The release of Dark Souls 3 earlier this year was one of my most anticipated in quite some time. After weeks of enduring Bandai Namco’s bizarre advertising campaign, the game was finally in my hands and it did not disappoint. A stunningly beautiful end to the Dark Souls trilogy that capitalised on the first two games to create an experience that felt like a fitting and worthwhile end to an iconic series. Yet despite New Game+ sitting waiting for me, I find myself itching for something else. I find myself craving to return to Bloodborne and its sickeningly haunting city of Yharnam.
Bloodborne is a game that I have never stopped talking or indeed thinking about since I first played it last March. It was the game that made me purchase a PlayStation 4 and it’s a decision I have never really regretted. I have always had a love for the Dark Souls series and its dark take on fantasy yet there was something about Bloodborne that resonated with me far more than anything else Miyazaki and From Software had produced. I’ve never really understood what it was specifically that caused this reaction until I played through Dark Souls 3.
While fantastic, Dark Souls 3 at times feels like it struggles with its identity. It often feels like a desperate homage to its previous titles rather than a new and unique experience. While this is certainly not a bad thing, it does leave a faint taste of something that could have treaded new ground for the series (be it in terms of gameplay, environments or mechanics) if only it had taken a few brave steps away from the familiarity of its predecessors. With Bloodborne being a complete standalone title, it escapes the intricacies and complications of Dark Souls’ expansive lore and history and instead starts with a fresh slate. While built on the same values of dark and brutal gameplay, Bloodborne manages to feel unique and engaging while still holding a faint air of the series that birthed it.
From the very start Bloodborne knows what it is. It is fully comfortable in its mechanics and its beautiful world and how the two interact. Its opening ‘tutorial’ section set in Central Yharnam remains as one of the finest introductions to a game I have ever experienced; a sink or swim test of patience that teaches you instantly just how tough this game is going to be. It’s a brave move that I have seen put off countless players. Little to no direction; large mobs of enemies capable of killing you in seconds and no checkpoints aside from one well-hidden shortcut. But despite this, the game retains an appealing factor in its slick and fluid combat system and creates that critical feeling of ‘one more try’. This time I will reach the stairs to the bridge. This time I will pass the werewolves. This time I will find a shortcut. Dark Souls’ tried and tested formula of methodical and patient combat compliments it’s decaying world, but Bloodborne’s fast and rewarding melee combat system is something that instantly feels heavy, solid and disgustingly satisfying while complimenting the bloody nature of Yharnham and its history.
Push through the starting area and delve deeper into the city and this seemingly pointless journey begins to take shape. The world of Yharnham and the Hunters is oozing with rich lore. As with every From game, it is handed out in small pieces of dialogue and the occasional cut scenes and it is up to the player to dig within item descriptions and, most importantly, the games subreddit to discover the whole story for themselves. While this may not seem obvious to most, it certainly adds to the overall atmosphere of mystery and intrigue. You are a traveller in these lands. An outsider who does not know the ways of the people or the Lovecraftian abominations that dwell there and this is made abundantly clear as you progress and discover just enough basic information to move you along. Piecing together the entire story and its lore will take time, but it is certainly worth the effort to discover a tale of greed, power and revenge.
Bloodborne is a game that deserves praise in so many areas. Its outstanding sound design and atmosphere. Its beautiful combat that more often than not feels like a deadly dance. It’s unique mechanics and striking visuals. It all comes together to create an experience that is complete. While Dark Souls 3 is certainly a larger game with more side quests, items and a grander setting, it can often feel too large and too complex for its own good. Bloodborne instead feels streamlined. It feels like a tight, consistent package that offers just enough to the player without overloading them. Every weapon is unique and satisfying. The side quests are engaging and compelling without being distracting and the atmosphere never once stops being thick with tense, palpable horror. Bloodborne is a game that knows itself. It knows what is it is and never once does its strong identity falter. Despite being an excellent game, the same cannot be said for Dark Souls 3. While I have enjoyed my time in Lothric immensely, I feel I will soon be returning back home to Yharnam.
Image Credit: Alphacoders