As South Africa enters its 21-day lockdown in order to combat the spread of the coronavirus, it has left many civilians in the isolation of their homes. Many see this as a great opportunity to spend quality time with some family and loved ones, while others cherish diving into forms of entertainment to occupy their time and pass the weeks (when not working remotely, in that case). To cushion some of the tedium, Nexus has decided to create a daily feature in which we recommend games of varying lengths and content that could pass the time. Our fifth recommendation in Lockdown Gaming asks us to seek the Paleblood... whatever that is... in Bloodborne.
I use these Lockdown Gaming features to really express my love and excitement for many of my favourite games that hopefully could help those in lockdown pass the time, but today is a very special day because I'll be talking about From Software's marvelous Bloodborne, the best game of last decade (cry not, Mass Effect 2 fans, your Lockdown Gaming day will come... probably). Taking place in the Gothic Victorian fictional city of Yharnam, Bloodborne follows a newly "baptized" hunter who is asked by a living doll and a man in a wheelchair to go out into a Purge-like night and hunt some beasts that have horrifically transformed from humans as the result of shady blood transfusions.
Bloodborne echoes the spirit of the Dark Souls series in almost every facet of gameplay, from collecting (and losing) "souls" in the form of Blood Echoes, to restarting and resetting sections of a map every time you die. And you'll be doing plenty of dying as Bloodborne is notorious for being one of the most challenging games of the generation, but I take it as From Software's signature pedigree at this point. Speaking of the developer's signature, it follows the Dark Souls tradition of featuring a great amount of creative, deadly, and bizarrely designed enemies and boss fights that confidently stand out as some of the best I've ever encountered (if Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice didn't one-up the competition in that department, that is).
If you're familiar with the structure of Dark Souls, Bloodborne more or less begins the same way. You play as nameless nobody, and after creating your character (no class system this time, but your melee weapon and gun define your playstyle initially while you hone your abilities), you're thrust head-first into the underbelly of Yharnam's infested streets. Mobs of infected villagers roam the streets, hungry werewolves leap at unsuspecting people, and decaying Gothic buildings loom overhead ominously and menacingly as you're completely unaware of the existence of enormous invisible creatures hanging on its walls without Insight. Yeah, it's a hellhole of H.P. Lovecraft's worst nightmares, but this is what gives Bloodborne its instantly recognizable aesthetic and most defining attributes.
Heavily inspired by Van Helsing and Brotherhood of the Wolf, Bloodborne's aesthetic sort of mirrors those film counterparts while creating its own unique vision for what a city ravaged by a monstrous plague might look like. Needless to say, the art direction is utterly superb and you can tell From Software had a driving ambition (and big budget, thanks to Sony's splurging) to make a video game that would withstand the test of time. Playing it now, over five years later, I was surprised to find just how well Bloodborne holds up - not just from a visual perspective, but gameplay as well.
Like the punishing Souls series, Bloodborne is no walk in the town either while you... walk in the town. Enemies will demolish the careless player, but the catch this time is you have no form of defense. Without a shield, Bloodborne forces players to rely on parrying (a very useful mechanic that you'll be glad you mastered when going into Sekiro, trust me) and quick dodges and side-steps. As a result, the gameplay is faster, more frantic, and keeps you on the edge of your toes as you constantly have to map out your spacial awareness. When it comes to the boss fights, not only do they present the most difficult and imposing challenges in the game, but also put players' attentiveness to the test with battles that force your hand on timing, dodging, parrying, and knowing exactly when to strike and when to pull back.
I can't talk about Bloodborne without mentioning the assortment of bosses (including and especially its DLC bosses). If it wasn't for Sekiro, I'd easily call Bloodborne's range of bosses the best of From Software's catalog, but that's not to understate just how amazing they all are. Sticking to the Gothic Victorian style of the game at large, Bloodborne's bosses are designed in grotesque, disturbing, and sometimes really freaking cool ways that echo the survival horror genre more than RPG. Take one of my favourite bosses, for instance, the lovely Vicar Amelia who transforms into a towering, ravenous dog-like creature that uses prayer to heal herself. Each boss fits a specific theme, and thanks to game director Hidetaka Miyazaki's fantastic insistence on lore over a straight-forward narrative, creates a legend around these beasts as opposed to just telling you their stories.
As I mentioned before, your playstyle is defined by the kind of weapons you choose in the beginning of the game. Each weapon accommodates a certain kind of style, like the Saw Cleaver is a good balance of mobility and aggression, while the Axe has far-reaching range and hits hard, but as the cost of mobility. Hands down one of the most innovative aspects of these weapons is their ability to transform. They can morph into more superior, beefed up versions of their base weapon capable of dealing greater damage or significantly extending their attack range.
All of this ties into the RPG elements that fans of Dark Souls wouldn't be unfamiliar with. Upgrading weapons requires certain materials that you must go out of your way to find in-between areas, and you can level up to throw points into a variety of attributes such as Vitality, Dexterity, and more depending on your playstyle. This astounding flexibility in how you create and control your character always adds a metric ton of replayability to From Software games. If I had but one grievance for Sekiro, is that it sorely lacked this freedom of creation and character depth, but understandably, that's not an RPG.
So why should you play Bloodborne during the lockdown? I think the more fitting question is, why should you not? It's quickly become my favourite From Software game, and always seems to be battling for attention with the first Dark Souls. Nonetheless, like Dark Souls, Bloodborne is a masterpiece and one of the finest RPGs you'll ever likely play. Unfortunately, From Software games have a notorious reputation for their difficulty and won't be for everyone - which is completely fine. However, I do still urge you to play Bloodborne if you haven't yet just to say you have dabbled in the experience. There's nothing like it out there, and I'm glad it still gets a lot of love today.
Writer. Enthusiast of all things geek. Legend has it he completed Final Fantasy VII without a memory card.
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