(This article contains mild spoilers for Bloodborne’s early section)
I was wrong.
If anyone knows me, these are words I don’t say often and don’t take lightly. It’s not because I refuse to admit it, it’s because of two things. I try to be as informed as possible about any topic I am discussing, and the other is because I know myself. Really well, in fact. So if I think I won’t enjoy something, I’m usually correct. Or at least, I used to be.
That all changed just over a week ago.
In order for me to explain how this, and I don’t want to understate it, life-changing experience happened to me, I need to go back some time. It was early 2011 and I was listening to the Giant Bombcast and Vinny was talking about his time with Demon’s Souls. It sounded like just about the most unappealing gaming experience ever – obtuse and difficult to masochistic levels – just not something I had any interest in.
Fast forward to the release of Dark Souls, the spiritual successor of Demon’s Souls which took all of the same concepts, design and mechanic obfuscation and put them into this new game. Again, nothing at all that I would want to play.
At this point, “Souls” and “From” are almost genres in and of themselves – hard, obtuse, punishingly difficult. I would never begrudge anyone from playing those types of games, but I was surely not going to be among the Souls/From elite. I have always said I play games for fun. Sure I like a challenge, but challenging and frustrating are two completely different things. I don’t do frustrating for my leisure activities, thank you very much.
Which brings us to Bloodborne. The PS4 exclusive that, by all previous accounts, was intended to be yet another entry into the Souls/From “genre.” Another “spiritual successor,” if you will (and for those keeping count, since 2009, Demon’s Souls now has 2 spiritual successors). Naturally, since I had zero interest in playing the previous three Souls games, Bloodborne quickly fell off my radar. In September, 2014, I played the demo for Bloodborne at an event Sony had attended with a minibooth. Not really sure what I was doing, I wandered aimlessly around a Victorian setting in my (then) nameless, premade character, hacking up men who were trying to kill me. I mashed the attack button until bad guys were dead. It hardly felt inspired and is one of my least favorite forms of combat in games. So I killed everyone in my path, rather quickly. That is, until one of them hit me twice and I fell over to be greated with a screen that said “YOU HAVE DIED.”
“OK, that’s good enough for me,” I thought. I placed the controller down and didn’t really think about the game again until/unless, it came up in conversation and someone asked me what I thought. To that I would simply reply, “It’s a bit too hack and slash for me.”
So with Bloodborne relatively out of my consciousness, I noticed a hole in my Gamefly Que for the month of March. I had one game in it for the month and nothing else (the game was Battlefield Hardline, for those inquisitive types). So, in the interest of being informed, I decided to add Bloodborne to my Que. It arrived while I was still playing Hardline and it say on my entertainment stand for about 2 days before I finally started it up.
Prior to playing the game, I was making friendly wagers regarding how long it would take for me to eject the game and send it back. The replies were anywhere from 3-6 hours, all the way to 12. Personally, I had myself at around 1-2 hours. I was basically psyching myself up to dislike the game.
When the time came to begin playing, I did so with a challenge issued to the game itself.
“OK, Bloodborne. Let’s see how long it takes for you to break me.”
Except a funny thing happened. It never did.
As a long time fan of RPGs, the concept of grinding is one I have fully come to embrace. I have no issue playing in the same area of a game, over and over, just to earn money or XP. With that in mind, I set about the first area of Bloodborne, Central Yharnam, with my goal being to explore and gain as much knowledge and Bloodechoes (the game’s currency, so to speak) as possible.
I made it as far as the second room in the initial starting zone before a werewolf kicked my ass to death. Mind you, I was completely unarmed and staggeringly ill-prepared to take on anything in the first few minutes of the game. So, most appropriately, I died. And the game made sue to tell me in the most dramatic fashion with “You Died” in blood read, spelled out across my 47” LCD screen.
I awoke in what is known as “Hunter’s Dream.” The central hub world for the game – a safe zone, if you will – that would serve as my HQ and where I could stock up on items, buy new gear and weapons and eventually level up.
First I needed a weapon. Something the game provided for free by giving me one via the “Messengers.”
Then, I needed armor. Again, the game provided it for me.
Finally equipped and ready for battle, I visited the Tombstone that would teleport me back to the Hunter’s Lamp. OK, so a tombstone is required to send me back to Yharnam.
Back in Yharnam, I came immediately across the werewolf that felled me. And I kicked its ass.
Making my way down the street, I saw a man with his back to me. This was in the demo I played back in September of 2014 so I was prepared for him and what was next, which was a group of men walking down th street. This gave me a bit of challenge as I learned about dodging and striking or shooting during their attack animations to interrupt them and take them down.
Ok, those guys are down. What’s next?
How about this giant dude with an axe? Oh, you can kill me in two hits? Nope. But I’ll be back for you later.
A few more enemies and I came across what was, at this early stage of the game, a seemingly insurmountable challenge. About 10 or so enemies standing around a bonfire. Needless to say, I got wrecked. Again and again.
Then I finally started luring them away, one by one. Like Jason Voorhees I would get them alone and slash each and everyone to death. Then I learned how to avoid the “snipers” and the dog, finally getting past the area only to walk through the archway and see a behemoth of an enemy. I was now regretting my decision to not cash in my Bloodechoes. Sure it was only around 4,000, but at that time, it was a small fortune.
He hasn’t seen me, I’ll just go around him and explore a bit.
I came across some crows on the ground that seemed harmless, and in all honesty, they were. A few quick swipes from my Saw Cleaver and down they went. With these measly pests out of my way, I move on to the next area.
Or at least I try to.
That behemoth, I mentioned earlier? Well, he’s no longer pounding the barred door. Nope, he’s actually headed right towards me. I lock on, wait for his attack, shooting in the face and shove my fist into his chest with a visceral attack.
It’s right about here where I started to feel awesome.
Feeling a bit more confident after slaughtering a mass amount of enemies, I find the greatest thing in the game up to that point – a shortcut. I am not kidding in the slightest when I say the feeling I get when I find a shortcut one of elation. Now I can circumvent mass amounts of enemies by just taking this short cut back to where I was before I found it.
I return from Hunter’s Dream with max molotov cocktails and bloodvials, ready to explore some more. Before I know it, I’m face to face with the first boss of my playthrough: The Cleric Beast.
“Here we go,” I say to myself, firmly believing that this is where I truly hit my first wall. Where the difficulty truly rears its ugly head and makes me its bitch. Where I decide, I’ve had enough and this game is going right back to Gamefly.
Except the oddest thing happened. I whooped The Cleric Beast’s ass on my first attempt. In fact, all of the bosses save for two (at the time of this writing I have 2 more in the story) had me attempt more them more than 1- 3 times.
For those not in the know, Bloodborne does suffer and odd “bug” of sorts in which if the game is left running for more than 12 hours, it would cause a memory leak which would make the boss AI inredibly dumb. They won’t use more than a few attacks and rarely use their special attacks or magic. I want to assure you, I made sure not to use this glitch. I would completely shutdown the application when going to sleep and even right before new boss encounters. I wanted to make sure that I was meeting the game on its own terms and difficulty so that every fight was fair.
I wanted to earn it.
Beyond the boss fights, Bloodborne has a wealth of secrets to be discovered through diligent exploration and taking chances. Venturing, cautiously, into new and uncharted areas is one of the biggest thrills in the game. It’s a huge, connected, and expansive world, rich with detail and atmosphere. Each new area offers new, challenging enemies and with them new feelings of accomplishments.
So now I am at the end game. I’ve gone through 2 and half chalice dungeons – which have their own, unique boss fights by the way – and I’m looking forward to playing on New Game +. That’s right, I want to do it all over again. Immediately. This game is that damn good.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I went back to that giant axe dude who downed me in two hits and kicked his ass. Repeatedly. Just because I could.
Damn, I really love this game.