Oh God There’s Blood Everywhere – Bloodborne First Impressions

I’ve never been the kind of guy who cared much to prove himself by playing games that are “brutally hard.” For a long time, that aspect of the Dark Souls series was all I ever heard about. It always seemed like a machismo thing to me, a task for Gamer Bros (TM) whose entire personality was pouring their life into a game that wanted to kick your ass as a way to prove they were manly or whatever. This is a misunderstanding of the games perhaps, but it is a misunderstanding that I think is supported by, well, half the game’s fanbase. Over the last couple of years, though, I’ve learned that there is in fact an other half to the fanbase of these games. One that sees them not as a performative display of manliness but as a series with intricate design and fascinating lore. My conversations online with reasonable folks who enjoy these games convinced me that there are worthwhile qualities in these games that someone like myself might even enjoy exploring. It’s something I’d been pondering for awhile, but that pondering became that much stronger with the release of a little game called Elden Ring.

To say Elden Ring became a *phenomenon* early this year would be an understatement. Every podcast I listen to was talking about it, many of the bloggers and streamers I know were either playing it or considering playing it – you couldn’t turn your head without seeing something about the game. And honestly, I was liking what I was seeing and hearing. The game’s open world style apparently gave players the freedom to explore more at their own pace and a whole world of alternative activities when a particular boss or area was giving them trouble. The different builds people described all seemed cool and I loved seeing the monsters in videos my friends would share on Twitter. There was a particular one of a giant hand monster erupting from the ground and running like a spider that made me say “alright, damn it, you’ve got my attention.” But despite my interest in Elden Ring, I’ve been hesitant to bite the bullet because spending full game price on something I’m not sure I’ll enjoy is an intimidating prospect.

That’s exactly what I was asking!

Enter Bloodborne, a game I already have. Bloodborne has been on my PS4 for ages – my partner picked it up as a PS+ game, I believe, and has tried a couple different times over the years to get into the game. It seemed like a great way for me to try out the whole Soulsborne thing and see if it’s something I enjoy enough to invest in financially. A lot of people I know who love these games love Bloodborne in particular. It seems like if I am going to experience “one of these” to get an idea of whether or not the broader series is for me, this would be the one. So over the weekend I sat down, controller in hand, and began the blood ministration that would bring me to the world of Yarnham for the first time. What follows are my initial impressions of the game based on five or so hours of play.

Typically I start these articles with the basic premise of the game, but I honestly could not tell you what the hell is happening in Bloodborne. I know that I made a character who then proceeded to lay out on a stretcher in the sketchiest looking doctor’s office known to man and then woke up to a neverending nightmare. I know that I am presumably a “hunter” of some kind who – possibly as the result of the aforementioned sketchy blood transfusion – respawns whenever I am killed. I can use the power of blood to forge weapons and fire bullets, and for some reason every yokel in Yarnham with a gun and a pitchfork wants to feed me to their dog-sized crows. Add to all that the old man in a wheelchair I accidentally shot who told me to pleasure myself with a doll in the middle of a graveyard and I have absolutely no idea what the hell is happening. Bloodborne makes it apparent very quickly that the truth of the situation is something that’s going to come with time and item descriptions.

I was very concerned that this misclick had ruined my playthrough somehow.

If you’re not familiar with the core mechanic of Souls-like games, each time you defeat an enemy in combat you collect a resource you can use to buy stuff or improve your character. In Bloodborne that resource is called blood echoes. When you die, the enemy that killed you gets the blood echoes, and you have to kill them to get them back. Mess up and die again before you reclaim your stash and its gone forever. This is the concept of Soulslike titles that is most often ported into other systems, games like Hollow Knight or Unsighted or many others that have cropped up over the years. What often makes Souls stand out is the richness of the combat mechanics, the difficulty of the encounters, and the design of the world. At least, I would say that’s the case based on my limited experience, because all of those things are certainly what stand out to me compared to games I have played that borrow that core premise from Soulsborne gameplay.

Your character in Bloodborne has four weapon slots – two options for your right hand and two options for your left hand. Right hand weapons are for melee combat while left hand weapons provide a ranged option. You can also throw items like rocks or molotovs, there’s a dedicated button for healing, and your main method of avoiding harm is dodging with a backstep or a roll. When attacking with your melee weapon you’ve got a light swing and a heavy swing, the latter of which can be charged up to deliver a hefty blow that can stagger enemies if hitting them from behind. You can also transform your weapon into an alternative form, giving your attacks different properties. Choosing your weapon and its forms based on the situation and carefully managing resources like bullets and bombs all contributes to your combat prowess in the game. While the ability to find, purchase, or make other weapons seems like a feature this game will have along the way, in the beginning how you play will be pretty clearly defined by the starting gear you choose.

I built my character with a background as a sleuth or academic, which focuses your stats on skill and endurance (yes, I know). I felt it was fitting with that sort of build to choose as my first weapon the threaded cane and to accompany that cane with the pistol (I KNOW!). The cane’s main form functions like a sword, with quick and precise slashes and a thrust for the charge attack. In the second form, the threaded cane’s blade becomes a whip which has more reach and a wider range but comes out a lot slower and consumes larger amounts of stamina. As for my firearm, the pistol fires off quickly but has a very precise range – it is very, very easy to miss shots with the pistol unless you are locked on. And it took me a few hours to learn how to lock on (embarrassingly, I was clicking the wrong analog stick). Ideally, my character should be swift and precise, able to dance around foes and hit them with quick attacks to whittle down their health. The thing about Bloodborne is that in order for my character to be swift and precise, I the player have to learn to be swift and precise. It’s all a matter of execution.

As far as how that execution is going?

Well, it’s a process.

As someone who primarily plays turn-based games like JRPGs or tactics games, my actual twitch reflexes are not particularly impressive and I don’t process information quickly. I am, generously described, “methodical.” Un-generously described: I’m slow. So it’s taking a lot of failed attempts to get familiar enough with enemy attack patterns and the way my own abilities work in order to make them automatic. What I’ve learned from similar games over the years is to try to be conservative and focus on incremental progress. While I’ve not gotten particularly far into central Yarnham, as far as I can tell, I’ve raised the blood echoes to buy all of the armor and expendables currently available to me so that on my next run I can liberally throw explosives, fire bullets, and heal up in order to cover the times when my execution is a bit lacking. And there are some ways in which the game is progressing even if I’m not literally making physical progress through the game world. During a particular trip into central Yarnham I made it to a large highway-like area where two werewolf looking guys were prowling. Around that area before the wolves mauled me to death, I found enough bloodstones to upgrade my weapon’s attack power. So although I didn’t actually make it to a new lamp and unlock another fast travel point, what I did manage was to unlock a new mechanic that will hopefully help me push forward more the next time I play. Just like climbing a mountain in Celeste, you learn to see the little victories and use them to motivate you towards the bigger ones.

Embracing that attitude helped me to push through, increment by increment, until I encountered my first boss battle. Father Gascoigne is a character I heard about long before ever seeing him – my brother is a huge Bloodborne fan and had told me all about this guy. When he popped up I braced myself for a tough battle. Surprisingly during my first encounter with him I managed to get him all the way to his transformed state, but it took multiple subsequent battles to get any sort of consistency when fighting him. One technique I’ve learned from other difficult games that I’m bringing over to this one is to “sleep on it” – your brain needs time to process information and let everything settle, and coming back to a task after taking that processing time can help you get better. So when my repeated boss runs were really starting to burn me out, I took a break, played some Monster Train, came back, and well:

In the rush I got from seeing Father Gascoigne go down, it hit me what people love about games like these. There’s something powerful about going up against a force that seems insurmountable and then finally overcoming it after hard practice. Each time I went up against the boss my heart was racing, and I was fully focused on the game as I dodged, healed, shot, and slashed for my life. And the powerful rush of dopamine that hit when “prey slaughtered” hit my screen made all the struggle up to that point feel worthwhile. This article originally ended after the wolf thing a couple paragraphs ago, and in my conclusion I expressed that while I was enjoying Bloodborne so far, I needed to see whether or not the grind would feel worthwhile when I finally reached something that felt noteworthy. So when I defeated Father Gascoigne, I knew I had to come back and update the article, because I get it now. The feeling of accomplishment that comes from finally overcoming a boss feels absolutely worth the effort I put in to get there.

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