Bloodborne throws a lot of challenges at you, but few are as traumatising as the gosh-darned snakes.
Bloodborne has a really excellent gating system, ramping the difficulty notch by notch, forcing you to learn new skills.
After the fun and games of my initial wrestle with Bloodborne, things really kicked off. The day I beat the Cleric Beast I pushed on through to Father Gascoigne, whom the community have renamed Papa Guacamole, and got him down to less than 10 percent health before being slaughtered, mostly because I got a bit excited about my success and immediately became careless and cocky.
I didn’t have a second go that night, as it was getting pretty late, but came back to it the next day. Like an idiot, though, I first went on Reddit and browsed a bunch of threads discussing the fight.
By this stage the game was available more widely, and early players were full of woe regarding Papa Guacamole. Even though I had very nearly beat him on my first go, this put the wind up me. Looking back on it, Papa G really isn’t that big a deal; the other Hunter characters you’ll meet are much, much harder, and for some reason I personally don’t find Hunter battles as hard as many of the other bosses.
Bloodborne boss fights are laughably easy in co-op. It’s already pretty simple to beat most of the early and even some of the later bosses by getting behind them and refusing to budge; with two people able to keep the boss turning and distracted, it can be a breeze.
Still, I suddenly lost all my confidence again. This is a pretty common pattern for me: ignoring all evidence and lessons learned to assume I’m not good enough. Luckily, the network patch had come out, so I thought I’d try to figure out how to use co-op – purely in the interests of assessing its quality, hem hem.
Multiplayer in Bloodborne doesn’t work spectacularly well. It can be very hard to get a match, even when you do all the right things. This is sort of on theme, but pretty annoying for players who just want to co-op all the way through – easy mode, to be elitist, but also a great deal of fun. It’s probably not what Hidetaka Miyazki intended, though.
Regardless, I did eventually get a match, who turned out to be a YouTuber I was able to track down on Twitter and thank for their help. We smacked that guy like a pro. Here I discovered that Bloodborne boss fights are laughably easy in co-op. It’s already pretty simple to beat most of the early and even some of the later bosses by getting behind them and refusing to budge; with two people able to keep the boss turning and distracted, it can be a breeze. That’s presumably why some of the later and most hated bosses have complicating factors – but more on that later.
Smacking Papa G was pretty satisfying, I have to say, although I soon wished I’d not done it – it turns out this is one of the key moments in the game. The Cleric Beast is an optional boss (!) and it is Papa G who represents a major gate; defeating him opens the Cathedral Ward, a key hub for the rest of the game, and by defeating him you trigger new events.
I thought I’d explored Central Yharnam pretty thoroughly by this stage, but it turned out I’d missed something pretty major – Eileen the Crow, who hangs out near the main entrance to the sewers and introduces you to the Hunter of Hunters covenant as well as a gesture and eventually some sweet loot.
My errors didn’t stop there, actually. Instead of thoroughly exploring the Cathedral Ward, I wandered straight off to Old Yharnam to face the Blood-starved Beast, permanently aggro-ing Djura. I stand by this approach, which is also the one presented in our Bloodborne guide and walkthrough, as Djura isn’t that great, and there is so much good loot to be had from this route.
If you put off the Blood-starved beast till after Rom, when you can get to him via the Darkbeast Paarl in Yahar’gul Unseen Village, you can’t go to the Healing Workshop and collect all the important stuff there. No Ludwig’s Holy Sword until after Rom?? Piss off.
Anyway, Old Yharnam makes a lot of sense, as the difficulty ramps up just slightly from Central Yharnam, whereas Hemwick Charnel Lane and the Forbidden Woods are gosh-darned nightmares.
So: the Blood-starved Beast. Now that was eye-opening. This was the first boss I encountered with a complicating factor: it inflicts poison on you. I called in a co-op buddy after a couple of attempts on my own, not knowing the Pungent Blood Cocktails cheese, and with a friend in tow it was more than manageable.
But alone? Alone, I nearly shat my pants. The Beast moves so fast! It hits so hard!
Next: learning some hard lessons
The Hunter I summoned must have been about the same level as me, and their gear wasn’t that great – but they wowed me with their skill. It was at this point that I started to think seriously about upping my own game. I wasn’t having any trouble exploring the environments, but the bosses were smashing me; there was something I was missing.
I spent a little time volunteering for co-op here, to take a look at how other Hunters were approaching the game. It seemed a lot of players were struggling with the Beast, so I figured there’d be plenty of opportunities to help out. This was correct, and also, I had a really great time. I still wasn’t learning anything beyond “everyone else has already done Rom and the Tontirus suicide run”, though, so I moved on.
After a little time exploring the new areas opened by the death of the Beast, including an unhappy side trip to Yahar’gul, Unseen Village, and my total failure to collect the badge needed to purchase Ludwig’s Holy Sword (arrrgh), I knuckled down on the Cathedral Ward.
Do you know, I hate it there? I hate it so much. There are three reasons for this. The first is Gravekeepers.
I have killed all manner of beasts in #Bloodborne and am unfazed by the toughest foes so far... but GRAVEKEEPERS can SUCK MY DICK
— Biscuits Hellfire (@draqul) March 27, 2015
The second is that I kept running into Death Dealers.
WELL GUESS WHO'S OFF TO THE UNSEEN VILLAGE AGAIN
— Biscuits Hellfire (@draqul) March 25, 2015
The third is that gate you need to buy a key to open – or possibly can open by going around the other way. For reasons I still don’t quite understand, you need to open this gate in order to common a co-op partner.
I really needed a co-op partner. I suspect now I was under-levelled for Vicar Amelia, actually, but at the time all I knew is I was terrified. It wasn’t that I wasn’t getting the timing right; it was that I had no opportunity to figure out that timing, because Amelia was killing me so quickly.
She’s a terrifying boss. She seems to fill the whole screen. All you need to do is get behind her, but doing that is difficult when you’re screaming and crying and her claws stretch across the whole room, blocking your progress and one-shotting you.
I spent a day trying to figure out why co-op wasn’t working, trawling dozens of forum threads of other players asking the same question. 24 hours later, the mystery had been solved. (Another 24 hours or so after that, From Software got back to me through several layers of translators and PR representatives to explain, too. That was kind of cool. I should have asked them something more exciting.)
Searches for Vicar Amelia issue yesterday: only confusion Searches hours later: TOTALLY SOLVED. Bloodborne/Souls players are amazing
— Biscuits Hellfire (@draqul) March 26, 2015
Once again, summoning a co-op buddy got me through the battle in one go. I said earlier that co-op is Bloodborne’s easy mode, and this was really brought home to me by this second experience.
I started to feel a bit uncomfortable about using co-op all the time. I have no ambitions to be some sort of epic master Hunter or anything, but co-op isn’t always available, and I wanted to be comfortable enough in my own skills to not freak out when the difficulty ramped up – as I knew it would, and soon.
My next destination was Hemwick Charnel Lane. This area is optional and pretty short, and after you pass the deceptively difficult entrance path.
To get to Hemwick Charnel Lane you need to pass through a very nasty wooded area full of Henchmen with rifles. These guys are annoying enough on their own, but in mobs, they’re a nightmare. I spent more time making my way through this area than in Hemwick Charnel Lane itself. Because I’m an idiot, and I really wanted those Bone Marrow Ashes. They’ll be great for PvP! ...eventually.
I also spent a great deal of time right at the end of the Lane, where a couple of Cleaver Brutes guard the path to the boss. It was here that I finally, finally started to get good at the game.
These guys just keep killing me. I died to them over and over again. I hadn’t met a single enemy this tough since the Netherbeasts right back at the start. I couldn’t stagger them with my feeble weapon and stats, and I couldn’t survive their attack combos. And these weren’t bosses!
Rather than fall into despair (again), I set my jaw. Clearly there was a lesson I needed to learn, and by gum, I was going to learn it now, before I needed it somewhere else.
In fact, there were two:
- Countershots are absolutely god damned vital. You could finish all the previous Souls games without ever using parry and riposte, but Bloodborne players really need to get Countershots down pat if they’re not willing to massively over-level.
- Dodging is not the same as in past Souls games. The quick side-step is vital. You need to be able to use it to move forward and under enemy attacks, counter-attacking.
Thank you, Cleaver Brutes, for teaching me this. I became a better Hunter thanks to you.
Next: more snakes than anybody has ever asked for.
I took a co-op buddy into the Hemwick Witch anyway, because I’m not a masochist. That’s a great fight, and one that I think has been designed for co-op; splitting your efforts between taking down the Witch and taking down her decoys and eventually doubles is brilliant fun.
What a pleasant experience this whole section was, even with the riflemen and the Cleaver Brutes! I had learned many things, scored some sweet loot, and fought a really fun boss battle. It was with great joy in my heart that I tripped gaily back through the Cathedral Ward, collecting a bunch of keen treasures and generally having a wonderful time on my way to the Forbidden Woods.
If this were a multimedia presentation rather than prose, this paragraph transition would have included a thunder crack, and the darkening of sunny skies to deepest gloom. The Forbidden Woods are a hellhole.
The first bit of the Forbidden Woods isn’t so bad, you know? You wander around, take on a really huge pack of Henchmen, get annoyed by how dark and foggy it is, and spent some time crying over how hard the stupid poison pool bit is before delighting in opening the shortcut back to Iosefka’s Clinic. Getting through the cannon fire is kind of annoying, but not too tricky as long as you’re good enough to take down the baddies lurking in the houses on either side.
But then things start to go south. As you wander through the mill you come across a nasty Henchman whose head explodes into snakes.
Wow, I *hate* the Forbidden Woods.
— Biscuits Hellfire (@draqul) March 30, 2015
I have no problem with snakes. I’m an Australian. We have a lot of the world’s deadliest snakes, and we grow up knowing what to do about them (stay inside forever), so we can save all our fear for the spiders. But I greatly fear Henchman whose heads split into snakes and spit venom at you. I did not enjoy this encounter, or the next one.
Then we get to the really fun but. The final section of the Forbidden Woods is a horror fest from start to finish. Not only is it composed almost entirely of snakes, navigating it is very difficult. Video walkthroughs might be helpful, I guess, but none existed at the time I was trying it, and also I’m a deeply impatient person an therefore prefer prose.
I had an amazing adventure in this area. I got a bit lost, you see. I climbed up to the top of a rise and stared across the landscape, trying to get my bearings based on dead bodies, the glow of as yet unrecovered items, and a walkthrough which described every single direction as “left” with no indication of reference point.
Suddenly: snakes. Snakes had been slowly crawling towards me for goodness knows how long, and they had finally reached me.
I reacted with calm and grace, by screaming and dropping my control pad. My character tumbled down a cliff, and landed in a pit with two Giant Snake Clusters. I ran away, into the arms of two Mutant Henchmen. I ran away again, repeatedly stabbing myself with Blood Vials and screaming at the top of my lungs. I ran into two Giant Pigs, and then, two Cranium Creatures. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I found two more Cranium Creatures, and these two shot lasers at me.
All this took less than two minutes, and nothing I had met had been killed. By the time I stopped running, I was standing knee deep in a swamp, completely lost, sobbing and out of Blood Vials, convinced I’d aggro’d the whole area and it was coming for me.
“Why is everything here so horrible,” I wailed. “And why are there always two of the fuckers??”
I've been taking showers to help me calm down when #Bloodborne gets too stressful but it's getting a bit Lady Macbeth, washed down to BONE
— Biscuits Hellfire (@draqul) March 30, 2015
When I finally managed to navigate the Forbidden Woods, completely ignoring at least two items in my quest to GTFO ASAP, I approached the boss battle with great fear and trepidation.
I didn’t really expect to get a co-op buddy for this one, figuring the battle had to be as nasty as the snakey snake snake snake snake SNAKE fest I’d just endured, but someone popped up as soon as I rang my bell, so I didn’t say no.
The Shadow of Yharnam is another fun boss fight, and again, works really, really well in co-op, to the point where I didn’t feel even slightly bad about “easy mode”, because it’s super cool running interference on the three baddies as you co-ordinate your attacks in order to get them all down at the same time.
Having put all that behind me, I felt pretty good about Bloodborne. “I’m going to finish this,” I told myself, setting off to tidy up some sidwquests before the next stage of this game. “I’m going to finish this and play it again. This isn’t slowly killing me with stress poison chemicals in any way. It’s all fine.”
Once again: I was wrong.
To be continued.