Last time we went over the mechanical and gameplay aspects of Bloodborne. Here we go over basically everything else I felt like talking about. I’ll link Part 1 here but hopefully you enjoy the thrilling conclusion to this two-part series.
This game has by far, my least favorite bosses of any of the non-Dark Souls 2 games in terms of how they play. Design-wise a lot of them look amazing, tend to be well animated and are just great to watch in motion. But aside from about three of the bosses, they are all for the most part not overly fun to fight. One of the main problems is health-many of the bosses have a very large amount of health and this causes fights to drag on for far too long. It turns a few of them from what should be a wonderful and epic time, to a slog that tests your patience more than anything.
There's a human enemy near the end of the game who is a perfect example of this-I fought him with a near +10 Ludwig Holy Sword (a strong broadsword that does a lot of damage) and I was tough enough to take a decent amount of hits from him. It took almost 15 minutes or so and it was so uninteresting-his attacks were incredibly limited in scale, he runs away halfway through so you need to chase him down again, he has little helper enemies that force your attention away, and the boss has a huge amount of health. He's not hard, I beat him on my second try, he's just painfully unpleasant to fight and if I hadn’t been as strong as I was at that point I can imagine his fight being excruciating.
Another example of some boss design that I really came to hate is The Blood Starved Beast. This boss, in particular, is one I found too difficult to be as early on in the game as it is. While it is actually a somewhat optional boss, the game signposts you heavily towards it and the area before it is tractable to earlier players which encourages them to push forward into its area. With its poison phase, rapid attacks, difficult parry timing, massive health, and one hit kills it's a boss fight that exemplifies a lot of the problems with the bosses to me in addition to the boss I listed above. It's so frustrating and rage inducing to have the boss near death after so long wailing on it, only for it to one hit kill you or manage to get you with a few good strikes and have to start over.
Additionally the bosses don’t give you anything for beating them aside from one or two that give you an item, a few that give you story items and a gaggle that give you...chalice dungeon materials. There are no boss souls, weapons or unique items for the most part-just a decent amount of souls that in some cases feels like a pittance rather than anything substantial. It removes one of the most rewarding parts of beating bosses in the series and deflates the victories even more in the face of the more boring ones. Ultimately the main game boss fights don’t take advantage of the best parts of the gameplay well enough, don’t feel rewarding and some of them just have some fundamental issues in how they work. A few of them seem like they’ll up the stakes and change form or something substantial in phase and...they just don’t
However, the DLC bosses are almost without exception great. They’re challenging, have interesting visual designs and are a riot to fight. They feel incredibly well done and they make the poor state of the main game boss fights even starker in the contrast. They felt like the best bosses in the soul's games, where the fight isn’t super hard but it's hard enough and it's fun to play through. True they don’t give you items either but that's par for the course at this point, and usually there is something associated with them weapon wise later on so it's not as egregious.
HATE. HATE. HATEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.
These dungeons are without a doubt, the worst designed part of the entire series, including Dark Souls 2. Having had to suffer through them to get the platinum I can say with certainty that I cannot believe something of this horrible of a design is in a game like Bloodborne. That probably seems pretty hyperbolic but as I’ve noted I had to suffer through these-including the defiled chalice dungeons which are the worst thing in the worst thing in the entire souls series.
Now it's arguable that you can avoid these dungeons, but they impact many things in the game in a negative manner outside of themselves. Not only did they have to take away time from the main game to work on this content, but a decent amount of bosses give items for the chalice dungeons and even some chests contain chalice dungeon components. These dungeons impact and tie into the main game both in terms of lore-they are very important to the lore of the game proper which is one of the main appeals of this series. You cannot fully escape the influence of these dungeons even if you don’t play them and that's why I think it's so important to tear them apart in terms of criticism.
The idea behind the Chalice Dungeons is that they’re procedurally generated dungeons that have special items hidden in their depths that you can acquire as well as some of the best blood gems in the game-blood gems being the items you attach to your weapons to buff them with different abilities. On paper this allows fresh new dungeons to explore, areas to grind and new items to help you through the base game while adding replayability. The reality is that they quickly become a tiresome chore that is unpleasant to work through, and that begins to actively punish you for trying to get through them.
The dungeons are all incredibly repetitive, and while at first they generally use new enemies eventually the enemy variety plummets to the same types over and over again till you rarely see anything new or overly interesting pop up in the dungeons. The rooms themselves start to repeat and it's painfully clear how much recycling is going on as you progress through the same hallways and chambers several times. They force you to grind for resources to keep getting through them, some of which are a big pain to acquire and many of which are just boring to try to get. Not many of the bosses in the dungeon are really anything to write home about except the final boss of the dungeons who is super important in terms of lore and is a fun/thematic boss fight. It doesn’t help, I suppose, that even the limited bosses here are reused in the main run to the final boss because then you have to fight them again but in the worst part of the entire area.
The Defiled Chalice is the most baffling piece of design in this already bafflingly terrible area. This particular chalice dungeon makes enemies hit harder, takes away half of your health and forces you refight old bosses from the main game and the earlier dungeons, but also gives them even higher health, which then makes fighting them a tiresome bore. Taking into consideration that some of these bosses were already kind of a pain to fight it just strikes me as really baffling why they thought this dungeon was in any way acceptable. By the end of the final boss of the dungeons I was nearly broken and wanted to give up entirely but somehow I managed to press on. I eventually managed to make it to the final boss of the area, defeat her and had a lovely time with that-which then had the effect of making me even more disgusted of how much shit she was buried under when she is such a quality boss.
If you aren’t interested in the platinum trophy, my advice is that you should just not mess with the chalice dungeons. They’re horribly made, horribly implemented and the only redeeming quality of them is so far out of reach that it's not worth suffering through the dungeons to get to her.
Hands down some of the best in the entire series as far as I’m concerned; there's some beautiful tracks here and some wonderfully haunting melodies that bring so much atmosphere whenever they start playing. There's even some wonderful melding of themes in terms of the hunter's dream and a later boss that is incredibly well executed.
World and Lore
I think this is one of the strongest aspects of this particular souls game because the world has some fascinating aspects to it and the lore has tantalizing implications. I’m rather taken with the visual design and layout of Yharnam-it's a pretty interesting environment with a lot of neat little details and setups. It's the most divergent from the previous game's environments which can blur a bit together across Demons to Dark Souls 3. I think all of the areas have an interesting look and feel to them, and the way the game world changes as you progress is also cool because it's a lot more visually present here.
The gothic architecture, the lack of much foliage outside of a few areas and the disturbing, misshapen enemies all contribute to a very uncomfortable atmosphere hanging over everything. Enemies are horrific looking, and you can hear some of them muttering to themselves showcasing scraps of intelligence buried under their horrible forms. The designs on most enemies are either subtly uncomfortable or downright nightmarishly twisted, a mixture of the Souls enemy design that is so often lauded and the Lovecraftian iconography that is a match made in hell.
I really only felt one area seemed out of place-the forbidden woods use a lot of snake-themed enemies and while these are unpleasant they don’t quite fit the theme of the rest of the game-they never go quite far enough and the main boss of the area feels really out of place and lacking lorewise. And admittedly some of the areas can look a bit too samey in some regards, as well as not enough of Yharnam being shown off but I’ll get a bit more into that later. Regardless, for the most part, I liked the areas from a visual perspective and the games willing to go to some weird places in terms of how things look.
Especially the Old Hunters areas are really cool, full of disturbing visuals and interesting NPCs and lore that deepen your understanding. Most notably the Healing Church research lab is eye-opening to the real nature of the church, its crimes and how it precipitated the downfall of Yharnam. it's a pretty good looking game that is full of intriguing environmental storytelling that begs you to dig a bit deeper and try to figure out a bit more what the heck's going on, especially as the areas get more twisted as the game progresses.
The great ones and the blood/insight ideas are also interesting as well as being well integrated into the game. Blood is used to cure ails and was responsible for the downfall of Yharnam-it's a central theme of the game and as well being used in blood vials to restore health, as well as drenching your character in blood whenever you fight the deformed enemies. Insight functions similarly to humanity, being used to summon allies and also buy rarer resources...as well as making it easier to die from the frenzy status effect and allowing you to see things or hear things you can’t if your insight is too low. In some ways, I think the obfuscatory and less in your face method of From Software's prior games is a perfect match to Lovecraftian horror-even now I’m still trying to noodle out just what some things mean, what certain enemies even were and their purposes. Some of those things will never really have resolutions or concrete answers but that is somewhat the point-and keeping you off balance with whats going on also makes the world more unnerving as it slides more and more into madness.
Even here, however, cracks appear in how the game is set up and organized. The game feels a decent amount shorter than its fellows-this might be down to perception of course, but I didn’t feel like there was as much of a grand tale and adventure being woven as in prior souls games. The game never really feels like it gives you enough to go on in terms of story-this might partially be down to one of the characters that would help with this being randomly tossed somewhere in the hunter's dream, somewhere I never found him through the game for some reason, and also because it doesn’t feel like you’re given goals outside of hunting beasts.
This partly comes down I think, to the lack of NPCs, cutscenes, and questlines. There are a few NPCs to be found and questlines to be followed but it feels like there aren’t as many of them as in prior games, which deprives the player of some direction or world-building. Even worse, there are scattered notes that hold important information that could really improve and flesh out the world that could have been delivered via NPCs of some nature. I obviously don’t want the storytelling and what not to be too in your face-part of the strength of these games is keeping things just mysterious enough to make them more intriguing but also stringing you along with information to keep you not grasping too much. I just feel like that balance isn’t quite as well juggled here and going into the end of the game I still felt like there was something missing in terms of story.
These issues aren’t helped by the fact that certain areas just feel too empty of content, devoid of items or characters to keep you in tune with the world. A great example is-minor spoilers-the Upper Cathedral Ward, where the Healing Church Choir held sway and controlled the rest of the church. It's one of the most important areas in the entire game lore-wise and yet it's relatively small, lacks any NPC to help explain things, and has few lore items that help flesh it out. I feel like this game was lacking in budget, but unlike the other souls games it feels like the lack of budget got spread around rather than crippling an area or two-something that probably wasn’t helped out by the development time that the chalice dungeons ate away at.
It's also not helpful that The Old Hunters DLC goes a good way towards fleshing out The Healing Church and how it operated, how things could have gotten so bad behind the scenes and the impact the end boss ultimately has been having on certain aspects of the world. I’d go so far as to say that it not being in the base game is actually hugely detrimental to Bloodborne as a whole, denying it of some short but very important content and a gaggle of pretty fun weapons that help build the lore while mixing up playstyles more. This content is great, and it fixes a lot of issues with the base game as well as deepening the base game's world. I honestly can’t imagine playing Bloodborne without it stuck on, and it's really a great example of the highs a souls game can reach-I just wish that the entire game had been more on par with it because nothing in the base game managed to be as good as it.
Ultimately I find that in my eyes, Bloodborne is a good game that could have been great. I really wish I could have lauded this game without reservations and been able to praise it without being so critical. This is a brilliant mash-up of one of my favorite game series and an enduring, intriguing style of horror that has far outlived its most famous author to become entrenched in our culture. And despite my numerous issues, the game really has a lot going for it and does a lot right as I tried to bring across while discussing its flaws. In some ways, it's perhaps the most brilliant of the souls series-it goes a lot further afield from the style of Dark Souls than Demon's souls did and the visual design here is so on point it hurts. Nothing in the game looks bad to me, and all of the bosses-even the ones I hate-are cool to look at in motion. But the game is undeniably flawed and I can’t just wave its issues away because they are so prevalent and damaging.
Yet despite all of my issues, I still platinumed it-something I’ve never done with one of these games before though admittedly here it was a bit easier than in prior games. I loved it a lot, and it's my earnest hope that someday we see another souls game that learns from this one's mistakes and outdoes it in every way, perhaps as some sort of sequel. And while I maintain that overall Dark Souls 3 is probably a better game in terms of design, mechanical concerns and how it paces itself...I still prefer Bloodborne because it does what I always thought should have come after Dark Souls. Try something new, try to innovate and try to be fresh and unique without leaning too hard on the prior games.
Yes, I still ultimately prefer Dark Souls over it, but I respect and love it a lot-I just think it deserved better and needs to be criticised so that whatever comes next can rival or surpass what came before. For myself, I’m hopeful that the time away from the series is good for it-I doubt From Software will never make another soulsbourne game again, but I think we got too many too quickly after Dark Souls took off and it diminished the quality of all of them overall. These games take time, a lot of clever work and real artistic passion to be as good as they can be-and whatever comes next for the series I’m hopeful that it's a return to form that helps showcase all that's been learned since Dark Souls first came out.
And there are my thoughts on Bloodborne! Hopefully you enjoyed reading these two-I had a lot to say and eventually realized that a split was going to have to happen if I was going to make these more easily readable. If you have any thoughts or opinions, feel free to share them below as I always appreciate some thoughtful discussion and conversations coming out of what I write. Thanks for reading!