Bloodborne: First Impressions

I started playing Bloodborne yesterday*, and this game is just blowing me away. I am so enamored with it right now, and I wanted to take some time to write about my initial impressions with the game.

To understand where I’m coming from, I got into the Souls games in October of 2018 with the release of Dark Souls Remastered for the Nintendo Switch. Contemporaneous with this I read You Died, a book about the experience of playing Dark Souls by two guys who absolutely love the game. Through the book, I also discovered the Bonfireside Chat podcast, which I listened to as I played my through. Whenever I finished an area, I would let myself listen to the corresponding episode. Needless to say, I dove in head-first and fell head-over-heels with this game. A few months later I had played through Dark Souls II multiple times, and a few months after that I played through the first quarter or so of Dark Souls III. I stan hard for the Souls games.

So, Bloodborne. Good god, this game is terrifying. Everything is gruesome and grim. Every encounter with a new kind of enemy has me going “oh god what is that?”

But what I’m really in love with about Bloodborne right now is its incredible attention to detail. It’s this pervasive effort to make every single sight and sound fit into the greater whole that makes the game so immersive and impressive. There’s two things I’ve noticed in just my first day with the game that exemplify this sense I get; one aural and one visual.

First, in Central Yharnam, some of the hunters you face wield large axes, which they lazily drag beside them on the ground. After countless runs through this area (I died a lot), I started to notice this odd sound that stood out amongst the screams of the villagers and the din of combat. I started to pay closer attention to when it appeared, when it finally dawned on me that this was the sound of the dragging axes; the movements of one of the most inconsequential enemies in the game (you encounter them in the first area). But it’s so beautifully subtle and correct. You only notice it if you can step above the constant demands on your attention the game’s combat makes. And the game cares enough to make the sound correct. It stops whenever the hunter lifts their axe to attack, and it changes in volume along with their speed.

The second gets a bit more gruesome, but, hey, this is Bloodborne. One of the prominent parts of Bloodborne is, well, blood. As you run throughout Yharnam cutting down prey with your saw cleaver (my starting weapon of choice), blood sprays everywhere, most notably (for my point) on you. Like the axe sound, I didn’t notice this at first. Only when I was going to town on the Cleric Beast did I notice its fur become soaked with blood as the fight wore on. Where From Software really gets credit from me is that the blood splatter is done with care. I started the fight over (because I died) and paid attention from the start this time. Every blood spray gushes from the beast and only remains on the fur if the physics engine dictates that the blood and fur collided. To make this even better, I started to pay attention to blood throughout the gameplay, not just in the boss fights. Blood also accumulates on your hunter’s garb, according to the same physics rules, and it doesn’t go away until you return to the Hunter’s Dream or die. It’s a small touch, but it’s details like that that keep you in the world — no in Yharnam is stopping to clean their cloak.

You could say that From Software doesn’t have to do this — that this level of care and polish goes beyond what most people notice, and doesn’t make their games more successful relative to the cost — but I disagree. It’s exactly this detail that creates the immersive worlds that we get lost in, whether we notice it consciously or not. This is a crucial part of what makes From’s games so damn good.

*Okay, technically, I played about an hour the night before, because the game arrived and I wasn’t going to wait a whole night’s sleep to play! But I ended up not liking the weapon I picked, so I started a fresh character yesterday.

Written on 05 July 2019