It's been almost eight months since the release of Bloodborne, From Software's excellent reinvention of the formula it developed with Demon's Souls. That formula? Kick your arse until you learn from your mistakes. Bloodborne's sole DLC, The Old Hunters, doesn't deviate from this; it's more hardcore than ever.
My plan was to publish a full review of The Old Hunters this morning, but that's not possible because I haven't finished The Old Hunters. Usually, this happens because there wasn't enough time, but it's more embarrassing than that. The reason there isn't a review is because The Old Hunters is really god damned hard.
First things first, it's easy to access The Old Hunters. Whereas the Souls game made it difficult to find DLC areas, it's simple in Bloodborne. Sony published the steps, but here's the basics: beat Vicar Amelia, examine the item at her altar, collect the Eye of a Blood-Drunk Hunter in the Hunter's Dream, and let the mysterious hand grab you in the graveyard section to the left of Oedon Chapel.
Players are transported to a place called the Hunter's Nightmare, which begins as a warped version of the already twisted Yharnam you've become accustomed to. The rivers run red with blood, strange growths have morphed the landscape, and the city (dream?) is scarred with violent evidence of battles long since past.
This is a place where hunters come to lose their minds, as evidenced by the many, many hunters you'll come across within a few moments of poking around. If you found hunters to be some of the toughest encounters in Bloodborne, prepare for a litany of them here. They're not as bad as those mini boss battles, but they pack a punch as powerful as your own and wield the new weapons available to you in The Old Hunters. They, like many things in the DLC, have no problem sending you to the game over screen as soon as possible.
Let's take a second to talk about the new weapons; they're fantastic and there's lots of them. Ever since the first trailer, I've been fixated on one weapon in particular: the Whirligig Saw. In one form, it's a fast club that lets you get in a series of swift strikes before dodging out of the way. But that's not the reason I'm using. No, fellow hunters, this is the reason I'm using it:
You can cause some real mayhem with this one, and I literally screamed with joy when I discovered it scaled with strength, the stat I'd pumped the most into.
And while it's great The Old Hunters provides lots of new options for veteran players, there's a big problem. Bloodborne heavily restricts upgrade materials for weapons, especially if you want to graduate them into the upper tiers. (Blood rocks, which allow you to upgrade a weapon to +10, can only be found once per playthrough!) This is done for a good reason: the game wants you to focus on one or two weapons and really get to know them. That make sense, but the DLC has at least 10 new weapons. Some are found in the first hour or two, some aren't. Either way, unless you've been farming materials -- a huge timesink -- there's no way to experiment with more than one or two weapons in the DLC, which renders a whole bunch of them totally useless. A good number of upgrade materials are scattered throughout The Old Hunters, but not nearly enough.
The Whirligig Saw has worked out so far, but if I find a better weapon later, it's not going to be much use; it simply won't cause enough damage to help.
Even with a powered up chainsaw, though, things were looking bleak.
There was a moment, a few hours into my playthrough, that I wondered if I would ever beat the first boss, Ludwig -- the nasty piece of work in the screen shot at the top. Ludwig might be the toughest boss I've faced in Bloodborne yet, a swift and deadly monstrosity capable of killing you with two errant swipes. It was a fruitless affair, with hours spent banging my head against an enemy who would not relent. Believe you me, I certainly knew what Ludwig's patterns were, but I couldn't dodge them often enough to make a dent. It all seemed hopeless.
Of course, there's a catch. I was playing on New Game Plus, in which the game allows players to work through the game a second (or third [or fourth] [or fifth]) time, with enemies gaining additional health along the way. You, like me, may have finished Bloodborne, briefly jumped into New Game Plus, and turned the game off. That's where I left Bloodborne sometime in April, and it's where I picked the game up a week or so ago. The problem? The Old Hunters is meant for players who are level 65 or so on their first playthrough. When I entered The Old Hunters, I was level 80 but on my second playthrough, so the recommended level was much higher. There was only one real solution: time to start grinding.
Based on my conversations with other reviewers, The Old Hunters is just plain hard. So whether you're in New Game Plus or not, you should prepare for a set of fights well beyond the difficulty you've come to expect from Bloodborne. That said, if you can avoid entering the DLC in New Game Plus, I'd recommend it.
Rather than grind the same enemies in the DLC, I worked through the first half of Bloodborne again. It was enormously fun to sprint through a second time, as I wrote last week. Though the enemies were "tougher," I knew what to expect, so I was able to roll on through like nobody's business. Here's how it felt playing the Blood-Starved Beast, who'd destroyed me when I first played Bloodborne:
"That first battle happened a few hours into Bloodborne, while our second tango had me equipped with dozens of hours of experience with the game's combat system. The result? He only managed to hit me twice in the few minutes we're facing each other, and the Blood-Starved Beast was no more. Even though he's more powerful than ever on New Game Plus, it didn't matter -- my skills had improved dramatically, a point that's not exactly represented on a stat sheet."
By the time I'd put the Witch(es) of Hemwick to bed, I was ready for the nasty Forbidden Forest to unlock the new faction -- The League -- and give Ludwig another shot.
The key to victory, at least for me, was a side effect of becoming part of The League: new summon points. Specifically, summon points that bring total bad asses into the world, like Valtr, who runs around with a bucket and a cane:
He's got more than that, of course. What else? A whirligig saw, naturally.
(It's worth noting I played this DLC with multiplayer turned off; with a fellow human hunter, the bosses would probably be easier than relying on an NPC.)
With Valtyr able to distract Ludwig, combined with aggressive attacking on my part to induce stuns, he went down for the count. Though I'd relied on someone other than myself to survive, the victory felt no less sweet, and I happily, quietly screamed into the darkness of my apartment at one in the morning.
I've made it to the next area, a topsy turvy laboratory that's as much puzzle as it is combat gauntlet, and find myself in front of another daunting nightmare fog. As with any Souls game, one hits rock bottom before they can get back up.
Bring it on, The Old Hunters. I've got this -- and so do you. (I hope.)