded in shaking off the cobwebs, but unfortunately this process took far longer than anticipated; the rust was very much still showing as I dispatched the Father at the 3rd time of asking. You can watch our very scrappy battle below:
Almost immediately after this far-from-convincing victory, I managed to claw back some small semblance of dignity as I cut down the ‘Cleric Beast’ on the first encounter – though, having played Dark Souls, it felt much more like an optional boss than a boss proper; a gut feeling which a swift, post-fight Google search confirmed: there are apparently 11 Bosses, 6 ‘Great Ones’, and 21 ‘Chalice Dungeon’ Bosses (your guess is as good as mine).
A lot is made of the difficulty level in FromSoftware’s games, and they can no doubt be very unforgiving, but I’ve always found that it’s easy enough to stack the odds in your favour by doing some tactical blood echo (read: XP) farming. Sometimes this can feel a little cheap, as enemies don’t respawn unless you step out into the ‘Hunter’s Dream’ – via one of the lanterns which have replaced bonfires – and then return to the world; but in a world as implacably hostile as Yharnam, you’ll want to exploit every angle.
The combat in Bloodborne is a little more fast-paced than in Dark Souls – certainly when compared with I and III – and, if nothing else, farming gives the opportunity of honing one’s skill. For example, if players take damage, there is a small window in which lost-hit points can be regained by dealing damage. Rather than trying to find a safe moment to imbibe a cheeky blood vial (read: health potion), you’ll find yourself anxiously awaiting the split-second break in which you can land a hit or two; it’s a subtle but effective way of encouraging a more offensive style of play.
With all that said, skill will only carry you so far, as enemies can – and will – blindside you time and again, killing you dead in the most baffling and unfair ways. For example, the third boss fight – with the Blood-Starved Beast – made for some very frustrating early fails on my part. In truth it is a fairly easy fight, but the beast’s toxic miasma can make it a very frustrating one.
It wasn’t until I entered Old Yharnam – a town overrun by beasts, and consequently abandoned – that I finally started to get into the swing of things, and began to pick up the combat mechanics as well as a vague sense for the lore. The religious offices held by the first bosses – ‘Father’ and ‘Cleric’ – reflect the fact that the Church is tied to the practice of blood-healing; it’s appropriately called ‘the Healing Church’ throughout, and very much does what it says on the old tin.
Whilst merrily pondering the significance of the church, I entered an abandoned building and encountered what appeared to be a rabid dog, adorned in the inverted skins of its flayed enemies. I’d say its bark was worse than its bite, but its bite was poison – and this proved to be the most frustrating thing of all.
At one point in our scrap – battered, bruised, and very near to victory – I hid behind a huge stone pillar to slurp some antidote, along with a tasty blood vial to increase my health. I was perhaps three or four clean hits away from killing the beast, but apparently the cover I’d chosen wasn’t nearly secure enough… I was snatched up – seemingly through the solid stone – and the beast ravaged me in its grotesque maw, before spitting me out onto the unfeeling stone, bloodied and very, very dead.
The footage that follows then, is far from my first attempt at fighting the beast. You may notice that at the start I mindlessly throw a load of firebombs, few of which actually hit him… I am not proud of it guys, but I hope you can understand that these were the desperate actions of a broken soul.