The first thing Bloodborne teaches you is that you’re going to die. A lot. It does this by starting the game with you waking up in a creepy hospital with no means of defending yourself and a bloody massive werewolf thing just down the stairs waiting to rip your throat out.
It’s only after you get thoroughly murdered that you gain access to the Hunter’s Dream (the game’s hubworld) and a choice of starting weapons with which to go back and exact some gory revenge on your furry nemesis. That handily encaptures the second lesson of the game - every death is an opportunity to improve.
Here it’s by actually having something more than puny fisticuffs to defend yourself with, but in the game at large, it’s a steady cycle of die, learn, advance, repeat (or as Souls veterans usually put it, “gittin gud”). This being my first Souls game, I did a lot more dying than learning and advancing in my first few hours (it took me a frankly embarrassing amount of time to even reach the first boss), but once the rhythm sets in it’s a gameplay cycle that really gets its hooks into you.
The combat itself is extremely satisfying, once you’ve got the hang of it. You’re armed with both a melee weapon and a ranged weapon. The melee, or “trick”, weapon can switch between two different forms (eg. a sword that turns into a whip), opening up various versatile combos. Your firearm, meanwhile can be used to stagger an enemy if you hit them right before they attack, opening them up for a super-bloody Visceral Attack which does huge damage. It’s a fairly simple but deep system that rewards precise timing and aggression to keep your enemies on their toes.
In terms of story, Bloodborne takes a wonderfully minimalist approach of essentially dumping you in the middle of the gothic, beast-infested city of Yharnam and leaving you to work out where to go on your own, with a few cryptic messages and mysterious NPCs hinting at the bigger picture of what’s going on. There’s talk of a disease sweeping the city and turning people into monsters, a Healing Church dabbling in forbidden experiments and the mysterious “paleblood” you’ve been told to seek out, but mostly you’re left to piece together what’s going on yourself.
It’s a narrative decision that works extremely well in building a sense of mystery and foreboding as things get progressively darker and, for want of a better phrase, absolutely fucked up. What really makes this shine is the Insight system; each time you discover and defeat a boss or find some sort of secret, your Insight stat will increase. When it crosses certain thresholds, elements of the game world will change to reflect your character’s newfound occult knowledge - new enemies appear, old enemies will act differently and you’ll hear and see things you couldn’t before.
The buzzsaw-on-a-stick and exploding hammer are my personal favourite weapons
It’s a genius system, leading to possibly my favourite “what the flying fuck” moment in any game ever when you cross the 40 Insight threshold - I won’t spoil it here, but it changes your perspective on the world dramatically and flips your understanding of the story so far on its head.
If the main game isn’t challenge enough there’s the Old Hunters DLC, which drops you in a nightmare filled with hunters who’ve gone insane from bloodlust and provides further background on Bloodborne’s lore, not to mention some inventive new weapons (the buzzsaw-on-a-stick and exploding hammer are my personal favourites).
I’m approaching the end now, but Bloodborne has easily been one of the best games I’ve played in a long time. It’s got me hooked enough that I can’t wait to get started on New Game+ to see what secrets of Yharnam I might have missed the first time around.