And the day has finally come! The fifth game in the Souls series, continuing on from Lords of the Fallen. This wasn’t necessarily a game that I had the highest of expectations for, other than it being good but it’s actually turned out pretty well so far. The game doesn’t leave a particularly strong first impression as you quickly discover that you can’t level up immediately and wonder as to why. A safe assumption is that killing the first boss will get you to magical level up land, but that’s not it either. Nope, at least for the majority of players dying to the first boss is what will give you the capacity to level up.
That is the game obfuscates the levelling system just to say fuck you and then when you have the capacity to level it says “hahaha dumbass, you don’t have any souls.” A lot of people accuse the Souls series of being unfair and for the most part that’s not true, but in this case it really is just being a dick for no reason. Another big mechanical thing is that locking on changes your dodges to strafes which behave completely differently than your traditional Souls roll (which is what you get when you’re not locked on). The strafing is okay in some circumstances but in general the roll is superior, thus locking on is gimping yourself in a fair number of fights, and not just because of the camera like usual. “You want to lock on? Okay then, now you can’t dodge, have fun dumbass, hahahaha.”
So, the game has some problems but it’s still a fun and interesting Soulsish experience. The first few areas seem to be a lot more linear than Dark Souls or Dark Souls II, you can explore in various directions but they all kind of go to the same places. I’m not sure if this changes later on (one would assume it does) but the game feels more like Lords of the Fallen did, which is to say you’re exploring a small environment instead of a large one.
Of course a major redeeming factor here is that there’s randomly generated dungeons, I’m not sure how random they are nor if all of them are random (there’s several different kinds) but they’re very interesting and have a different set of enemies than you find in the main game and bosses galore. I’m definitely extremely underleveled for the current boss I’m fighting in my level 3 Chalice but it’s kind of fun just knowing I have a shot at beating him.
Because there’s no shields in the game Stamina is no longer immensely overpowered. I’m sure it is still quite useful but most enemies don’t have particularly long openings for you to attack them, thus the traditional spam R1 strategy has fallen by the wayside in favor of slightly more frenetic action in which the enemies attack much faster and you… don’t really. For some reason it still works, just the pace and number of enemies you have to fight is a bit higher than what you might be used to.
Spoilers abound ahead:
To start with I died on my first character to what I assumed was a tutorial “boss” and it immediately teleported me to another area. Not to be dissuaded I made another character and bypassed that enemy, only to find out it didn’t matter at all. I didn’t die with the new character for about an hour, but randomly my PS4 went to the dashboard midfight and so ended the streak. This made me not care too much about dying for a while so I had a fair number shortly thereafter, losing a fair amount of souls in the process. Of course I had no idea what to use the souls on other than weapon upgrades since there wasn’t a way to level yet.
Eventually I made my way to every new player’s two best friends, a couple of giant wolf men (hereafter referred to as wolves); I like to call these guys Fuck You and Fuck You Too. The wolves aren’t too bad if you’re soloing them one at a time but for a fresh character they just completely annihilate you in a group and it’s fairly inconsistent luring one out at a time. Lo’ I discovered a masterful method to deal with this situation!
Yes that’s right, don’t even bother fighting them; you’ll need enough endurance to fight either the very difficult “first” boss or the not especially difficult “second.” This game also seems to have extremely long walkbacks for most fights (outside of the magnificent Chalice dungeons), which is pretty annoying in general. In Demon’s Souls usually you had a bunch of shortcuts to make it quicker but usually the shortcuts in this game just make a really long walk into a pretty long walk instead. I don’t mind a handful of long walkbacks per game but if there’s another 15-20 in store that’s going to be rough.
After I beat the first boss (who might as well be the Vanguard Demon from Demon’s Souls in difficulty level) I straight up had no idea where to go, having exhausted what I thought were all my options. Thus I was about to use the magical mini guide pages I got for pre ordering for some reason, but I had a better idea, which was to summon assistance. One gigantic, amazing, game of the year improvement this game has over Dark Souls II is that the online actually works at my house!
Wow. So I summoned a buddy into the area where the first boss was already dead, baffled my newfound companion slowly followed me around as I eventually meandered my way to finding the correct path (oh but it was down this nebulous identical pathway!). Another summon joined us and we went on to fight the second boss. Wait a minute fuck that shit, I quit to the main menu midfight. To summon help in this game you ring a bell and it costs you 1 influence (I believe you get 3 for killing each boss and 1 for discovering each boss), but in turn I’m pretty sure you can just get infinite summons until you die or kill the boss; which is neat.
The second boss actually got me once on my brute forcing attempt, then I parried the shit out of him and he went down pretty quick. Near the beginning of the game you get to choose a weapon and a gun for yourself, so naturally I went down the Axe and Shotgun route. And of course this boss had the exact same weapon layout demonstrating my deep understanding of the Souls series. After this I was finally “locked in” as it were and didn’t die for quite a while.
Each area in Bloodborne is reasonably sizable to this point and the next area is no exception. Descending into “Old Yarnham” is actually fairly refreshing after having cramped quarters for most of the first parts of the game. Now you get a large, vertical and expansive section in which you have to take cover from a gatling gun. Fret not, it isn’t as bad as it sounds and there’s creative ways of dealing with the enemies in this area. One thing to note is that this area has “Crystal Lizards” which are now basically just regular ass enemies that run away and disappear; they don’t sparkle or make a sound effect and often tend to lead you toward hidden pathways. This area is probably the first point where I just started enjoying myself immensely and adjusted to the new systems (other than parrying) more effectively.
The boss of this area was fairly easy, until it reached its enraging point and completely murdered me a few times. I wouldn’t mind if the rest of the fight was the same difficulty level but it really forces you to backload your resource management which can get pretty annoying. “Gold Pine Resin” as it were makes an appearance here and naturally if you take too many attempts you lose that potential advantage. After this I received a Chalice, aka the reason why this game is great.
I took a short break but was quickly enthralled by the wonderful design of these smaller, bite sized areas that still had challenging sections and potentially very difficult boss fights (perhaps I’m a little low level to be doing this). The layout of the rooms is very similar to something like The Binding of Isaac, perhaps showing some direct roguelike influence; but the rooms have quite varied enemies and much different hazards than the rest of the game to this point. Don’t worry too much about overlevelling here, just have fun exploring as you won’t get a ton of souls so doing, instead you’ll get more chalice materials and upgrade materials. At some point I’m sure most players will reach a brick wall in terms of progression and have to continue with the main game, but Chalice Dungeons seem like they’re a fantastic diversion.
I don’t mean to sound overly down on the game, it’s really good but things like having to farm for items and 2 loading screens for fast travel (I don’t care that much about the times in and of themselves) are a bit of a bummer. One thing to note is that you should absolutely try to write good or humorous messages as you get healed when your messages get a “fine” vote, which can be a really huge deal if you’re low on healing or even if you’re conserving healing for a future fight.
Wolf – 1
Random Dashboard – 1
Wolf Guy – 1
Generic Guys – 1
Spazzy Guy - 1
Black Knight Equivalent - 2
Cleric Beast – 3
Father Gascoigne – 1
Blood Starved Beast – 4
Chalice Floor 1 – 5
Chalice Floor 2 – 5Chalice Floor 3 - 7