June 13th, 2015

Yes indeed, more hard to understand and even harder to play but nonetheless unique and rewarding dark fantasy roleplaying action from From Software, the guys who crushed my heart with Demons Souls, Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2 (I actually managed to complete that, one of my proudest achievements).

Once again you are a nameless individual dropped ignorant into the midst of a gloomy world in terminal decay following a hinted-at catastrophe that has left civilisation in tatters, humanity a few last mutated lunatics surrounded by monsters. Stylings have shifted from classic medieval-ish with a twist to more Victorian gothic with a smear of eldritch, the classic fantasy  dialled down and the horror considerably up, but you’re still pretty much one lone outcast struggling desperately to survive in a world there can be no saving.

Gameplay is, once again, horribly unforgiving and requires superhuman persistence, but where Dark Souls encouraged iron caution and care, Bloodborne rewards a more agile and aggressive approach which makes things perhaps a little less gruelling.  I say a little, because this is still among the hardest game experiences out there.  The sense of crushing gloom and the frustration of repeated death can be tough to get through, but it does give a real sense of achievement when you navigate a difficult section to open up a vital shortcut or finally overcome a troublesome boss.  Several times I was tempted to cast my joypad aside, but each time I was dragged back in by the great design and the way the game unfolds itself.  You couldn’t say it has a narrative in any traditional sense, but the way offhand hints build up a vague sense of the background is intriguing. An object lesson in less is more world building – it’s about the notes you don’t play, as Miles Davis had it. We begin in relatively familiar survival horror Resident Evil style territory, in a city besieged by zombified infected, but as we pass through beautifully imagined ruined temples, haunted forests and abandoned universities of the dark sciences, things get stranger and stranger until we’re in full-on Lovecraftian nihilistic cosmos territory.

More casual gamers are going to find this a baffling and frustrating experience, but the patient will be rewarded by a dark and fascinating vision of a world gone mad…

Posted in games by Joe Abercrombie on June 13th, 2015.

11 comments so far

  • Ludo says:

    Glad you liked it. This game, while being faithful to the Souls legacy, succeeds in showing something new. The atmosphere is thrilling and its Lovecraftian lore is fascinating. And this is one of the best soundtracks I ever listened to in a video game.

    I am looking forward to reading your thoughts about The Witcher 3. Amazing game inspired by the splendid saga of books written by Andrzej Sapkwoski.

    (Sorry for the not-perfect English…)

  • David List says:

    I just beat Bloodborne a couple of nights ago. Very frustrating and rewarding. I posted a blog on it, too. My (three year old son) calls it Vampire Slayer, because I’m always going on about the parallels between it and earlier games in the Castlevania series.

    I figured you’d enjoy it, based on other games you like.

    I’m almost ready to move on to Witcher III. Just gotta finish reading The Last Wish first.

  • Peffect says:

    David List,

    I’d suggest your also read Sword of Destiny, Blood of Elves and maybe Time of Contempt if you wish to avoid being spoiled.

  • Tolmie says:

    Nice review Joe!

    I think Bloodborne is a huge step in the right direction for Software. My only gripe with their games is that it’s getting a little repetitive now with the whole, “One man against almost literally everything” with no reason given other than, “because it is what it is.”
    I think the art style is phenomenally well done in setting the mood, but to me it’s just more of the same and From Software is just looking more like they’re heading down the same vein as CoD. Same game with a few upgrades.

    Thoughts on that?

    Also, pitch your First Law series as a mini T.V. series. Seriously, I’ve been waiting since forever!

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    I think they’ve innovated enough each time, tweaking the formula to make it more accessible without losing the difficulty and darkness that makes them interesting. And Yarnham is a different and more original type of setting in many ways. I guess part of it is how often the games appear – Grand Theft Autos are always much the same in many ways but they come out rarely enough to be exciting every time, whereas, say, assassin’s creeds come out so often I’m totally bored of them even if the games are usually good. We’ll see what, and when, From come up with next. I haven’t been disappointed with anything they’ve done so far, though.

  • Kreso says:

    I though BB was brilliant, but flawed.
    However, it was my GOTY… until Witcher 3 came out.

    Witcher 3 is the best game I’ve ever played, and I’ve played a lot of them.

    From the bottom of my fantasy RPG heart, Joe, I highly recommend you drop everything and get witchering! 🙂

  • Alejandro says:

    I have just finished The Witcher 3 and I am looking Forward to your Review. I guess it is a safe bet that you enjoy it as much as I did.

    Still have to Play Bloodborne. However, I am even more hyped about Dark Souls 3 coming our 2016. I prefer the classic medieval Setting.

    And if you did not see it – check out the E3 Trailer of “Kingdome Come Deliverance”.

  • Gwynbleidd says:

    Hi, Joe!

    So, as everyone here is suggesting to you to play Witcher 3, or even better if you find the time, the whole franchise, I wanted to ask you if you have read any of Sapkowski’s books?
    I’ve read all of them (the german translation) and they got me really into the fantasy genre and led me eventuelly to you and your books.

    Greetings from Bosnia!

    P.S. Can’t wait for the first law books to continue! Hopefully soon.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Been playing the Witcher 3 last few weeks. It’s great. I’ll talk about it when I’m done…

    And no, I haven’t read the books. Who reads books these days?

  • Neoloki says:

    I am a diehard Souls fan. I spend hours researching the story, reading every item description, replaying dialogue, searching for symbolism, etc. I even make videos dedicated to these games. For me Bloodborne was easily the game of the year (surprising huh) and has the most interesting story of all the FromSoft games. The lore of the game is incredibly detailed with two civilizations suffering from the reprocutions of ‘blood’ ministrations and multiple factions breaking off from the Healing Church to research their own interests. It is such a unique way of telling a story in a video game without succumbing to an alienating cutscenes or generally bad dialogue most video games suffer from. It is a particular taste and the difficulty can be off putting, but thank god we have these games out there that down hold ones hand and offer an immersive challenge.

  • neoloki says:

    Oh god, I ask you to forgive my grammar in the last post. I didn’t read it before it was sent. My apologies.

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