Rituals and Labyrinths and Hellbeasts, Oh My!

Last week I started my journey through Bloodborne, a celebrated game by From Software in which you play a hunter fighting to…uh, honestly I don’t know what I’m trying to do yet. But I do know that I am steadily exploring the land of Yarnham and slaughtering hordes of monsters along the way. In typical Souls style, Bloodborne’s fights are brutal throwdowns against powerful foes who can only be overcome through consistent practice and perseverance. I’ve made a decent chunk of progress since my fight against Father Gascoigne last week, and along the way I’ve unlocked new mechanics of the game as well as experiencing other mechanics a little more fully.

As a brief overview of where I have been at this point, after defeating Father Gascoigne I made my way into a cathedral from which I had two paths forward. The path I took led me to Old Yarnham, a segment of the community blocked off completely from civilians and left to the devices of the monsters of the hunt. There I was accosted by a hunter with a Gatling gun whose shots I had to avoid while fighting multiple enemies and moving between safe points until I could climb the building where the hunter was firing from. That was my next big roadblock, as it took a few tries to figure out how to get to the roof and then a few more tries to defeat the hunter. After that, I did some more exploring and discovered an old church that was guarded by a blood-devouring beast, my second boss. Or well, third – while gathering consumables for one of my runs against the hunter, I found the Cleric Beast along a bridge in an area I had already explored but missed one or two side paths.

The blood-devouring beast served as my next big roadblock. Although I could fight it with the help of an old hunter named Alfred, the beast had an attack that was a one-hit kill if I got caught in it. This meant that I would get about three-quarters if the way through the battle and then get scooped up and murdered without so much as a how-do-ya-do. The beast also had a poison factor that would force me to spend extra time healing with antidotes if I took too many hits in a row. However, if I played too defensively, Alfred would die instead and leave me alone against the aggressive beast. I had to find a good balance of pressing the offensive to support Alfred while also staying out of the way enough not to get taken out by the one hit KO. It took around eight tries, I think, but I finally managed to take out the beast and unlock the ability to explore chalice dungeons, as well as earning enough blood echoes to open the path to the church workshop and fight the enemies off in that direction.

After that there was something of an unexpected development – I was killed by a monster who hauled me off to some kind of prison, separating me temporarily from the Hunter’s Dream which serves as my home base. While trying to find a way out of there, I encountered another massive boss who I promptly decided to ignore in favor of trying to find my way back to base; my weapon was on its last legs, and I would have a serious problem if I got stuck here without a viable form of attack. Thankfully I made it back and was able to try out a chalice dungeon. I didn’t want to spend too much time on optional content, though, so I made my way back to the church and started exploring the paths I hadn’t taken before, which is about where I am at the time of writing.

I’ve experienced quite a bit new in that time, so let’s take a bit to explore what all I’ve encountered at this point. One thing I didn’t talk about much last time was the more advanced techniques for combat, in particular visceral attacks. A visceral attack is essentially a critical hit, but rather than taking place randomly you earn them for attacking in certain ways. Using a charged attack against an enemy’s back or shooting them when they are winding up their attack can stagger the foe, which then allows a visceral attack that deals big damage if you follow up quickly enough. Being able to reliably set up and execute visceral attacks is an important technique in Bloodborne, so I’ve been trying to practice and be more attentive to openings and how to earn them. I’ve gotten decent at the pistol setup but staggering with a charged attack is still something I have to work on nailing consistently. In my defense, some of these eldritch horrors do not have an easily identifiable “back” to stab.

As I’ve explored and made progress I’ve started to discover new weapon options for my character. Your character can hold one weapon each in their right and left hands. Right handed weapons are your primary weapons while left handed weapons are support weapons, adding a ranged option or providing defense. I started with a threaded cane and pistol and have since discovered the kirkhammer, a holy sword, shields, and the torch. I’ve played around a bit with my secondary weapon; I wasn’t too impressed with the shield but find the torch useful as some foes cower from it or leave an opening after being burned with it. Plus the torch’s light is great for actually seeing where the hell I am going when exploring the game’s dingy, brown world. My primary weapon, though, has remained the same all this time, as the threaded cane is still currently the only weapon available to me that makes sense for my character’s build.

While skill more than stats influences your success in Bloodborne, stats do matter and affect the game. Your character has two meters tied to stats – vitality (health) and endurance (stamina) – as well as various stats that affect your damage and what weapons you can wield. Strength modifies heavy weapons while skill improves technical weapons. Bloodtinge influences the power of firearms, and there’s an arcane stat that influences magical weapons as well as your chances of discovering items on enemies. My build is skill-focused, meaning I can wield weapons that require high skill and deal more damage with technical weapons, like the threaded cane. Since neither the kirkhammer nor the holy sword are skill-based weapons, I can’t even equip them without taking time to level up my strength. And doing that isn’t necessarily a smart use of my levels, which get more expensive every time you spend blood echoes to buy them.

Fortunately, changing weapons isn’t the only way to make your attacks more powerful. Weapons can be upgraded in a couple of different ways. One is to fortify them, which uses items called bloodstone shards to give your weapon higher damage and durability as well as expanding the number of slots they have available to slot the second tool for improving your weapons, full bloodstones. Slotting these bloodstones into a weapon makes improvements depending on the stone you choose. These stones can improve damage, decrease stamina costs, or impart other useful benefits when equipped to your weapon. And because these improvements are tied to items in your inventory and not solely dependent on blood echoes, once you get the stuff you need to improve a weapon you don’t have to worry about losing it.

Souls titles are famously hard, and one tool I have found helpful in motivating me through is finding little checkpoints like what I just described. “Okay maybe I didn’t make Progress(TM), but now I have enough bloodstone shards for my next upgrade. Nice!” Thinking of each attempt at a particular area or a difficult boss in this way has been helpful in reducing discouragement. This is helped along by the fact that Yarnham is littered with shortcuts; a great measure of progress is pushing through far enough to find a shortcut back to where you started or to a safer area you’ve already cleared. There are also certain enemies that, once cleared out, stay gone, and their absence is felt in the future exploration of that region. Taking out the Gatling gun hunter I mentioned earlier for example was rewarding not necessarily for the glory of the battle itself (which I won in an admittedly cheesy fashion) but rather in being able to move about freely without a rain of bullets chasing me all over the region.

Additionally, while Bloodborne may not have the same vast openness celebrated in Elden Ring, I have found generally that there’s often somewhere else you can go if you need a break from an area that’s giving you trouble. This appears to be becoming more true the more I progress into the game, as well. I described earlier that I found the path into Old Yarnham after leaving the cathedral. As it turns out, once I defeated that and continued exploring, there was quite a bit to see and experience that I could have reached the whole time! I had been dealing with the blood-devouring beast and just never made an effort to walk in that direction. By the time I stopped playing, I still had exploring to do around the cathedral as well as a chalice dungeon to finish. Plus the weird prison I was dragged to and its lightning-covered boss. I don’t know the “right” way to go per se, but being able to jump between these areas when I get tired of one is a nice way to inject some variety in my play experience and to gather resources I can then use to push past my current roadblock.

I’m continuing to enjoy Bloodborne and the challenges it has to offer. I’m hoping as I move forward that I’ll have plenty of new discoveries to keep me motivated. I’d like some new skill weapons to try out as well as getting some additional opportunities to dig into the lore of the setting by encountering more characters who aren’t giant monsters that want me to die. I know what challenges loom ahead next on my path and it seems that the game will continue to grow and serve me with new challenges as I progress further into the world of Yarnham. Whether more rituals, labyrinths, or hellbeasts await, I’m excited to see what Bloodborne has for me next.

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