As one of the most-anticipated new releases for the PS4 this year, many have already celebrated the release of Bloodborne in the best way they know – scouring the decrepit world of Yharnam for all of its secrets (and horrifying discoveries), while taking death head-on and (not often) coming out the other side.
Bloodborne is the latest twisted, dark, but hauntingly-beautiful creation by From Software, most famously known for their esteemed Souls series. As a spiritual successor to From Software’s previous titles – Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, and Dark Souls II – it’s clear that while Bloodborne shares much DNA in common with the previous Souls games in everything but name alone, the game also changes things up in pretty drastic ways.
The previous titles in the Souls titles required a special kind of patience – filled with labyrinthine routes, plentiful secrets, and of course, creatures that are just waiting to pummel you around every corner. Bloodborne continues the Souls tradition of being unrelenting and often punishing. But there’s a method to the madness of the Souls series that fans can attest to: the games also happen to be extremely addictive and rewarding.
It doesn’t hurt that these games also feature one of the most unique online communal experiences that can be incredibly helpful and collaborative, or punishing of the worst kind: depending on how you play, of course.
For those that have braved the previous Souls titles, Bloodborne should be more or less a familiar experience, aside from some notable changes to the core mechanics and gameplay. But, for the rest of us (including me) that are diving into the brainchild of director Hidetaka Miyazaki for the first time, how should you approach a title that revels in how miserable it will make you? When most players talk of Bloodborne and throw casual references to Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls left and right, is From Software’s latest impenetrable to new players?
The answer is, not at all: take it from me, someone that has yet to touch any of the previous Souls games.
Though most may be coming to Bloodborne as veterans of the previous Souls series, surely an equal number of players will be coming to From Software’s latest title with interest in seeing these games for the first time, as I did back when Bloodborne was revealed for the first time at E3 2014. For those jumping into this particularly challenging series for the first time, don’t fret: the Souls games have a reputation of being challenging, but here is a guide to get you going and what to expect from Bloodborne: let’s get started.
Be Prepared to Die – A Lot. But, Be Prepared to Learn from It
As its title implies, Bloodborne is well…bloody. Death is the name of the game in Bloodborne, both to you and your enemies: as such, be prepared to die, a lot.
Death is thrown around casually by most Souls players, and for good reason: even the most basic of Bloodborne‘s enemies are capable of offing players in just one or two hits, leading to many moments of defeat and humiliation by even the most minuscule enemies that Bloodborne has to offer. That being said, don’t give up – Bloodborne is going to kill you a lot, but it’s always in the interest of teaching you how to play.
Don’t think of death as punishment in Bloodborne – instead, think of it as a learning experience. 90% of the time, your death is going to be the result of a mistake – not dodging an enemy’s attack correctly, using the wrong type of attack on your part, being in the wrong part of the environment by precariously being close to a ledge or fatal drop.
Aside from a few instances of the game working against you in rare occasions (wonky camera angles or getting stuck on objects), death is the primary way that Bloodborne teaches players how to play by its particular rules: as long as you’re willing to learn from that, making progress and succeeding will come with practice and careful observation.
As I spent well over 5-6 hours in the game’s first area alone, making my way carefully through the opening hours of Central Yharnam and learning how each of the enemies attacked and moved, the game’s beginning was easily the most brutal in my playtime with the game so far (about 10-15 hours in, after defeating several bosses).
It’s probably comical at this point how many times I died in the beginning, but like any stern teacher or difficult instructor, Bloodborne‘s death-dealing is in the interest of teaching players how to get better. With practice and careful observation, I learned enemy attack patterns and grew – after probably dying several dozen times in the game’s opening segments, I’ve now only died a handful of times as I’ve progressed into later sections of the game, and it’s been an exceptional feeling of progress and growth.
Yes, you will die a lot in Bloodborne, but don’t take it to heart – you will get better and die less with a little patience and perseverance.
Secrets are Always Waiting for You – Go and Find Them
As Bloodborne‘s intricate levels hide plenty of enemies and threats around every corner, so too does it hold many secrets waiting to benefit players as much as the game looks to take players by surprise.
Filled with shortcuts to make later progress through areas easier and special loot drops filled with (potentially) game-changing armor and other equipment, Bloodborne is a game that rewards exploration and discovery. It’s vital that players explore every inch of every area for secrets and clues, as even just a quick glance can reveal plenty of new discoveries, and more careful exploration can lead to whole new areas with new items and gear waiting for you.
The moral of the story? Check everywhere – every door, every window, every alley, every nook, every cranny – everywhere that your character can explore and venture to find secrets waiting. In particular and at the minimum, careful exploration can open up new routes in each area and valuable shortcuts that make repeated attempts after death less painful.
In the opening hours of Central Yharnam as I found myself at death’s door over and over again, finding and opening up shortcuts around the area made for a significantly speedier process – sure, death in the game will set you back on Blood Echoes and progress, but opening up shortcuts and alternate routes expedites the process so much more on subsequent runs. As an example, a left-hand side shortcut near the first lantern in Central Yharnam may be one of the most useful shortcuts imaginable, making exploration of other areas (and getting to the area’s first boss, the Cleric Beast) significantly easier, even as you die.
Many of the game’s secrets and hidden paths may not be easy to find at all – but, don’t miss out on the chance to open up new areas and find new secrets. Take your time and explore everywhere – as evidenced when I found the full Hunter’s Garb set waiting for me in Central Yharnam’s sewers, the rewards and benefits are almost always worth the effort when going off the beaten path in Bloodborne.
Use the Hunter’s Dream as Your One-Stop Shop – Visit it Frequently
As the main hub area for Hunters to regroup, re-supply, and get themselves back together for another run, the Hunter’s Dream area of Bloodborne is one that will inevitably be visited frequently: that being said, knowing the insides and outsides of what you can do and what you can find in the Hunter’s Dream is incredibly valuable, and going back is not only encouraged but (at times) necessary.
Accessible at any time though the various lanterns that players will light and unlock in each area, the Hunter’s Dream is a hugely valuable resource for player progress throughout Bloodborne. Offering virtually all of the areas where players can upgrade their equipment and repair weapons, purchase new weapons and armor, and most importantly, using Blood Echoes to level up and boost player stats.
Familiarizing yourself with where and when to access the Hunter’s Dream is vital to progressing in Bloodborne, and shouldn’t be saved for shortly after death: instead, it should be your one-stop shop that you should frequent all the time. Whether it’s your first encounter with the Hunter’s Dream at the very beginning of the game following the initial werewolf fight or shortly after, taking time to fully explore what the Hunter’s Dream has to offer is valuable both for current progress and in the future.
It’s easily one of the smallest areas that player’s will explore in Bloodborne, but the Hunter’s Dream still contains plenty of secrets all its own. Though in the beginning of the game the resources that the Hunter’s Dream has to offer will be limited mostly to purchasing items at the Bath Messenger’s Shop and talking to the doll for upgrading player stats and leveling up, as players gain Insight points from finding/defeating bosses and through other means, the Hunter’s Dream will open up to various new possibilities. In time, players can also use Insight to purchase special items and equipment, repair/fortify weapons with new upgrades, and more.
Knowing where and when to access the Hunter’s Dream is incredibly valuable, especially early on and in situations where you may need to pause on progress and focus on collecting Blood Echoes to grind your character. If a particular boss or section of enemies is giving you trouble, don’t give up – it’s perfectly okay to take a breather and focus on collecting Blood Echoes instead to level up.
As Blood Echoes prices increase with each subsequent level purchase, knowing when to grind and visit the Hunter’s Dream to regroup and restock is essential to progress as the game progresses – as weapons deteriorate and enemies grow stronger, the Hunter’s Dream’s shops and upgrade stations should be frequent stops in your level-up time.
When you build up a substantial pile of Blood Echoes (generally I shoot for the 10-15K range), make it a habit to stop by the Hunter’s Dream to regroup for a bit. Check your weapons in the upgrade stations inside the building at the top of the hill (it’s relatively cheap to repair weapons and always making sure they inflict maximum damage), check out the new weapons and items available at the bath, and most importantly, look for however you can upgrade your character and level up. There’s no shame in heading back to the Hunter’s Dream for a breather – if a particularly-challening boss is giving you a hard time, stop by at the Hunter’s Dream, level up, and give it right back to them.
Know Your Weapons, and Know Them Well
Starting out with the likes of weapons such as the Saw Cleaver and Hunter’s Axe, Bloodborne offers a huge variety of weaponry and equipment that can help any Hunter in Yharnam succeed – but, you’ll only live and die by your familiarity with what tools you have available to feel the monsters of its tormented cities and areas.
After the initial start-up in the Hunter’s Dream, players will be given their starting trick weapon and firearm to jump-start their career of monster-slaying in Yharnam.
Choosing between the Hunter’s Axe, Threaded Cane, and Saw Cleaver for a right-handed weapon and the pistol and blunderbuss for the left, each features their own play-styles and quirks, and experimenting with each can give a good indication of the particular play style that may suit your hunter in Bloodborne.
Those that favor range and power may go toward the Hunter’s Axe, though you do have to mind it leaving players open for a bit after an attack. Likewise, the Threaded Cane offers quick attacks and nimbleness at the exchange of power, leaving it as a preferred option for those that may like being quick on their feet. That leaves the Saw Cleaver as the middle-of-the-road weapon, and probably the best weapon to experiment with compared to the more specialized Hunter’s Axe and Threaded Cane, with equal amounts of close range and long-range combo-building at its disposal.
As new weapons and gear are discovered and purchased as Bloodborne goes on, having good equipment is only as useful as the wielder’s knowledge of them.
Experiment and play with your weaponry as often as possible – get the feel for their range and strength, their lead-in to an attack, the amount of time they leave you vulnerable to attacks after a swing: this especially goes for the trick weapons and both their short and long forms, and learning what situations work best for each said form.
While each weapon offers their own particular brand of strategy depending on the type of player wielding them, knowing the intricacies of combat scenarios in general is just as important as what weapon you wield. While observing enemy strategies and attack patterns is crucial, knowing the finer points of when to attack and when to back away is often the difference between holding on to a big cache of Blood Echoes or a trip back to your most recent lantern checkpoint with empty pockets: by knowing how to use the regain system and visceral attacks, most of the time you can walk away victories.
After an enemy strikes you, your health meter will glow with the brief window of opportunity to regain health by striking enemies back quickly. In this scenario, it becomes a matter of risk-or-reward and one of the biggest deviations that Bloodborne offers from previous Souls-series games: determining whether to back off and use a Blood Vial to regain health, or going in for a recovery attack to regain most, if not all, of your lost health.
It’s a difficult situation that’s hard to judge accurately depending on what scenario you are in. When faced against a group of enemies, you might want to play it safe and back off for a quick Blood Vial or two to get back into the fight. But, if you’re going mano-a-mano with one enemy, there might be plenty of great opportunities to recover some health by going in for a few attacks, even if they knock you back a bit.
In addition to the benefits offered by Bloodborne‘s regain system and challenging players to be aggressive, the title also includes a more unique set-up for parrying enemy attacks and dealing critical damage. While blocking is largely nonexistent in Bloodborne and players have to rely on carefully-timed dodges to avoid attacks, learning how to pull off parries, visceral attacks, and sneak attacks can make or break a fight, or at the very least lean the odds heavily in your favor.
In lieu of shields, Bloodborne offers up firearms, though not in the traditional sense we may be used to in other games. Generally, firearms in Bloodborne are relatively weak and in the case of the starting blunderbuss, barely have any range aside from more than a few feet away from an enemy.
Instead, guns effectively act as shields in Bloodborne – with a carefully-timed shot, players can stun enemies right before they attack, and after pulling off an attack, can launch a visceral attack that can take a good chunk of an enemy’s health — even against many of the game’s bosses.
Likewise, walking up behind an enemy slowly and using a charge attack can pull off a similar “sneak attack” – charge up an attack behind an enemy, and then attack again for a sneak visceral attack that can kill or seriously maim many enemies.
Though they both require some practice to pull off, visceral and sneak attacks are some of the most useful combat abilities that players can use to even the odds a bit and kill event he game’s most menacing foes.
Expect the Unexpected and Look Around Every Corner
Aside from the secrets and discoveries waiting for players as mentioned earlier, exploration in Bloodborne also comes at a price, as numerous traps, ambushes, and enemies are always strewn about levels waiting to take players by surprise. As such, when playing Bloodborne always expect the unexpected, and being on your toes can mean the difference between life and death.
As enemy locations remain the same, observing where enemies will hide and pop out of can make even an embarrassing/humiliating defeat turn into valuable information on your next run. If that pack of dogs waiting around the corner made mince meat out of your Hunter, knowing where they will be can make the next run even easier, or at least allow you to plan a little better, and at best, allow you to find ways to use the environment to your benefit.
Importantly, Bloodborne‘s online features can enhance the experience and make this easier: in particular, allowing online features lets players both read and write notes strewn through levels by other players, providing tips and tricks for difficult situations. If you can, play Bloodborne with the online features enabled, if only for the chance to read notes and tips left by other players.
While there is always the possibility that players can leave notes that may do more harm than good (such as a hilarious note I encountered saying “Time for courage!” right before a bottomless pit that surely would kill me), more often than not the in-game player notes can give a huge benefit on where enemies are located. As a good rule of thumb, check the number of “Fine” vs. “Foul” score marks to see whether a note is legit or not – if multiple notes are suggesting the same tip, it’s a good indication that they can be trusted.
In the player’s benefit, using the notes can lead to many helpful tips for the player, whether it’s the warning of an ambush or trap, figuring out how to dispel a large group of enemies, or noting how to traverse some tricky situations.
The environments of Bloodborne can be tricky, such as the case of where I have been thrust off a ledge by enemies in Central Yharnam’s sewers – it’s easy to be blindsided by enemy attacks and get overwhelmed or be ambushed by a well-placed enemy.
But, the environment can also be your friend: always be careful around every corner in case an enemy lies in wait, and make notes (both physical and mental) of where an enemy will pop out of the next time you run through that area. Even better, the environment can be used to your benefits, whether it’s in finding areas that enemies can’t fit through (such as hallways and doors) or finding good vantage points that let you scope out what dangers lie ahead.
Take it Slow and Steady, and Don’t Give Up
Though in most cases where taking things slow and steady would often lead to defeat, in Bloodborne careful precision and smart play is far more valuable than being reckless and greedy when it comes to combat – it’s not a race, take things slow and steady.
Bloodborne at many points is punishingly-difficult: From Software has perfected this in Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, and Dark Souls II. Despite enemies that can make quick work of most Hunters and threats of every variety around every corner, playing carefully and cautiously can ensure survival, and at least reduce the number of deaths you might take in a particular area.
Even at its most trying, Bloodborne is far from impossible. In my first five or so hours with the game, I often felt the woes of Bloodborne weighing down on me – but, with a little perseverance, every challenge is beatable. Even when I was getting my butt kicked by the Cleric Beast, pounded into the ground by Father Gascoigne, or riddled with poison by the Blood-starved Beast, anyone can play and beat the many challenges that From Software has lying ahead for players.
Even if you’ve mastered Demon’s Souls and played Dark Souls II by playing with a guitar controller, don’t let the intimidation of the Souls series draw you away if you’re never played one before. Bloodborne may be difficult, but it’s far from impenetrable – even a Souls newbie like myself is ready to slaughter my next prey.
Bloodborne is currently available on PS4 – for more on From Software’s latest title, check out DualShockers’ ongoing coverage of the title after release, and read our review of the title for an in-depth look at the ins-and-outs of Bloodborne.