Exclusive titles are the cornerstone that great consoles are built. If you don’t have great games to play, you lose your competitive edge and you fall behind. Uncharted put the PlayStation 3 into the “must-own” category, Halo made the Xbox 360 great and we now sit in the period of time where the PlayStation 4 needs to give the gamers that are still on the fence a reason to come to the Sony side of the yard. With that premise in mind, Sony approached From Software, the developers of the Dark Souls franchise, to create a new intellectual property for the new PlayStation 4. The team accepted and fast-forward to today where we have Bloodborne to show for that new IP agreement. Bloodborne is an RPG in the same vein as Dark Souls and while the Victorian Steampunk setting is a lot to get excited about, it just doesn’t manage to wash that “should have been Dark Souls 3” flavor out of your mouth. Whether or not that is a bad thing is really up to the gamer to decide.
When starting Bloodborne, you are tasked with setting up a character and getting thrusted into the world of Yharnam. Yharnam is a ruined city that holds a powerful medicine that can cure any ailment. You just happen to be suffering from an incurable ailment and the only hope of living past this ailment is a pilgrimage to Yharnam. However, Yharnam is filled with creatures and foes looking to stop you at every corner. It is up to you to find the medicine and cure yourself of the thing that is killing you while solving the mystery surrounding the curious city of Yharnam.
Visually, Bloodborne looks great for the most part. The game plays well and the environment and character models are very detailed. However, some of the cutscenes look a little outdated and look like they may have been destined for the PlayStation 3. Especially in the beginning of the game, the difference between some of the low quality cutscenes and the high detailed look of the world itself can be slightly jarring. Luckily, it doesn’t really effect your enjoyment of the game since you spend most of your time in the over-world and not watching cutscenes. This really feels like a nitpick when you are faced with the beauty of the game, it is just worth mentioning.
As you can tell from the story, Bloodborne is a very interesting game. It combines a dark, hardcore style RPG with a steampunk setting that creates a unique mix of atmosphere and character. However, for as interesting as the premise sounds, this game is unmistakably Dark Souls with a new coat of paint. The character selection process is the same, the controls are very similar and even much of the physics and mechanics are classic Dark Souls. The similarities are apparent, and while this is no means a bad thing, it sets a certain precedent. If you love the Dark Souls franchise or this type of RPG, you can stop reading and buy this game, you are going to love it. However, if you were not a big fan of Dark Souls, this game is not going to change your mind. There are just too many similarities to call them two completely different games. Luckily, just because Bloodborne feels like Dark Souls 3 doesn’t mean it isn’t a solid game, on the contrary, it is excellent.
While we could easily list all the things that are the same between Dark Souls and Bloodborne, let’s focus on some of the differences. The first, and most obvious update, is the setting. Bloodborne takes place in a dark, gothic, steampunk world. There are tall, brooding set pieces with a strong Victorian flare to them. The setting feels a lot like a scene out of Bram Stokers Dracula or a Jack the Ripper tale. If you are a gamer looking for more steampunk in your life, this game is certainly going to deliver on that front. While the gothic theme does remind you of the Dark Souls setting, there is enough here to stand on its own and deliver a fresh perspective on the genre.
The next big change is the addition of guns. The development team at From Software was not too thrilled to include guns in this game, but it does fit the theme, so they ultimately acquiesced. Thematically, they fit right into the Victorian world while providing a new class of weapons that haven’t been played with yet. However, in reality they are very similar to ranged weapons in previous games so they shouldn’t feel completely foreign to you if you’ve played these types of games before. In addition to guns, you’ll see lots of interesting melee weapons from the game’s titular saw cleaver to other torturous looking weapons. These weapon types give the game a unique look and work quite well against hordes of enemies.
Another big change is the pace and focus of combat. Bloodborne is a much faster, offensive game. In Dark Souls, defense was a must and often meant the difference between life and death. In Bloodborne you will be rewarded for being more aggressive. You will also encounter more enemies at once than you may have in other games. You should not confuse aggressive play with running in without regard, you will still need to select your shots and be strategic and deliberate with your tactics. However, downing your enemies as quickly as possible and not drawing out fights will definitely prove to be the more fruitful strategy and is something Dark Souls fans may not be completely used to.
Something else to keep in mind is the way that your leveling and currency system works. Dark Souls fans may remember the way souls worked in the game where you kill an enemy and you get souls which level you up and act as a currency. In Bloodborne, you earn blood echoes but they work the same way. However, in Bloodborne when you are killed by an enemy, your blood echoes are left where you died but an enemy can absorb those echoes making you have to kill them to get back where you left off. If this happens and you fail to kill the enemy that took your echoes, they are lost forever. This adds another layer of punishing difficulty to an already difficult game. Returning Souls fans may appreciate the harder mechanic, but if you are new to the genre, you may not like this extra layer to the game.
As you can probably tell, the two games are extremely similar in style and function. There are a few small tweaks, but if you are playing alone, you’ll feel right at home if you’re familiar with From Software’s work. Luckily, Bloodborne does feature the same mulitplayer systems as the Souls games do so there is co-op and competitive multiplayer. These modes do require specific items so you can engage with it as much, or as little, as you’d like. During our testing, everything worked out just fine and was relatively smooth the whole time. Since the game is so similar to Dark Souls, you should know what to expect, but if you are new to the genre, you should look up how to engage the multiplayer since it is much more involved than other games.
Overall, Bloodborne is a great game, but it really isn’t treading on new ground. There are a few tweaks to the game and the addition of guns and the steampunk setting are great, but this is a very safe game in the end. There were no big changes to the genre and that can be seen in one of two ways depending on how much history you have with From Software. Either you love the game because you love Dark Souls and the familiarity and relatively little change comforts you or you didn’t love Dark Souls and won’t love Bloodborne because it is very similar. This could have been a great opportunity to try new mechanics and see what works without messing with what was already working well. Instead, we get a very safe attempt at a new intellectual property. With that aside and you predispositions, make no mistake, Bloodborne is a fantastic game and certainly worth your time. It is dark, it is beautiful and it is certainly one of the best games on the PlayStation 4 so far.
This review is based on a review copy of the PlayStation 4 version of Bloodborne developed by From Software
- Steampunk Setting is Great
- Visuals Look Awesome
- More Dark Souls
- Doesn't Take Any Chances
- Cutscenes Don't Look So Great