Bloodborne: The Old Hunters

Well, it’s been a long time coming. Incoming rant, with some spoilers.

I don’t hate Bloodborne.

Look, I have a Platinum for the game. I’ve done it all and I quite enjoyed it for a period of time. Thing is, Bloodborne is a game that often feels as disjointed and lumbering as any of its Lovecraftian-inspired monstrosities. If Dark Souls has a steep learning curve, then Bloodborne’s learning curve is one drawn by a sugar-addled ten year old who has been given lots of coloured pens and a Spirograph. Trying to make sense of the end result only means drawing an incorrect conclusion based on small assumptions, or past experience of FROM Software’s gaming history. You can say Bloodborne is too hard; but then, you can say Bloodborne isn’t hard enough and you’d be correct on both counts.

So let’s call a spade a spade already shall we? Bloodborne on launch was a mess; and whilst FROM Software and Sony Japan have done a commendable job in the months post launch, it’s still not the most polished of video games; it still has too many technical issues and too much input delay (from some pretty serious frame-rate problems, like loading two frames and skipping one which might have had your command in it! Whoops!), but whilst these were critical game-breaking flaws to start with – time and patches have tempered them to infrequent but still rather irritating annoyances.

But more than that, what was missing from Bloodborne was variety; the Trick Weapons were fun, with two different forms, but they weren’t quite varied enough. Variety is the spice of life, and ask any Dark Souls player what is fun about the PvP in the series and they’ll tell you it’s the unpredictability of it all. People can have radically different loud-outs; different spells, different weapons, different armours from a huge pool of potential options. Players mix and match to suit their play and taste. It’s what makes Dark Souls unique – you don’t often find two people exactly the same in every way, and that encourages experimentation of your own. Bloodborne’s PvP was… well, predictable. The costume variety was nice, but barely made a lick of difference where it mattered. And weapon builds were also typical; you knew what was coming a mile off. Blades of Mercy? They’re packing an Augur of Ebrietas. Cane? They’ll have a pistol for faster play. Big sword? They’ll have a bigger gun for more visceral time, or a bone for faster movement. All very typical.

This is where The Old Hunters at least makes a difference; adding plenty of new guns and new weapons into the mix to make combat, and by token the Player vs. Player component, a little more variable and unpredictable.┬áThe sad part is that, in all honesty, that is the only thing The Old Hunters has going for it. They’re charging you for a bigger arsenal for more fun PvP.

The expansion itself – I finished it in about 48 hours. After the mountains that comprised the Chalice Dungeons, The Old Hunters was surprisingly timid for my liking. And I didn’t walk in on some New Game prepared file for an easy time; I strode in on an NG+3 save file I’d used for all my endings, plus Chalice Dungeon attempts. At level 180 to start with (the Cursed Chalice is something you do tend to level up for), I found the expansion content to be no harder than arriving around Byrgenwerth in NG+3. There are more hunters with more tricks up their sleeves, and the game retains its propensity for cheap shock and awe tactics, but it’s nothing insurmountable.

The bosses in The Old Hunters are the real disappointments though. After a great first encounter with ‘Ludwig, The Holy Blade’, which has glorious echoes of Sif the Great Grey Wolf from the original Dark Souls (still have a soft spot for ol’ Sif!), I followed through with two boss encounters I overcame on my first attempt. ‘The Living Failures’ are probably a nice concept if you give them the time to do things, but an aggressive player will have each one down before they pose any real danger. Then comes ‘Lady Maria of the Astral Clocktower’ – arguably one of the most important NPCs in the Bloodborne saga, with her form the basis for The Doll. Yes, I got her down first time too. Her nimble, agile form is no match for good Visceral play, and she telegraphs attacks quite happily. Of course, if you’re using something like the Augur, then it knocks her on her backside for an even easier time of it.

The last two bosses aren’t much better, sadly. ‘The Orphan of Kos’ is an exercise in Chaos Theory; it either hits you with every attack and is on your backside like a barnacle (punnage woo!), or it has a blindfold on and can’t hit you for toffee. A few attempts and this poor thing was down. And what can I say about ‘Laurence, The First Vicar’ that isn’t preceded with the words ‘the disappointing’? He is a copy-paste Cleric Beast, with a little bit of additional fire and a slight speed boost. They did, of course, have the decency to give him a second phase; which comes with a blindingly obvious blind spot for the poor guy that is only missing a ten-foot neon-lit arrow in hot pink pointing down to it.

The areas are okay – they expended some effort to make The Fishing Village unique in its look – and it is the best part of the expansion. The rest of it feels a little recycled and rehashed.

As a conclusion for Bloodborne, The Old Hunters is just utterly depressing. Too easy, too simplistic and not nearly interesting enough, the main reason to buy the expansion is to get access to the larger variety of weapons that they added. Sadly, it just leads to the conclusion that Bloodborne, from the get-go, wasn’t finished – and we’re now paying good money for weapons that will spice up the Player vs. Player scene in the game a little more, rather than FROM doing the decent thing and adding them as time went on. I know, it’s really hard to add weapons to a game as time goes on. I can’t think of a game which has been doing that. Definitely not on supposedly weaker hardware. And one that runs at sixty frames a second. Oh, hi Mark. I mean, Splatoon. Yes, you may borrow some sugar…

I’m sure that Bloodborne is for many a contender for Game of the Year. But for me? No. The Old Hunters isn’t strong enough to bolster Bloodborne, which itself has spent most of the year being fixed up because it was so broken and messy on release. We’ve seen better, stronger, more technically-accomplished games this year. Ironically, and perhaps painfully for FROM Software, Bloodborne receives a compulsory slap from Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin, which is how Dark Souls 2 should have always been really. But it’s amazing to play it in 1080p, at sixty frames a second, and realise that you don’t need to build mechanics to force aggressive play. Decent control input, a good stable framerate and a solid, retuned engine is enough to encourage and foster far more aggressive play in Scholar of the First Sin. And that comes with a laundry-list of different armours, weapons and spells too!

My overall conclusion? I don’t think Bloodborne was a waste of time. There’s plenty of good to take for future Souls games; Dark Souls may be coming to an end with its third installment, but nothing has been said about the Souls legacy (Giant’s Souls? Demon’s Souls 2? Hylian Souls? COME ON NINTENDO! THIS IS STUPIDLY OBVIOUS TO ANYONE WITH A FUNCTIONING BRAIN CELL ALREADY! DO IT! Ahem.). The trick weapons are a great idea, I do happen to like the Rally system (where you have a window to attack and get some health back) and the Dungeons need a touch of tuning – and never, ever do cursed ones again FROM – but are a fantastic idea too.

Just a shame the overall game isn’t quite solid or stable enough. I feel we’ll forget Bloodborne in time – it’s of a moment, of a time, and we’ve got better things to look forward to already. It’s this generations first FROM title, so it’s of course going to have loads of people blowing smoke up its arse. It’s just, for me, not as good as Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin. And I just… I find that doesn’t sit right with me.

Which is kind of a shame… still, the plus side of this is that a PS5 Remaster of Bloodborne should make it brilliant. Right?

Right?!

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