You know how you tell yourself you’re gonna finally try some new restaurants, then a week later you’re back at the same pizza place you always go to? I’ve been doing that same thing, except with Bloodborne.
Over the last two days, I’ve spent a good dozen hours replaying FromSoftware’s 2015 PlayStation 4 monster-slicer. I thought I would be spending that time on the new remaster of the same studio’s epochal 2011 game Dark Souls. Instead, I’ve found myself pushed back into the arms of the From game I love the most.
I recently went over my history with From’s “Soulsborne” games on this very website, but here’s the abridged version: Played a tad of Demon’s Souls, and a bit of Dark Souls 1 and 2. Fell in love with Bloodborne. Played a ton of Dark Souls 3. Also played a bunch of Nioh, though that’s by a different developer. Now I’m going back and playing Dark Souls for real. (I could’ve probably done it that efficiently the first time, huh.)
Bloodborne was my first real foray into to these sorts of games, and as a result, the first Dark Souls has taken some getting used to. It’s so… slow… and stiff… compared with Bloodborne, Team Ninja’s similar Nioh, and even the later Dark Souls games.
Out of curiosity, I took a break from Dark Souls: Remastered, fired up 2016’s Dark Souls 3, and found a considerably faster game. My DS3 character moved like a frickin’ acrobat compared with my arthritic Dark Souls 1 character, and enemies were ferociously aggressive to match.
2015’s Bloodborne bridged those two games, and I wondered how it’d feel to return to it after playing so many other Souls and Souls-alike games in the intervening years. I booted up my PS4 and started playing…
… and, about six hours later, was still playing. And playing, and playing.
I originally finished Bloodborne the year it came out, beating every boss and getting the “true” ending. However, I never finished all the Chalice Dungeons, nor did I explore any of the procedurally generated “root” Chalice Dungeons.
I also missed the Old Hunters DLC. I had started and abandoned a New Game+ before the DLC came out, and remember my at-the-time Kotaku colleague Patrick Klepek noting that The Old Hunters was awfully difficult on New Game+. So I never got around to it.
At some point, I did start a new Bloodborne game with the intent of finally playing the DLC and finishing the Chalice Dungeons. But I lost interest after beating the first two bosses, and hadn’t gotten past the Cathedral Ward, which is just the second full area in the game.
That was where I picked up my current playthrough, with the early areas done with and the meatiest parts of the game just beginning to show.
Three years after I first played it, Bloodborne still fits like a glove. I’ve explored and re-explored the game’s labyrinthine areas so many times that they have taken up residence in my permanent memory banks. I’ve watched deep-dive lore explainers and lengthy YouTube critiques. I’ve pored over item descriptions and amassed a detailed knowledge of the history of the city of Yharnam.
This game is a part of my gaming DNA to an extent that I hadn’t even fully realised.
I fought my way through Old Yharnam, unlocked the shortcut down to the boss, and took on the Blood-Starved Beast. With nothing to prove, I called in a friendly co-op player to help with the fight, and we had a merry time whupping its arse.
I climbed to the top of the Cathedral as fast as I could to unlock Ludwig’s Holy Blade, and was quickly reminded why it’s my favourite weapon in all of these games.
I gained steam from there. Over the course of a couple of nights, I’ve fought my way through the rest of Cathedral Ward, down and over Hemwick Charnel Lane, and through the Forbidden Woods. I’ve completed the first Chalice Dungeon. I beat Vicar Amelia – a boss that gave me a hell of a time on my first go-round – on my very first solo attempt. I’ve hit level 50 and am on my way to a solid STR/DEX quality build. I’ve been staying up too late, and there’s a familiar ache behind my eyes. Man, I love this game.
While I’ve been mostly re-treading ground I’ve trod before, I’ve also been doing some things differently.
I’ve been messing with the Hunter’s Axe, a fun-as-hell weapon with a spinning power attack that sends enemies flying around like shuttlecocks. I got myself abducted and sent to the Hypogean Gaol, a nightmarish area I missed in my first playthrough until I came to it much later.
I’ve been much more aggressive and less careful, which has led to some entertaining deaths as well as some outsized moments of badarsery. I’ve done more staggering, more countering, more visceral attacking, and been willing to cruise around for longer periods of time without levelling up.
I didn’t even realise how hard I’d owned this guy until I rewatched the capture footage.
I’ve also been playing a lot more with other players. The DLC added a new covenant called The League, which, like the Sunbros of Dark Souls, rewards you for warping into other players’ games to help them out. (Presumably they also watch a lot of fantasy football.) That’s given me an excuse to use my Small Resonant Bell a lot more.
I still haven’t really gotten into PvP in this game, but the more time I put into co-op, the more I want to try it.
Considering that Bloodborne came out three years ago, I’ve been impressed with how many other people seem to also be playing. It probably helps that the game was a free PlayStation Plus game back in March.
There are ghosts, echoes and messages everywhere. I regularly receive notifications that people are rating the messages I’ve left, meaning other players are out there reading. (That’s been a nice change from Dark Souls Remastered, which has been bugged on PC and hasn’t been showing messages at all.) When I ring a summoning bell, other players have generally turned up with only a short wait.
A little while back, I wrote a list of the 16 types of video game. Among those types is “The Fave”, which I described as the classic game you replay every so often. I’ve had a lot of faves over the years, from Half-Life 2 to Far Cry 2. The last few nights have made it clear that Bloodborne now ranks among the best of them. How nice to be back under its spell.
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