Yharnam and Lordran.
I started playing Bloodborne. At the time I first fired it up, I was a little surprised to see myself heading back into another From Software game so soon after Dark Souls 2 beat the daylights out of me - in fact, I was surprised to even find myself adding it to an online shopping cart, along with Death Stranding and Ghost of Tsushima (neither of which have really been started). I expected to play a load of other things before it, but it just... sat there. Whispering to me, in the darkness. After the revelation that Dark Souls was something I could love, I decided to give it a go. Just a little one, y'know? See what it's about. I could always put it down and go back to playing other stuff, right?
Bloodborne has swallowed me whole. And... I might even love it a bit more than I love Dark Souls. That's not something I say lightly.
While Dark Souls' design is an obvious (and massive!) inspiration for the game, it's fair to say that a lot of systems have been changed and adjusted here while the core remains very similar. The setting has moved from the shattered remnants of a medieval civilisation into a gothic Victorian setting that's part 19th century London, and part Bram Stoker's vision of Transylvania - all towering blackened Cathedrals, towers, and gargoyles. External areas are filled with steam rising from sewer grates and the smoke from burning piles of plague-ridden corpses, lit by the blood red moon that hangs in the sky like an omen of evil. Like Dark Souls before it, the world is populated by enemies that are all capable of destroying you with ease if you drop your guard for a moment or, heaven forbid, demonstrate a moment of cockiness. Deformed villagers armed with torches and pitchforks patrol the streets, while monsters stalk alleyways and sewers.
While there are plenty of similarities with Dark Souls, there are some big differences as well. One of the key ones is how the game approaches its difficulty - because while it is at times absolutely nails hard, when you get right down to it, it's often not quite as punishing as the game that established the 'Soulsborne' reputation for difficulty. Yes, you'll come up against enemies that are incredibly dangerous when confronted alone - and if you allow them to outnumber you, you'll soon see the famous YOU DIED splashscreen. In fact, you'll become as familiar with that screen as you did with any of the other games in the series - but the fact remains that there are a couple of mechanics in Bloodborne that, to my mind, make it far more accessible than the first From Software game that stole my heart.
Healing is a prime example. Dark Souls limited the number of healing items that you could carry, with upgrades to allow you to carry more or make those items more efficient extremely hard to come by. Your supply could only be replenished by resting at a bonfire - so journeys between those locations came loaded with risk. Bloodborne changes this up by allowing healing items to drop from enemies - and at the beginning of the game especially, they're quite common. There's another new mechanic though - also related to health replenishment - that mixes the old formula up even more.
The rally mechanic rewards you for playing aggressively. When an enemy hits you, you'll lose health - but a section of your health bar remains highlighted. If you land attacks on the enemy that damaged you before that highlighted section of health bar fades away, you can recover that health. It adds a new dimension to combat that wasn't there before - encouraging you to engage with combat in a way that previous From Software games consistently punished you for. That's not to say that you can throw caution to the wind; just that when the moment is right, you can (and absolutely should) push your luck to reverse the flow of the fight into your favour.
The parry mechanic persists - which was a huge relief for me, to be honest - as I spent a lot of time learning to parry in Dark Souls. Your Hunter in Bloodborne doesn't carry a shield (generally) - instead, the parry mechanic is moved to the firearm that you carry in the left hand and is limited by the ammunition that you can carry for it. Most enemies have an attack that can be used to line them up for a visceral attack; shoot them as they draw their arm back and they'll drop to their knees - at which point you can unleash an attack that will deliver a massive amount of damage to them, in addition to spraying blood absolutely everywhere. The timing window for these attacks, so far, feel a bit more lenient than the parry window in Dark Souls was - still easily missed, but with a couple more frames of leeway added on at the end. I find I can sometimes successfully parry even when my trigger pull feels hopelessly mis-timed.
While the mechanics of the game make it more accessible than its predecessors then, what of the story and world-building? The design of Lordran was one of the things that caused me to grow to adore Dark Souls; it was a winding tower of a world, far smaller than it initially felt, and one which I came to know every inch of. The story was one you were largely left to discover for yourself through hints, texts and references that you could stumble across or miss entirely - and Bloodborne very much operates in the same way. While the world initially feels a lot larger, the longer I play the more I'm finding that Yharnam wraps around itself in a way that's similar to Lordran - riddled with shortcuts, hidden areas and items with flavour text that help to breathe even more life into this world. Standing in any spot and looking out into the wider world, you'll be able to spot distant points of interest - and you'll end up visiting them.
At this point, I'm not sure how far I have to go - as I did with Dark Souls, I'm playing it blind and without guides in spite of being very late to the party. I think playing it in this way is the most rewarding way to do it. I'm sure I'm missing things along the way, and I'm sure that I'm probably tackling some areas in ways that make my experience a bit harder than it needs to be. I defeated the Cleric Beast without too much difficulty. The Blood-starved Beast was considerably harder - a fight I must have started 20 times before finally emerging victorious. At the moment, I'm fighting Vicar Amelia in the Cathedral Ward - having finally got the area that leads to her down to a science. I'm sure I'll take her down at some point in the next couple of days - and then it will be onward. In my exploration, I've come across a couple of other areas that need some investigation that I'll check out once she's down.
No doubt, I'll keep you all posted on my progress with more posts here. I'm having a lot of fun with this one. If you're looking for an entry point to the Soulsborne games... I think this might be the best one for you.
What's your favourite Soulsborne game? Or do you run a mile at the thought of playing one? Hit me up on Twitter and let me know.