Review: Bloodborne

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 4 min read

Bloodborne is my current favorite game of the year. I truly love this game!

Most people correlate Bloodborne with “difficult” or “hard-as-nails”, but I think those words over-simplify what makes it a great game. Bloodborne demands more of you than most games. It’s a game that punishes you if you don’t pay attention. Case in point, there is a mechanic in the game where you collect “blood echoes” from your slain enemies. If you die, you lose all those echoes and must retrieve them from the enemy that killed you. If you don’t, those echoes are gone for good. This can sometimes be crushing, as you worked hard for those blood echoes and really need them to advance in the game. This mechanic requires you to remember how to get back to where you died (with no map of any sort), slay the enemy that bested you last time, and get back to the Hunter’s Dream to redeem those blood echoes for whatever bounty you’d like. This tests your memorization of the world’s geography as well as enemy placement. You also have to fight strategically to make it further than you did on your last play through. It’s devastating when you fail to redeem your lost echoes.

And that’s what’s so brilliant about this gameplay loop: you’re always being pushed to do a little better than before. Yes, you’re going to die a lot in this game, but the way that Bloodborne motivates you to keep doing just a little better than last time is very well done.

You get better the more you play Bloodborne. There is a leveling system, but you don’t level up nearly as fast as you do in most other games. I can spend a hefty chunk of change on upgrading my strength attribute, but the difference in game is negligible. I recall spending a few thousand blood echoes on leveling up my endurance, and my stat went from 107 to 108; basically nothing. All things told, my stats at this point in the game aren’t that different than they were when I started, but I am doing so much better than I was at the start. There are certain sections that used to be nearly impossible for me to overcome that I now blow through without much of a problem. This is all because I’m better at the game, not because my stats make killing everything in sight a breeze.

Another way Bloodborne demands you attention, is by not explaining much to you at all. In the first minutes of the game, you are given some basic instructions about how to use your light and heavy attacks, and that’s about it. The rest is up to you to learn as you play the game. Certain things like how an Oil Urn can be combined with a Molotov Cocktail to do extra damage are not explained to you in any way. You have to either go online and learn from other people, or you have to just experiment and figure out what works.

Based on my Twitter feed, some people really, really hate this game, and they hate it for all the reasons I love it. I get why dying over and over and playing the same levels over and over could be terribly annoying. I’d be lying if I denied feeling some frustration as well. Sometimes I would die for the stupidest reason, and have to sit through a terribly long load time just to have the privilege of playing the same segment of the game for the millionth time. But the satisfaction of completing a task that used to seem impossible is addictive.

Again, the best part about those runs where you kill everything in sight and make it to the boss and vanquish them, is not that you were powered up and had better stats than everyone. You did well because your skill had improved. You’re smarter, more tactful, and more patient than you were before, and that’s what it takes to win.

I read somewhere[1] that Bloodborne is the modern survival horror game, and I have to agree with that. While Resident Evil and Silent Hill owned the genre for many years, each of those series have gone off the rails and are no longer games about survival. Bloodborne is not technically a horror game, but it is full of the same emotions evoked by the survival horror games of yore. There is anticipation when walking around a new corner with no idea what foul beast may be waiting on the other side. There’s the tension of tough resource management as you only have so many molotovs, so many bullets, and so much stamina at any moment. And of course there is the frustration of dying at the hands of truly grotesque creatures in the night. I’m stressed out when playing this game, and I mean that in the nicest way possible.

As of writing this review, I have not beaten the game, so take that with a grain of salt. I’m making my way through the game as fast as I can, but I’m not an expert yet. The in-game timer says I have been playing for 7 hours, and I have only gotten past the second boss. I know the game opens up much more after this point, and I can’t wait to see what horrors are in my future.

If you want to read a review from someone who has completed the game, I suggest you check out Polygon’s or Eurogamer’s reviews.

  1. I forget where, unfortunately.  ↩