How Bloodborne changed my perspective on video games
FromSoftware's games, such as the Dark Souls trilogy, Bloodborne, and the recently released Elden Ring, are some of the best gaming experiences of my life despite my reluctance towards anything that is even mildly challenging. It baffles me how these games that are touted as the most brutal and tough video games appeal to a wide audience when they technically should not.
Video games are meant to escape reality, to do and create things that are just not possible in the real world. Most of us who play video games do so to get that brief reprieve from all the stress and routineness of our daily lives.
If video games are a way to relieve oneself from stress, then why would someone play Dark Souls or Bloodborne, games that are regarded as one of if not the most challenging games on the planet?
While most games make the player feel powerful against the enemies, Souls games do the opposite, making the player feel puny even against the fodder enemies, let alone the mighty bosses. Maybe that’s the draw for these kinds of games. Perhaps the targeted audience is hardcore players who are skilled in the art of playing video games and are not easily intimidated by the difficulty of any game.
Let me assure you that’s not the case at all. Over the last two years, I have become a massive fan and admirer of these games, especially Bloodborne, given it was my first exposure to FromSoftware's games and souls-likes in general. Bloodborne had a massive impact on me and my perception of video games.
I'm not someone who you’d call a skilled player. Quite the contrary, I’m someone who rarely goes for difficulty in games. The only game in my memory that I played to complete at the hardest difficulty was Dishonored 2 in 2018. I chose to stealth and save-scum my way through the levels without killing any NPC, avoiding combat altogether.
In the same year, I played God of War (the new one for the PlayStation 4), which I started at the second hardest difficulty but was knocked down to the easiest within the first 20 minutes or so. In short, Bloodborne should not appeal to a player like me, but it’s my favorite video game of this generation. Let me explain how.
Note: This article contains mild spoilers (early sections and a few late-game bosses) for Bloodborne.
First attempt at understanding Bloodborne's world
I started playing Bloodborne in 2020, just after I had finished The Last of Us Part II. You might have guessed it already. I played it to its entirety in the easiest difficulty. I had little knowledge going into Bloodborne of how any of its systems work, how to navigate through the blood-soaked streets and alleys, and what my objectives were.
After creating my character, which took me nearly an hour to ultimately end up knowing that I’ll rarely get a chance to see the intricate details of my character, I made it out of the first room only to be mauled to death by a werewolf-looking beast.
This sent me to the hub world, where I got to choose my weapons and then teleport back to the same place where the werewolf beast was but this time, with the help of my chosen weapons, I was able to kill the beast. This was the first hint the game subtly bestows on the player that though the world they’re about to explore is harsh. It’ll always provide the players with the tools to overcome the challenge.
I didn't get that meaning out of the encounter immediately after exploring and dying about a dozen times at the hands of literally everything. From essential humans to rats, beast people, werewolves (of course), to giants, to men in wheelchairs with a gattling gun attached to them. I had enough.
I was lost as I was mainly accustomed to games telling me where to progress via an objective marker, obvious visual hints, or a mini-map. But Bloodborne didn’t have any of those. Its levels were tightly packed with seemingly endless ways to progress, which confused me. Also, the constant fear of getting killed by an enemy ambush that might be hidden around the next corner didn’t help much.
I must’ve played around two hours or so of Bloodborne before putting it down. I didn’t touch it for quite some time, maybe about a month. I was trying to get the platinum trophy in God of War back then, and it was a grind to get the trophies for all those collectibles in the game, especially the Ravens. So I kept busy with that.
Returning to Yharnam with a vengeance
The next time I came to Bloodborne, I was prepared to take it on, partly because I had nothing else to play apart from Bloodborne and a few older games. I picked up where I had last left off. This time I spent a few hours getting to know the level and how it connects without getting intimidated by getting ganked up on by enemies.
I mean, what's the worst that could happen? Me losing some blood echoes. That’s it. It's not like I could use them, as it requires the players to either defeat or come across any of the two bosses in the first area to be granted the right to level up.
Most casual players like myself, who have heard about the difficulty of Souls games, are readily intimidated by the sheer thought of playing a Souls game. That should not be the case, yes, the enemies and the environment, in general, are challenging, but all it demands is attention and perseverance.
With just a little attention, the maze-like tunnels and pathways that confused me to no end became fairly easy to navigate. I opened up a few shortcuts that expertly connect the opening parts of the level with later parts.
Also, repeated encounters with the same enemies that more or less had the same scripted positioning upon every death helped me devise strategies to lure them one by one rather than facing the mobs head-on, making it way more manageable.
Encountering the first boss
I made my way to the game's first boss, the Cleric Beast, which as a side note, had a brilliant OST. That’s another key point why I love Bloodborne. The music in the game. The OST is superb, whether ambient music or the boss soundtrack.
Coming back to the Cleric Beast. To my absolute surprise, it took me just a couple of retries to defeat the boss, maybe because I used a few molotovs (out of fear and frustration, not strategy) that I found while exploring. Unbeknownst to me, my chosen weapon, the saw cleaver, deals extra damage to beast-type enemies.
Molotovs saw cleaver or just sheer luck, whatever be the reason. I couldn’t believe myself to have defeated a Bloodborne boss. The adrenaline rush that I had coursing through me was insurmountable.
It was probably the best experience I’ve had playing a video game. With pumped-up confidence, I readily marched to the next boss, Father Gascoyne, the main boss of the first area, Cleric Beast, being entirely optional.
Father Gascoigne, the boss that almost made me quit Bloodborne for good
I entered the arena, and with a cool intro cutscene, the fight started, and I immediately got killed without even being able to land a single blow at the boss.
This did take a toll on my newfound confidence in the game, but I did not give up. Having killed a boss, I was able to level up.
I put some time into killing enemies and collecting Blood Echoes (the experience points and currency of the game). I leveled up, upgraded my weapon, and returned to Father Gascoigne. Funnily enough, I was still getting killed. I couldn’t even bring his health down to half.
After repeatedly dying 10 or 11 times in a row, it struck me that, along with the saw cleaver. I also picked up a blunderbuss, a big gun that, unlike traditional shooters, doesn’t kill an enemy but is used to parry their attacks.
I’ve seen Gascoigne, a hunter like my character, use his gun in conjunction with his giant axe. It’s pretty effective against me. It sure must be equally effective against him.
I again stepped through the boss’s fog door with this newfound idea and courage. I fired my gun at Father Gascoigne, but that did not even tickle his health. I was scared, thinking maybe I’ll never get past Gascoigne and never will be able to finish Bloodborne.
I was down to four silver bullets out of the 20 that I had on me. When I fired my second-last bullet, something happened. I managed to time it right (by accident, mind you) and parried Gascoigne's attack.
He was staggered, and I got a chance to deal with a visceral attack that damaged his health. I was also quick enough to land a couple of swings, which got him to his second phase. The second phase was more of a Cleric Beast fight, but he was way faster and more aggressive.
Took me a few more tries, but I was able to beat Gascoigne and proceed to the area, the Cathedral Ward. One thing that the opening area of the game taught me is that enemies and also bosses will vary both in their visual design and attack patterns.
I could not get comfortable using just one strategy for every enemy in Bloodborne. This idea of actual progression and growth for both my in-game avatar and myself as a player was something I have never felt while playing a video game.
An action role-playing game like no other
Don’t get me wrong, other video games can invoke a similar feeling of progression. But more often than not, games tend to invoke this feeling of playing numbers games.
Most modern role-playing games are heavily based around the leveling system that artificially makes the player feel powerful by increasing damage output or defensive stats via leveling up.
Yes, Bloodborne, as you level up and strengthen your weapons by upgrading and blood gems. The difference is that Bloodborne and other Souls games heavily rely on the player’s dedication to take time and study the enemies, bosses, and environment.
Bloodborne does require skills to dodge, parry and attack effectively, but the game doesn’t need one to be highly skilled at playing video games to play it. All that is needed is the player’s willingness and attentiveness to learn to be skillful in the game.
I learned it the hard way, having almost quit Bloodborne and dismissing it as a game not meant for me, to get so engrossed in it that it became my favorite game of this generation.
Another recent game that I played that reminded me of the same notions is Doom Eternal. It, too, is a highly skill-focused arena shooter with a deficient skill required to enter. The game gradually teaches its ways to the player, given the players themselves are patient enough to learn it.
Addicted to hunting beasts on the streets of Yharnam
Bloodborne kept me returning to it routinely every day for two and a half months. I also got the Old Hunters downloadable content for Bloodborne after I had finished the base game twice. That alone kept me playing it for another month.
One thing to note here is that, even though Bloodborne allows for multiplayer engagement via PvP and Co-op, I played the whole game offline, i.e., solo, for my first playthrough.
Upon completing the game for the first time, I did try some PvP, but given the game's age, most players that engage in the PvP of Bloodborne are primarily veterans of the game and are much better than me at the game. However, I did find some fun getting summoned to help random players defeat certain bosses.
After around five months of playing Bloodborne religiously, starting from getting super intimidated by the difficulty and almost quitting the game to having sunk in well beyond 500 hours and getting the platinum trophy.
End-game challenges that kept me invested in Bloodborne months after completing the game
Usually, action RPGs tend to lose out on player interest by the end-game, but Bloodborne's different. After you’re done with everything the base game offers, there are also a series of randomly generated dungeons accessible from the hunter’s dream hub world.
These dungeons are mostly randomly generated but usually have the same objective, i.e., to enter the dungeon and fight some enemies guarding a switch that opens a door somewhere in the dungeon, which leads to the dungeon’s boss.
I’ll admit most bosses are either a repeat of some of the base game bosses or are standard enemies with a boss health bar. However, some bosses are exclusive to the dungeons, like the Watchdog of the Old Lords, the Pthumerian Descendant, and Bloodletting Beast, to name a few.
The dungeons do get repetitive and sometimes a slog to get through, but they are a worthwhile endgame challenge that also lets you visit some old bosses from the base game.
The Old Hunters expansion
I also mentioned getting the Old Hunters DLC. Let me tell you about that. After finishing the game for the first time, I immediately went for the new game plus, which for the uninitiated, is a way to play the entire game again from the start while keeping your character progression and items from the last playthrough.
You can keep all your gear, weapons, weapon upgrades, and levels gained, only losing quest-related items. The new game plus cycle also increases enemy aggression and defense, i.e., health by a small margin upon every successive new game plus cycle up to new game+6.
However, in my personal experience of having played the first new game plus cycle, it didn’t feel any different from the base new game. The Old Hunters DLC proved me wrong when I thought the game might’ve lost its challenge factor.
Accessing DLC locations in FromSoftware's games has always been cryptic and intriguing. Bloodborne is no different and has an exciting and spectacular way of transporting players to the DLC. Here’s how to access Hunter's Nightmare, aka the Old Hunters expansion:
- Upon downloading the DLC, you get the eye of a blood-drunk hunter in the hunter’s dream.
- You must’ve progressed enough in the game to reach the Cathedral Ward, i.e., cleared the starting area and killed Father Gascoigne.
- You must’ve defeated Vicar Amelia, one of the first bosses accessible from Cathedral Ward.
- After defeating Vicar Amelia, return to the Cathedral Ward hub and proceed towards the door on the left.
- If you have more than 40 insights (which is a form of the in-game counter of the player’s experience with the otherworldly creatures of Bloodborne and has massive lore implications), you’ll see a Cthulhu-looking beast (called Amygdala) clinging to the ring side of the area. Get up to the creature, and it’ll grab and kill you, transporting you to Hunter’s Nightmare.
You can still be transported to the DLC hub if you don't have that insight. All you need to do is stand at the extreme right of the area exiting the door (the same area where the Amygdala is), and though you’re unable to see the creature. You’ll get grabbed by it and transported to Hunter’s Nightmare.
Though it’s not recommended to go there if you’re unable to see the Amygdala, it signifies that you are not progressed enough in the game to be able to see these Lovecraftian beings. I had to be appropriately leveled and geared up to take on the DLC, which you’ll need to be. The DLC is the hardest challenge you’ll face in the world of Bloodborne, with early areas easily surpassing the final stretch of the base game.
There are five bosses in the Old Hunters DLC, four if you discount the Living Failures boss fight. These four bosses include Ludwig the Accursed, Lady Maria, Orphan of Kos, and Laurence the first Vicar.
These bosses are no joke. They are equal parts a showcase of the game's amazing art style and a quality challenge for the players. These bosses are the epitome of the challenge that Bloodborne has to offer to its players.
My journey through Hunter’s Nightmare was quite painful, having failed countless encounters with the last two bosses, Orphan of Kos and Laurence, but I persevered and eventually managed to defeat them.
Bloodborne truly redefined gaming for me
My journey with Bloodborne was very enlightening. It was something that I never knew I needed to experience. But now that I've experienced it, I can’t return to my old self. That of running away from complex or challenging encounters in video games or even my personal life.
Bloodborne taught me that you don’t need industry-defining visual fidelity or blockbuster cinematic cutscenes to make a great video game. A good game at heart should be just that, a good game, with gameplay that encourages player agency and rewards them meaningfully upon getting past the game’s challenges.
It is a game that has stood the test of time and aged well. It’s a relic of the old times when games used to be good, and I came to it late, but better late than never.
Difficulty in video games is subjective
I must also admit that playing games on easier difficulties should not come with a tag of shame. I still play some games on easy (mostly linear story-driven adventure games ala Uncharted), of which I’m more interested in the story, and the gameplay boils down to just shooting a bunch of people to get to the next cutscene.
We all have our level of skill and patience, and if someone wants to play their game without having to worry about the difficulty, all the power to them.
Thinking about how far I’ve come since playing Bloodborne is staggering.
From being someone who never even considered playing Souls games due to their notorious difficulty curve to having finished Bloodborne, all the Dark Souls games, Sekiro, and the newest FromSoftware offering, Elden Ring, their games hold an extraordinary place in my life.
As cliche as it may sound, FromSoftware's games teach a valuable lesson of being okay to fail as long as you learn from your mistakes. I don’t think any other media can teach this notion of failure and perseverance better than these games.
Bloodborne, among all the other games I’ve ever played, will always have a special place in my heart for being the game that genuinely defined video games for me. I’ll forever be thankful to FromSoftware developers for creating a masterpiece called Bloodborne.