After almost a year of on-and-off again playing I finally did it: I survived Bloodborne. It was a long, winding road filled with rage-quits, obsessive level-grinding, and detours to other games that exuded much more compassion to players. To put it into context; from the time I started playing Bloodborne almost a year ago to when I finally entered that sweet, fleeting, melancholy NG+ I was also able to completely finish Arkham Knight and Metal Gear Solid V. Neither of those games are necessarily “easy” or “short”, but compared to the unending nights roaming the Forbidden Woods or Forsaken Castle Cainhurst they felt like cheerful strolls down sunny beaches. Even when I was thinking of returning to press onward it was almost as if Bloodborne sensed the returning confidence in me and landed The Old Hunters DLC as a sort of sadistic mic-drop, taunting me to dare enter the Hunter’s Dream again.
You may have noticed that I haven’t said that I “beat” Bloodborne, and that’s entirely intentional. I didn’t finish all of the numerous Chalice Dungeons or find every secret along the way. I didn’t complete all NPC quests, either, but I did take down all of the main-game and DLC. That, for me, was a victory. You’d have thought I would have had time to relish it after such a long slog, but in fact, it was a mix of emotions. It felt almost like a long swim across deep waters to shore. I was out of breath, happy to have reached a place of respite, and happy to be alive. Almost as quickly, though, a sense of emptiness set in. NG+ instantly locks all lanterns and resets the game. Sure, I got to keep all of my gear and the Level 101 scaling I’d arrived at with a focus on HP/Stamina/Strength build, but all of the bosses returned, every area was sealed-off again, and my lofty stats were basically pitiful against the increased challenge. I thought about another go at it, because hell – I’d beaten this once already. However, upon reflecting on the toll that would take I’ve resigned myself (at least for now) to put the game in my rearview mirror.
Bloodborne is a masterpiece. It’s a raw, unflinching gaming experience. It’s a grotesque, disturbing quest. The core gameplay mechanics are great, and at the same time I cursed every instance that an enemy struck me through a stone wall. The art and design evoke truly nightmarish landscapes on a grand scale. The sound design and score can be minimal or bombastic; highlighting frenzied, white-knuckle battles and the hollow, echoed footsteps into a forbidding cavern. There are honestly too many things to note that I love about it all. So far, I don’t think I’ve had such an engrossing gaming experience since Red Dead Redemption a console generation ago. I’ve played other titles by From Software, but Demons’ Souls and Dark Souls never sucked me in the way Bloodborne managed to, and I certainly never completed those games.
Certain characters and locations stand-out in particular: Forbidden Woods, Lady Maria of the Astral Clocktower, Snake Parasite, Ebrietas Daughter of the Cosmos, Shadows of Yharnam, Annalise Queen of the Vilebloods, Hemwick Charnel Lane, Micolash, Winter Lanterns, and many, many more. For as horrific as the overall setting is, all of the excellent pieces combined are more than the sum of their parts. The rich lore and the barely-whispered corners invite exploration; and the impenetrable nature of the unraveling just-what-the-hell-is-going-on scenario draws you in further to mine the depths of this pitch-black world.
I can’t say I’ll be going back soon (I’m not that much a glutton for punishment to attempt some NG+7 crusade), but when the Resonant Bell rings softly for an inevitable sequel I will wholeheartedly enter into that deep, dark dream once again.
For the honor of Cainhurst.