With games such as Demon Souls and Dark Souls I-II under their belt, developers at From Software have by now come to realize that some gamers just love to be painfully pummeled.
Over and over again.
It must be true, since it's certainly not just game reviewers like me who are picking these things up. And for those most certainly masochistic button crunchers, the gamemakers now offer up yet another agonizing digital kick in the nether regions with Bloodborne.
The Bad Is in the Blood
The story this go-round is, once again, gloomy and grim … and strange. You play as a weary and disease-ridden traveler who journeys to a forgotten and mysterious place called Yharnam—a plague-plagued city once thought of as the center of advanced medical knowledge. Your guy or gal stumbles into that curious cobblestoned wasteland in search of some unexplained substance called Paleblood.
After undergoing a foul transfusion, you wake to find that you're infected with something that leaves you "more than human and human no more," a blight that makes you both physically powerful and unable to distinguish between reality and twisted nightmares. (And, boy, there are plenty of those!) You must now take up your weapons and seek out the ugly, deeply hidden secrets of Yharnam while battling huddled mobs of crazed humans, rabid werewolves and savage … well, let's just call them abominations.
In other words, you won't be spotting Mario or any of those more civilized LEGO characters in this neck of the wretched woods.
What you will find is 60-plus hours of frustrating struggles and battles within a ghastly and eerie environment—featuring gruesome clue-seeking quests that try to make some kind of sense of the Lovecraftian terrors popping up around you. Why is everything so frantically frustrating, you ask? Because the gaming deck is stacked against you. You'll rarely be victorious over the bloodthirsty and screeching baddies you face, not the first, second or even third time you pick up your gore-smeared blade and charge in. Each thump-hack-and-spew encounter is designed to be almost as formidable as it is dark and dribbling.
Die, Die, Die and Do It Again
The big boss battles with über-creepy beasties—creatures that run the gamut from gigantic tentacled and razor-clawed skeleton slayers to covens of cleaver-swinging, caterwauling witches to semitransparent cosmic childlike thingies—are all intended to be an overwhelming, reflex-straining dance of dodges, tumbles, hacks and slashes. Your attacks must be perfectly timed, your weapon trade-offs and item usage perfectly strategized for you to get anywhere at all. In fact, just reaching the first big boss victory feels like a Herculean accomplishment worthy of much celebration … until you're bashed back into your bitter blues by the next nearly impossible foe that comes along.
If (when) you lose, you are sent back to an earlier checkpoint to start that leg of the quest over again and battle the same reappearing shadow-leaping slitherers you've already bested at great effort. Of course, with each defeat you also lose everything you've gathered up to that point. And I'll note here that those gathered items include things called "Blood Echoes," which are vials of glowing gore that serve as the game's currency and are used to upgrade your character's skills, purchase new items and fortify/repair existing equipment.
There are no shields or heavy armor to be found, though. Instead, your arsenal of transforming melee blades and clubs, and tactical, ranged side arms are designed to be used in both offensive and defensive maneuvers. And if the timing is played right, a character's life force can be replenished as a foe's guts are strategically splashed about in the dank darkness.
Of course the story's horrific and obscure spirituality, rotting environs and foul gut-grinding gore is all presented in high-def, next-gen clarity. So no matter how you play or what you use to do your dirty deeds, Bloodborne is intended to be a long, grinding and utterly bleak gaming experience.