Bloodborne is both like and unlike the Souls games. Brenna descends into Yharnam with reluctance and trepidation.
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Bloodborne isn’t Demon’s Souls or Dark Souls. Let’s get that out of the way right off.
I enjoyed both Dark Souls games, but it was Demon’s Souls that I truly loved. You always remember your first time, don’t you?
I first picked up Demon’s Souls because Pat did, as it happens. I was stalking him on Twitter (this was my successful job acquisition strategy) and he mentioned he was importing it to find out what everyone was talking about. I’d never even heard of it before then, but a few moments of Googling (world tendency? Asynchronous multiplayer?) told me I had to try this King’s Field successor.
Demon’s Souls got my pulse racing. Dark Souls made me sweat. Dark Souls 2 left me shaking. Bloodborne reduced me to tears.
Naturally, it blew me away. Crawling along in the dark, buried behind a huge tower shield, jabbing cautiously at foes with a spear – keep the enemies away from me! – when I couldn’t snipe them from a distance or cheese them some other way. Terrified, horrified, and then eventually elated. The days I spent battling down Black Phantom Satsuki. The rare instances I took down an invading Phantom.
Something has changed in me since those heady days, though, and it’s been getting progressively worse with each game in this genetic line. Demon’s Souls got my pulse racing. Dark Souls made me sweat. Dark Souls 2 left me shaking.
Bloodborne reduced me to tears.
I received Bloodborne with a very short window to play it ahead of embargo, knowing I’d have to help with putting together our launch coverage and guide. As the days went by and the package didn’t arrive, I started to get really nervous. Time was running out, I knew it’d be a hard game, and I know my limitations as a gamer – I started with turn-based RPGs, and twitch skills aren’t my forte. I started to get freaked out – to put it mildly.
I have problems with stress and anxiety, and I began to really suffer. Every time I thought of Bloodborne arriving and the days of play ahead I felt not anticipation but fear – fear that I wouldn’t be any good at it, wouldn’t be able to do my job, and would subsequently let the team down. I couldn’t get to sleep. I woke up with nightmares about it. When the power plug fell out of my PS4 while installing a game and seemed to be bricked, I literally screamed with rage.
Just had a PS4 bricking scare. I'm doing our Bloodborne coverage this coming week. Howled so loud the neighbours came to check on me.
— Biscuits Hellfire (@draqul) March 20, 2015
When the game did arrive, I was relieved that I could get on with the job – for about a minute, after which another wave of anxiety and dread came crashing down on me. I’d have time to work, sure – but now I had to actually do the work, which meant playing this game. This very, very challenging game.
Alright, I thought, how hard can it be? if you bash away at anything for long enough you’ll eventually win – just look at Black Phantom Satsuki. I cleared my schedule, and called in reinforcements.
"Dad, I can't leave the house because #Bloodborne. Can you bring me some groceries?" And then he did.
— Biscuits Hellfire (@draqul) March 24, 2015
I got a pot of tea, placed it far enough away from the couch that I wouldn’t knock it over with my flailing limbs if I got scared suddenly (I have experience, you see). I switched the lights on before I needed to, so I wouldn’t have to get up and risk death. I dragged a powerboard nearby and plugged the controller in. I was ready.
Well, okay, no: I was not ready.
The first challenge you face in Bloodborne is the character creator. From Software gives you a great deal of control, with the result that it’s easy to make a horrific mess. I spent hours on my main Demon’s Souls character, making her look rather a lot like me, but I didn’t have hours this time. I poked and prodded a few things, created something that looked like someone had swirled a spoon in a half-baked face, and then gave up and used a very slightly tweaked preset.
Selecting the Troubled Childhood Origin for its high Stamina and Arcane stats, I was ready to go.
Actually, maybe the first challenge is not despairing when you first see the presets. Bloodborne genuinely has much better graphics than previous Souls games, but the character models in the character creation menu do not demonstrate this. Like, at all. There’s no indication that the awkward last-gen haircuts are actually rendered in-game as flowing, shining tresses. There’s nothing to suggest that once you’ve actually entered the game you’ll see the weird shadows and colours look much better under the real game’s lighting and complemented by its beautiful palette. And also the camera angle of the portrait photos makes everyone look like they have a tiny head and chronically sloping shoulders.
Don’t even worry about it. Unless you have some amazing skill with these things, admit that nobody’s ever going to look, pick a haircut and eye colour you like, and move the heck on. Everyone looks good in that suspenders combo, trust me.
Selecting the Troubled Childhood Origin for its high Stamina and Arcane stats (I like to have plenty of breathing room in my Stamina guage, and I love using magic), I was ready to go.
Next: brutal difficulty, brutal responses.