I finished Bloodborne. I'm not sure why I feel surprised about that, given my experience with Dark Souls about 18 months ago - but I am, nonetheless. As with Dark Souls, I started Bloodborne without any certainty that I'd ever see the end of it for myself. Here I am though, with Gehrman and the (optional!) Moon Presence dead at my feet; their blood dripping from the end of my +10 Hunter Axe.
And my feelings on the whole experience are... much as they were at the end of Dark Souls. Damn, what a ride From Software delivered with this one.
There's a lot of debate online about which is the hardest game in the Dark Souls/Bloodborne/Sekiro series that make up the 'Soulsborne' genre. A lot of people out there certainly make a strong case for that award going to Bloodborne. And... I have to disagree with them. Make no mistake - Bloodborne is a wonderful game. It's probably a better game than Dark Souls - but it's the latter one that I think will always occupy a special place in my heart simply due to it being the first game of this type that swept me away. To argue about these games purely in the context of their difficulty is, I think, to miss the point anyway. Don't get me wrong - they are hard. But by concentrating so hard (heh heh, pun totally intended!) on that facet of them, we somehow demote all of the other things about them into a subordinate position - and that's a lot of positive points to diminish. Since we're on the subject though, we may as well address it here and now and I'll repeat myself for those in the back:
Bloodborne is NOT as hard as Dark Souls.
How did I reach that conclusion? Well - there was one key difference in my experiences of Bloodborne and Dark Souls, and in the case of the latter I really think it could have been the difference between victory and submission. Dark Souls was played on my Xbox - where I have an Xbox Live subscription that permits online multiplayer. Bloodborne was played on my PS4 Pro... where I have no PSN subscription, and therefore no way of calling upon other people for assistance.
That's right - Bloodborne was played ENTIRELY offline. At no point did I summon another player for help - and at no point did I honestly really feel I needed to. I couldn't see other players' hints and tips as I could in Dark Souls - but where several of them really saved my ass in that game, I don't recall really feeling like I was missing out on anything by their lack of presence here. I waited all game for what I've been half-jokingly referring to as 'the Ornstein & Smough moment' - that one, inescapable and apparently unwinnable fight. The girder that suddenly appears in front of your express train of progression. The one that you begin over and over (and over and over) again, slowly but surely chipping away. Learning a moveset. Learning when to dodge, when to block, when to parry... and when to take a deep breath and switch off the console to ensure that a joypad doesn't get hurled through the TV screen.
The closest that Bloodborne came to giving me that was with Gehrman at the very end of the game - but even he only slowed me down for several hours in comparison to the days-long period of despair that slidey-stabby scumbag (Ornstein!) and big-boy (Smough!) provoked. While I got to the point of quiet certainty that I'd never escape Anor Londo alive, the idea that Gehrman was an insurmountable challenge just never crossed my mind. Was he easier? Or was my experience of this type of game beginning to show? I'm not sure, to be honest - and it's more than possible that it's a bit of both. Either way, the result was the same - I threw myself up against him in the knowledge that his moveset could be learned, his biggest hitting combos could be avoided, and eventually the dream and the long night would be brought to an end by my hand. And eventually - it was, they were, and it was. The mechanics of the game just aren't as fundamentally as unforgiving some of its predecessors - but that's not entirely a bad thing. I'd argue that if you're looking for an entry point to these games, Bloodborne is much more accessible than some of the earlier ones.
As with Dark Souls though, there's a lot more to Bloodborne than just its difficulty. It tells a densely packed tale that leaves a lot for players to figure out for themselves - and one playthrough was nowhere near sufficient to really get a handle on it. Environmental storytelling is everywhere on the blood-spattered, moonlit streets of Yharnam. The design of the world, while not feeling quite as elaborately interconnected as the one of Dark Souls, is nonetheless a place that you come to feel like you exist in - its air of gothic decay at once staggeringly beautiful and nauseatingly grotesque. It's a game that you have to figure out for yourself as far as you can - and while guides are available online, I'll admit to only looking at one of them which was provided via a mate from Twitter (cheers @SilentStep79) which was offered up to ensure I didn't miss an interesting area of the game. That figuring out - the cautious exploration, trying out new items to both success and failure, and trying to piece together what the game was trying to tell me - was as much a part of Bloodborne as it was Dark Souls before it, and I enjoyed it as much here as I did there.
I think my biggest takeaway from Bloodborne though, is this: The affection that I developed for Dark Souls wasn't a fluke. It wasn't a bizarre twist of fate brought about by an unlikely combination of internal and external factors - but was instead my natural reaction to playing a really damn good game. Where that game adjusted my expectations of myself, Bloodborne has really helped to reinforce that positive mindset. Together, these games have showed me that I can accomplish things I didn't think I was capable of - and that's a lesson that I'll carry with me far beyond my videogaming. It's ironic that a game about death, loss, and misery has ended up having such a positive effect on my mental state... but by the state of the online community that follows these games and supports players of all skill levels, I'm far from alone in feeling that way.
It seems only appropriate that I sign this one off in a similar way to my sign off at the end of that Dark Souls post from February 2020:
"If I, an average gamer, can finish a game with such a crushing reputation for being difficult... then maybe everyone can. If you're one of those people who's been eyeing these games but has never jumped in, please - grab a little bit of faith in yourself and do it. It'll take patience and it'll take perseverance... but you WILL be able to do it."
The same is true of Bloodborne - and if you're even vaguely curious about it you should absolutely pick it up.
Have you played Bloodborne? How did it stack up against the other Soulsbornes for you? Or do you run a mile from them all? Hit me up on Twitter to let me know!