I’ve played Bloodborne quite a lot. In fact I’ve played Bloodborne so much that real life is some crazy parallel universe I’d almost forgotten. A “Gamers Dream”.
Awakening bleary eyed and confused in a world I barely remember, I’m left with time to reflect on my experiences in Yarnham. Examining the arcane symbols on a black oblong slate in front of a viewing device, I manage to activate something I vaguely remember calling “The Internet”. As I read the journals of my fellow hunters, I am able to discern that they have had similar, life-absorbing experiences in that other world. In many cases however, they seem to have been misled by the eldritch old one’s and have failed to grasp some of the fundamental insights I experienced during my adventures in that foreign land. So maybe they misunderstand that world. Maybe I can light a lamp that will illuminate your time there.
Or maybe I’m just crazy now.
5. “This popular Tips article should help!”
Bloodborne is a massive, complex game. As both a major release and a game with a lot of depth, it’s natural that games sites had to get articles published fast. While some amazing Youtubers powered through the game, chronicling their experience and offering lots of good advice and tips, other websites pushed out truly awful articles with tips and advice that was either worthless, incoherent or simply incorrect. It’s not their fault. They hadn’t played the game enough to offer any advice yet and they had to get something posted. But more than any other game, Bloodborne really highlighted how reactive and accurate a community could be with hardened Souls players posting excellent guides before the game came out, while major, general interest game sites were posting shit.
Here’s a good example of a really awful article. Split into the hateful “one-sentence-of-actual-info-per-page” format, this awful thing offers nothing of benefit to anyone. The first three “tips” aren’t even tips. Simply “things that happen in the opening five minutes of the game”.
Given a bit more time, some great (or at least useful) articles have come out though. This example from the exact same website has some genuinely useful tips.
Of course it’s further down the Google search ranking because it was written later. Late enough that the writer actually had some idea what he was talking about.
You see the problem. You really need to plumb the depths to find useful Bloodborne knowledge, because all the early, bad advice has already bubbled up to the top.
But then that’s Souls games I guess. Rewarding those who look beyond the obvious and work a little harder than the rest.
Here’s a genuinely great entry from VaatiVidya, who takes time to create really excellent videos.
4. “Never buy basics like Blood Vials/Bullets”
Another piece of “received wisdom”. This early-game advice that gets parroted in most Bloodborne guides is thoroughly wrong.
I’ve finished the game and I’m pretty deep into Chalice Dungeons at the moment. I can harvest a room for 80K Blood Echoes in about two minutes. That’s enough to buy 88 blood Vials. Meanwhile, the bosses I fight in the late Chalice Dungeons can easily see me consume all 20 Blood Vials that I carry in one of the harder fights. The enemies that I kill now almost never drop blood vials. So with five failed attempts at a boss, I’m out of Blood Vials and maybe bullets too. Sure, I COULD go back to the first level of the game, kill The Hunt and run through the level getting infrequent Blood Vial drops. I’d probably get a few thousand blood Echoes for my effort too.
Or I could just clear out that one room, get 80K echoes and buy all the Blood Vials I need.
My point is if you need Blood Vials, just buy some. If I’ve learned one thing in Bloodborne, it’s that grinding a boss while trying to get by with insufficient supplies is not the way to go. Instead, go grind, buy the things you need, and give yourself a fighting chance. And if that fighting chance requires purchasing some basic essentials, just do it.
3. “I’m playing without a guide and it’s so much more authentic”
I’d never tell anyone how to play a game. If you feel strongly about this and think the ultimate Souls experience is playing without a guide, you go for it! As long as you have fun, who cares?
If you’re unsure whether to seek advice online however, I say go for it. Souls games have a rich community, and reading innovative strategies for defeating bosses developed by imaginative players is one of the best things about the game for me. I even love the fan theories about the story. The lore is opaque and even impenetrable at times, so reading other peoples theories is massively enjoyable. Of course you should enjoy it for yourself. By all means, take notes and rewatch cut scenes, scanning the screen for little details you might have missed. Even go forth and author your own fan theories. “It’s all a dream.”, “The dream is all a dream.”, “The dream is a dream of a dream. But it’s real. Really a dream.”
But if you want to read a guide, read a fucking guide. Not once have I read a guide online for Bloodborne and regretted it. Whether it was realising the Blood Starved Beast could be distracted with a pungent blood cocktail (the clues in the name!) or finding a complex system for beating Ebrietas by shooting the asshole in the head with a cannon (or shooting the asshole in the asshole), I’ve always come away with more love for the game than I had before, not less. I’ve learned something new and deepened my understanding of the games systems. And that the thing about Souls games. There’s always more layers you can peel away to learn more. And learning more about those systems from other players will enrich your experience of the game, not diminish it.
That being said, you can be strategic about how you read guides. Maybe only check online for strats to use on bosses after you’ve tried your own ideas a few times without guidance. Who knows, maybe you’ll come up with something clever new way to take down one of those bosses. And if you do, make sure to share it with the community.
2. “Bloodborne is too hard”, “Bloodborne is too easy”
Bloodborne is pretty tough. There’s no getting around it. It’s a tough game. The difficulty is “baked in”. I could write at length about how it dis-empowers the player, how it plays with expectations or how it applies the games ruleset fairly between the AI controlled enemies and your hunter, or instead I could just link this video which sums up all those points in less than thirty seconds.
This is a real “fuck you” moment. And I love it. When these things happen in Bloodborne, you realise that other games are the equivalent of vanilla sex, and what you really wanted is for someone to pull your hair, spank your ass and call you filthy.
So yeah, Bloodborne is hard. I would argue night and day with Souls fans about which of the series is hardest. For me though, it’s Bloodborne. I’ve NG+ all of them, but while Demon Souls would wear me down with areas that were a slog and Dark Souls 2 would exhibit random, often bizarre difficulty spikes, Bloodborne was the most intransigent of them all. It took my best shots, then flattened me time and again.
Two times the game almost beat me completely. The first was incredibly early on. The Blood Starved Beast was a real problem for me. I found that taking an antidote while poisoned would always send him into a rabbid attacking mode that I could never scramble away from. It was like a nightmare where you try to run from a rabid dog, then discover your legs are sausages and your arms are streaky bacon and your axe is a pork chop.
Later, Ebrietas in the Isz Chalice Dungeon was similarly difficult. With many attacks that would instantly kill me, I found that my damage output was simply too low. I could grind him down to 1/3rd of his energy, but at any moment any mistake I made would result in death, and because the fight with him took so long, I was always liable to make some mistake.
In both cases I found a solution, and it is the one tip I offer you. The one absolutely guaranteed strategy to beat any boss eventually. It simply requires the time and patience.
You set up a loop, wherein each attempt at the boss makes you more likely to win. Each failed attempt leads to loss of items and echoes, right? So to combat that, you set yourself a long route through a location where you can farm the items and echoes you need. You run this route, whether its Old Yarnham or a Chalice Dungeon or whatever, and at the end of each lap you go to Hunters Dream, level up, then go fight the boss again.
Three things will happen. Firstly, the route you run will become intimately familiar to you. Eventually, you will know the level geometry better than you know places in the real world. It will become as familiar as the route you walk to work or the path between your bed and the bathroom. You’ll be able to run it without looking at the tv.
Secondly, each time you fight the boss will stop feeling like a make-or-break encounter. Instead, each failure will be a step to success. You’ll go into the boss fight not thinking of winning or losing. Instead, you’ll go into the fight to LEARN. You don’t focus on success or failure. Instead, you seek to learn enough that you will win eventually. At some point ahead of you.
This takes immense pressure off you. It’s kind of like sports psychology. When you’re fighting a boss and you start to feel the fear of failure, you’re in trouble. You’ll hesitate. You’ll second guess yourself. Your reactions will slow down, as you become overly cautious. The way to overcome this is to think not of failure or success. In your mind, you will know that each time you fail, you’re getting closer to success. Your next attempt will be easier.
Thirdly, you will literally be more powerful each time you fight. You are making progress rather than butting your head against a wall. Your making progress both in your abilities as a player, but you’re also leveling up your character each time you go round the loop.
And weirdly, this “loop” is the most fun thing for me in Bloodborne. I learn more about the game at these times than in any other. I eventually learn the various tells for enemy attacks, I get better at gauging my weapons range and how the animation of that weapon works, and I find innumerable little secrets and details hidden away by the games designers and artists that you would only notice after your 1000th time through an area.
That’s why people love Souls games. Quite simply, the more you play, the more you find.
And if the game wasn’t as difficult as it is, that “loop” wouldn’t exist.
1. “Bloodborne isn’t for everybody”
Of all the things people might say about Bloodborne, this is probably the most common. It’s a statement of appeasement. The reason it exists is because people who love Souls games want to tell everyone how great they are. They want to argue that Souls games have something that other games don’t. Their long suffering friends meanwhile have heard quite enough about Souls games (thanks very much), and would like their friends to shut up. So this line get’s trotted out as a way of drawing a close to the debate. “Well I guess it’s not a game for everyone”.
The problem is no game is for “everyone”. Indeed, the reason so many people latch onto Souls games is that they feel like “for everyone” games like Assassins Creed or Uncharted are not for them.
There’s nothing wrong with creating a game for as large an audience as possible. I would argue that Ubisoft is the best company in the world at making populist games. I enjoy Assassins Creed.
There’s no doubt though that many gamers feel a malaise. Do you know what I mean? A general dissatisfaction with modern games. A sense that ticking a million side objectives off of a big open world map might be mindlessly enjoyable, but is no longer sitmulating or challenging enough to be engaging.
For some people, Souls games are a remedy. Both a callback to earlier, tougher games from their youth and an indication of how new games can be made that take advantage of asynchronous multiplayer in new exciting ways. Games don’t have to make you feel invincible, and mutliplayer doesn’t have to be the same old deathmatch and skirmish game modes.
So yeah, Bloodborne isn’t for everyone. But that’s a truism. It means literally nothing. There’s never been a game made that’s for everyone. And if you’re not happy with modern games, there’s a pretty good chance you might like Bloodborne. Even if you get stuck and don’t finish it, at least you’ll be challenged. Engaged. And I guarantee you that you’ll be exposed to more beautiful art, interesting design and new ideas in the first hour of Bloodborne than you would be in the whole of the newest Assassins Creed campaign.
And who says you need to finish Bloodborne to enjoy it? I mean I hope you do, but player metrics show that only a tiny percentage of gamers ever finish the games they buy. If you pick up Bloodborne just to mess around with the weapons, soak up the atmosphere, listen to that great soundtrack and murder a few innocent hunters in PVP, I’m sure you’ll get your moneys worth.
If Bloodborne was like every other modern game – Image by David Galindo
Have I convinced you to try Bloodborne? If not, just look at this list of enemies in one area of the game.
- Giant armored dwarves
- Skeleton marionettes
- Crow headed dogs
- Dog headed crows
So what do you think? What did I get wrong? Probably a lot. Let me know below.