Learning to Love Bloodborne

Advice from two super-fans on how to appreciate the PlayStation gem

Learning to Love Bloodborne
Source: Polygon.

I remember very clearly hearing about Demon’s Souls for the first time. The reviewer said you could not pause the game, and I thought how truly insane that was. At the time I was the father of a two-and-a-half-year-old boy, so the idea of being able to play a game without interruption for any amount of time was akin to a dream. Needless to say, I never picked up the game, and I still had never played a game of that ilk until I began to hear rumblings about Bloodborne.

Once I finally dove into the game, I loved the aesthetic (basically current-gen Castlevania), the enemy design, soundscape, everything. The only problem was, that I was horrible at it. I also couldn’t find the story that everyone swore was there if you looked hard enough. I was able to beat one boss and progress a little, but then I ran into some knight I don’t think I was supposed to be fighting and was thoroughly drubbed. That was it, I moved on to the next shiny thing and never went back.

It stayed installed, and on my mind, so I decided to find out what I was missing. I needed to know what wasn’t clicking with the story and gameplay for me. An esteemed internet friend, Evan McMullen, talked about it glowingly almost every day. I also came to find out that our Editor in Chief here at SUPERJUMP, James Burns, counts it as his favorite ever game.

So I decided it was time for an interview, to find out from two experts how to go about this game. What follows are the answers to questions I hope will both help me get back to some sort of progress, and allow new players who may be intimidated by the game to have confidence jumping in for the first time. Onward to Yharnam, we go!

Bloodborne: The Old Hunters. Source: IGN.

Is Bloodborne the first “Soulsborne” game you played? If not, what was the first, and what drew you to the genre?

Yep. I had heard of Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls prior to Bloodborne, but they didn’t really interest me initially. Bloodborne intrigued me because of its apparent extreme difficulty, combat mechanics, and art design. Initially, I didn’t know anything about the lore or the characters though, so I went in pretty blind on my first play-through.

The first Soulsborne title I played was Dark Souls. Two of my good friends always sang its praises but I never gave it shot because I never was one for difficult games. Decided to try it out and put it down rather quickly and left it that way for a couple months. Word of mouth drew me in and my lack of talent made me sit it right back down.

The defining characteristic of Bloodborne, and all Soulsborne games, is their difficulty. What was your first impression of the game, and did you immediately click with the gameplay? How long did it take you to get to the point where you could beat it?

I will never forget my first session with it. My sister and I took turns playing it. I don’t remember exactly what time we started, but the long and short of it is that we played all the way through from around dinner time to 5 or 6 am the next morning. It took that long for us to beat Father Gascoigne, the second boss! I think we went up against him maybe 30 times before we took him down. We kept getting so close, but he’d best us right at the end. It was grueling.

Normally I would never play a game like that; I’d give up far more easily. But Bloodborne hooked us completely, despite being so challenging. After another couple of sessions, the whole thing finally “clicked” for us and we progressed more easily. Playing Bloodborne is like exercising a muscle you never use. At first, it’s extremely painful and slow. But over time, you gain strength, and the experience becomes deeply rewarding.

It was really too much for me at first and definitely didn’t click immediately. Like I said above, I sat Dark Souls down for a couple of months but picked it back up after a buddy convinced me to by saying he’d co-op a bit with me. I watched him play and got an idea of what I was doing wrong. Souls is difficult but it’s also fair. The difficulty for the most part is almost manufactured. It’s like a product of fear. The fairness of the series basically means that if you learn from your mistakes and don’t repeat them, it’s like you turn the difficulty down.

It’s still difficult, but once you have the mindset that you CAN and will correct your mistakes made with every new experience, it turns into a new experience. With Bloodborne, it was new mechanically speaking to an extent but for me, it was probably easier for most because I had already realized what it took to conquer the obstacles FROM throws at you. In the end, it took me several months to realize that but once it clicked I was on my way.

If you have played other games in the series, where do you rank Bloodborne’s difficulty?

It’s a tough question because I think it depends on your prior experience with the series to some extent. I find Bloodborne easier than Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls. I’m not entirely sure why. It’s probably because I have the most experience with Bloodborne. Now I’ve finished it maybe three or four times. It’s much faster-paced than the other Souls games as well, and I am more naturally suited to games that rely on fast reaction time. I find the other Souls games to be a bit more strategic, with greater reliance on your character build.

At the same time, if you started with Demon’s Souls, you might find the faster pace (and lack of shields!) in Bloodborne to be more challenging. I don’t know that there’s an objective answer.

I’ve played every installment sans Demon’s Souls. There are several ways to play Dark Souls. There’s a tankier type build that allows you to soak up more damage, there is a ranged/magic approach and there’s also playing it in a way that allows you to move more quickly and dodge more effectively. I was from the school of “dodge more effective” when I came into Bloodborne. It is designed with that in mind. It’s a high-risk, high-reward style, and Bloodborne ups the ante by rewarding you with health gains via aggressive offense.

Ranking its difficulty is actually… difficult.. vanilla Bloodborne for me, was the easiest of the Soulsborne titles. There are a couple of tough skill checks (at the beginning and towards the end) but nothing that sets it apart from all three Dark Souls games with respect to difficulty. Where it gets tricky with Bloodborne is the chalice dungeons. That is easily the most difficult aspect of any Soulsborne title but it is also completely optional. Also, the Old Hunters DLC was magnificent and an incredible challenge.

In conclusion, someone who never really used the dodge or parry function in previous titles may have had a more difficult time with Bloodborne than I did but for me, vanilla was probably the easiest of the bunch.

Bloodborne. Source: WCCFTech.

What is your favorite part of the game, and your favorite boss battle? What did you consider the hardest boss battle?

It’s so difficult to choose one favourite part! Bloodborne is full of breathtaking moments. But in retrospect, if I had to really choose a favourite, it’d probably be just after you defeat Rom, The Vacuous Spider. I don’t want to spoil anything, but this is a pivotal moment in the game. It is the point where Bloodborne transitions from being a gothic horror to a full-blown Lovecraftian celestial horror. Defeating Rom is akin to crossing the Rubicon. Everything you thought you knew is put into perspective, and you suddenly realise that the terror before you is far greater, deeper, and more mysterious than you could ever have imagined.

The boss design in general is outstanding. My favourite boss is probably Lady Maria of the Astral Clocktower. Mechanically, the battle is virtually flawless. This is because Lady Maria is just like you. She can do all the same things you can. So the end result is that this battle is a kind of test — it determines how well you understand your own move set and how effectively you can utilise everything you have learned so far.

This also makes Maria one of the tougher bosses, in my view. But for me it’s probably a three-way tie in terms of difficulty. I had the most trouble with Ludwig the Accursed/Holy Blade, Lady Maria of the Astral Clocktower, and the Orphan of Kos.

Bloodborne is like a ballet of violence. The movement mixed with weapon move sets are truly breathtaking when it’s hitting on all cylinders. You’re basically weaving in and out of an encounter with such fluidity and precision that it’s just an absolute pleasure to control and watch unfold. The game aesthetic, gothic horror meets Lovecraftian cosmic horror is also such a kick-ass backdrop to the entire dance of death. It never lets up and is haunting and beautiful.

My favorite boss battle from the vanilla game is Martyr Lagorious. He’s in an optional area of the game and is basically the final true skill check of the game. His movements and attacks weave together so nicely with your own and it’s a lovely exchange. My favorite boss period and throughout all of Soulsborne is Lady Maria from The Old Hunters DLC. Watch a video if you get the chance. It’s incredible.

In my time with Bloodborne, I never realized there was any story involved at all. Reading up on it tells me there is indeed story, but it’s considered very obtuse and hard to follow, usually needing guides and FAQs to understand. What was your experience with the story elements of the game?

It’s interesting you say that — I wonder if you finished the game or didn’t play the DLC. Bloodborne is packed full of story, which — in true Souls fashion — is mostly told through item descriptions. Cut scenes and direct exposition cover a very small proportion of the narrative.

Playing through the first time, I was definitely intrigued. Initially, when I finished the game, The Old Hunters DLC hadn’t been released yet. So there’s a great deal of mystery left to consider after you’ve defeated the final boss (whether that is Gerham or The Moon Presence). But The Old Hunters DLC reveals so much more about the plot. Not only that, but it is truly additive — I think The Old Hunters is the best DLC I’ve seen for any video game I’ve ever played.

Repeat play-throughs allow you to trigger different events and see different things. The more you do this, the more layers you’ll uncover. The Chalice Dungeons, too, provide some additional story context.

The funny thing about Souls for me is that I find the story to be very secondary to the experience in a lot of ways. My first play-through is usually me hustling to a PVP build and figuring out boss fights. Subsequent play-throughs are me piecing together the puzzle that is the story. Item description is the key to that and the landscape and level design itself tells a story. I find the cryptic nature of it all very enjoyable and actually quite immersive. FROM does not hold your hand in these games and that goes from showing you how to play down to feeding you its narrative.

If you want to discover what story there is to tell in Yharnam, that’s your responsibility. I see why that turns some gamers off but for me, it’s perfect. I never have ever felt like I wasn’t fully immersed in any game world FROM has created and that’s regardless of how invested I was in the lore at any moment. I think the way FROM handles the narrative in their games is part of the beauty of it all.

The system for calling other players to your aid seems to be a boon to new players struggling to pass a certain section or boss. Did you use this system often, and were you ever a victim of the opposite side of that coin, raids from players looking to kill your character?

I used the cooperative system primarily to play through the game with my sister. We finished the game a couple of times by playing cooperatively. It’s a double-edged sword though because playing online does leave you vulnerable to invasions and it also increases boss difficulty. However, we loved it because it enabled us to explore together and to discuss the lore as we were going. I actually learned a lot about the game because my sister and I would occasionally stop to examine something in the environment, or to discuss the meaning of different events throughout the game.

I was regularly the victim of invaders! For sure. But that’s a big part of the fun.

Like I said prior, I wouldn’t be the fan of the series I am today if it weren’t for a 2 hr or so co-op session of Dark Souls. It helped me realize some of the things I was doing wrong mechanically. That being said, I’m a strong proponent of doing as much as you can by yourself because it makes the experience more rewarding. There is a difficulty bump in co-op so it’s not like the game gets training wheels if you do it. I just find it more rewarding to do that initial play-through solo.

As far as the invasion mechanic is concerned otherwise I love it. Some players may find it annoying but they can always play offline. One thing of note is that if you play co-op then your chances of being invaded increase. People who like to raid other people’s games are aware of this and it’s just an opportunity for them to sharpen their PVP skills. Some people just like to grief. I like to grief.

What advice would you give to players who are playing the game for the first time?

Don’t give up. If this is your first Souls game you might find it overwhelming at first. But trust me, it really is like exercising a muscle or perhaps learning a language. Tricky at first, but soon it becomes second nature. You just have to keep at it.

Don’t ever be ashamed to summon help! That’s what it’s there for. Don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t playing the game “correctly” if you play cooperatively. That’s complete BS. Do whatever works and feels good for you. The most important thing is to enjoy your time in Bloodborne’s stunning world.

Bloodborne and Souls in general are tough but fair. Learn from your mistakes, pay attention to what your stats do, and don’t waste levels on stats that don’t make sense. One of the biggest killers of a Soulsborne run is getting to a point in a run where the build isn’t focused and you lack health/damage/stamina. Creating a proper build for your character is a way to lower the difficulty.
It’s a skill that you learn and refine. When it clicks I promise nothing in gaming can match that feeling.

Bloodborne. Source: Escapist Magazine.

So there we have it. Some great advice for someone like me, who just feels like they were doing the whole game wrong, to jump back in with confidence. And for new players, this will give them a great starting point. Let’s summarize a bit before we go.

  1. Don’t be afraid to start your Soulsborne career with Bloodborne. It may be the easiest of all the Souls games and you will improve as you go through the game.
  2. There is story in the game, you just have to read the item descriptions and scour the world for context. There are some NPCs hiding in houses that will give you some story, so I’ve heard.
  3. Practice is important, expect to die, and it’s ok to take advantage of help in co-op mode, especially early in the game.
  4. Don’t be afraid of the other players invading and trying to kill you when you are playing co-op, it will make you better at the game.
  5. Lady Maria is really hard.

I hope everyone enjoyed the interviews; good luck in your journeys to Yharnam and hopefully we’ll see an announcement for Bloodborne 2 on PS5 soon!


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