Review | 4/9/2015 at 3:00 PM

Bloodborne Co-Op Review

Praise The Su- Moon.

Bloodborne is a game that asks a lot of its players. While not a sequel to any of From Software's other Souls games, it most definitely belongs in the series; and though it has some shortcomings, it might be my favorite one yet.

You are a Hunter, participating in a nightly Hunt in the city of Yharnam. The purpose of this macabre ritual is to seek out and put an end to those people who are afflicted by a mysterious disease that causes beast transformation. Some of these poor souls are already changed and show the barest shred of humanity. Along the way you'll discover that not everything is as it initially seems, and the Hunt may not serve the purpose you think it does. Still, you must set out to cleanse the foul streets.

The original Dark Souls had brilliantly labyrinthine level design that rewarded exploration and allowed you to unlock all sorts of clever shortcuts, while its sequel was more linear in design. Thankfully, Bloodborne's levels are a glorious return to form. Yharnam is a twisted place filled with Gothic architecture, barricaded streets, and a few too many graveyards. Slaughtered beasts and the corpses of the fallen litter the path you walk. I was often surprised to find out how some of the levels weaved and merged into others. It's rare that any kind of side street or alcove exists without purpose; they often hide at least some kind of item or reward. In the end, though, all things lead to the series' famous boss fights.

In previous games, the bosses, while huge and intimidating, often had an air of dignity around them. In contrast, Bloodborne's are terrifying; incorporating corporeal horror and terrific sound design that more than once led to my wife requesting that I play with headphones on. These fights are thrilling and memorable, and several rank among the game's greatest moments. A few minibosses (and zone bosses) are Hunters just like you, which stand in contrast to the hulking beasts you normally fight. Taking on someone with the same mechanical toolset as you is quite a challenge, and one early boss was definitely a personal roadblock.

Unlike the Dark Souls games, combat in Bloodborne rewards aggressive play. In the Souls games, players could hide behind a shield and heavy armor to absorb damage. More skilled players could eschew defense in favor of dodging attacks or outright parrying them, but the punishment for a mistake was severe. Here, taking a hit or two doesn't immediately drain your hit points. Instead, you have a short window to strike the enemy back, regaining some of your lost health in the process. In fact, it's possible to take a pretty massive hit and gain nearly all of your health back afterward following a well-timed counterattack.

The weapons in Bloodborne are among my favorite additions. Called Trick Weapons, nearly everything you hold in your main hand can transform in one way or another. Your offensive options range from a Saw Cleaver that converts from a short-range melee weapon to a longsword-like slashing weapon to more exotic weaponry like the Reiterpallasch, which is a dueling epee with a pistol attached. Weapons can also be transformed mid-combo, which allows for some truly devastating maneuvers. It's satisfying to be able to carry a single tool that serves multiple purposes.

Rather than a shield (though there is ONE you can equip, almost as a joke), your character can carry a firearm in their offhand. For the most part they don't do a terrible amount of damage, but a shot fired mid-combo can knock an enemy out of their attack animation and leave them wide open for a visceral attack. Visceral attacks replace backstabs and counterattacks from previous Souls games, and you can trigger them on nearly every enemy and boss in the game.

Players familiar with the series will notice very quickly that there are no spells, but roughly halfway through the game you'll start accumulating Hunter Tools that trigger spell-like effects, such as causing an area-of-effect knockdown or buffing your firearms to do more damage. It would be very difficult to build a character that uses them as their primary means of damage, however.

The famous dodge roll from the Souls games has also been significantly altered. When you're not locked onto an enemy, you'll roll as normal, but as soon as you lock on, the roll is replaced by a quickstep, allowing you to position yourself to the side or behind an enemy. This takes some getting used to, but it keeps fights fast-paced. In addition, encumbrance has been removed from the game entirely, so you won't have to worry about balancing your equipment against your movement speed. Sadly, this also removes the possibility of "fat" rolls and the levity they bring.

As such, the clothes you wear will mostly determine your resistances to various status effects the game throws at you, rather than allowing you to soak up more damage. People who play "Fashion Souls" will enjoy some of the costume options available, but I was slightly disappointed that gear didn't affect more than a handful of tough situations that come very late into the game.

Though the amount of gear has taken a step back, your weapons can be socketed with Blood Gems, which grant them additional status effects, extra damage, or even mild health regeneration. Rather than finding rings, your character can also acquire Caryll Runes, which serve the same purpose. You'll have four slots for Caryll Runes, but the fourth slot is reserved for an Oath Memory rune, which ties you to one of the three multiplayer Oaths (or Covenants, in series parlance).

Par for the series to this point, multiplayer is central to the experience, whether you choose to take on the horrors of Yharnam alone or with friends. Bloodstains still appear, allowing you to check out how other players died, and you can read messages from other players intended to point you in the right direction (or troll you into jumping off a cliff to your death). Writing messages is a little more flexible now, and there's the added bonus of being able to attach an emote to them, allowing extra encouragement or having your character point in the correct direction.

And of course, you can still summon other players for help with an area, granted that you haven't already killed the zone boss. Early in the game, you'll receive an item called the Beckoning Bell, which allows you to summon other players who have used an item called the Small Resonant Bell. In order to use the Beckoning Bell, you'll need to expend a type of currency called Insight, which is gained in a few ways. You'll usually get one Insight for simply encountering an area boss. You'll get a few for defeating the boss. You can also consume items to gain it.

The Small Resonant Bell can be purchased once you've racked up 10 Insight, which opens up a new vendor in the Hunter's Dream. One Insight and it's yours. Oh, and I guess you could buy the Sinister Resonant Bell at the same time, but we're not here to talk about invading people...

Once you've rung your Beckoning Bell, you can pull up to two other players into your game to help out. However, once you've connected with another player, a Sinister Bell-Ringing Woman will spawn in your world who will attempt to summon a player to invade you. If you can track down and kill her, you'll eliminate the possibility of being invaded until you initiate another co-op session. Later areas in the game will spawn the Bell Women regardless, making the most difficult areas even more stressful.

Summoning specific friends in the Souls games has been… difficult, to say the least. After dealing with the witchcraft of timing logins and specific locations of the original Dark Souls, Dark Souls 2 introduced the Name-Engraved Ring, which let you filter potential partners down to people who chose a specific deity to worship.

In Bloodborne, you can password-protect your session, which will only allow people using the same password to connect to you for co-op. It's not without its issues, as connections can take several minutes to complete (and a connection error can cause you to disconnect entirely), but you'll be able to roll with a steady crew if you want to. And in case you're wondering - no, this doesn't prevent you from being invaded.

Progress is only saved for the host player, but if you've tried co-oping one of these games with friends before, you'll be used to leap-frogging progress for everyone.

Though I consistently played with Andrew, Jason, and Locke, there were times I tried seeking out random players to fill out my group, with mixed results. While I was summoned into other players' games relatively quickly, if I wanted to get someone into mine, it was often an exercise in patience, taking five to ten minutes to match up. This tells me that - at least at the current point in time - the player base is less focused on jolly co-operation and more concerned with making progress in their game.

The Oaths also leave a lot to be desired, unlike the multiplayer covenants in Dark Souls. First, there are only three, and two of them are opposed to one another, so initiating a co-op session and pulling a player of the opposite faction makes you hostile to one another, rendering the whole point moot. Secondly, there doesn't appear to be any kind of reward for participating in covenant activities other than the Oath Memory you acquire and the odd character emote, which is quite unlike the old Covenant system. Third, there's no equivalent of the popular "Sun Bros" to encourage co-op play. This is a pretty glaring issue that I feel will detract from the longevity of Bloodborne multiplayer.

During the course of play, you'll find Chalices that allow you to unlock Chalice dungeons - these are randomly generated and filled with loot and bosses not found within the core game. Completing Chalice Dungeons earn you materials to create more complex and difficult dungeons to tackle. These can also be played with friends, and particularly memorable/loot-filled ones can be shared to the wider playerbase. They make for a good diversion if you're having trouble making progress in the storyline, or if you're looking for something else to do after completing it.

Bloodborne is a fantastic game, and if you're looking to play with friends, it's certainly the most easily recommendable game in the Souls series. Yharnam is a joy to explore, the combat is thrilling, and the rush you get from defeating bosses is as great as it ever was. The Chalice Dungeons and New Game modes should keep you busy for quite some time.

Jason's Thoughts

Bloodborne reminds me of a chocolate Easter bunny, if the bunny were non-Euclidian in design. You'll go through entire sections of the game that feel really good and have real substance, when suddenly you'll come across parts that are just hollow. To some degree, that emptiness comes from Bloodborne lacking something that made the previous entries so memorable: whimsy.

While that may seem like a bit of an odd descriptor for the Souls series, my time in Bloodborne felt all too serious for the most part largely due the one thing the other games had in spades: a (almost ridiculous) diverse array of armor and weaponry. I couldn't help but be a little disappointed whenever an invader would enter my world - while I waited around for the Old Ones to finally find me a cooperator - and found that he/she was dressed similarly to me. Maybe not the exact same weapon and attire, but close enough. They certainly weren't going to look like a hobo with some kind of makeshift weapon pieced together from the set of Blade Runner before falling into the rabbit hole from Alice in Wonderland (as envisioned by David Lynch) before finally coming out in medieval London. Invasion can be a pain and a frustration for many players, but when "yolobonglord420" kills you while wearing the most ridiculous thing you've ever seen, you can't help but smile a little.

What makes that particular aspect stand out so much to me is that Bloodborne is the perfect kind of game where something like that could happen. There are some really crazy things to happen in the latter half of the game, so why wouldn't there be a helmet that has tentacles coming out of my face (for example), or a sword that splits in half and comes back together like a pair of scissors?

The remaining void stems from looking at the game as a whole. There are just three covenants in the game, which don't offer much in the way of rewards; the latter half of the game (which is the most interesting) feels rushed in comparison to all that came before; and NG doesn't appear to offer up anything new. While Bloodborne clearly bears many of the hallmarks of its predecessors, there was perhaps a bit too much trimmed to create a more "streamlined" game.

That being said, the world and lore of Bloodborne, as well as the action, may make it my favorite entry to date. Mileage will vary for many on how much you're into Gothic horror, but Bloodborne just about nails it. I can only hope that the Chalice Dungeons (and maybe some DLC) give Bloodborne the long legs Dark Souls has enjoyed.

Andrew's Thoughts

Bloodborne is great, but you already know that. From Software's latest grimdark ARPG follows in the trudging armored boots of its lauded predecessors, but now it's wearing dainty little leggings. That means less armor, more guns, and so much more blood.

I found the cursed city of Yharnam to be a wonderful setting for a horrific adventure. The whole town looks like it was designed by some insane 15th century Wallachian ruler whose deepest darkest wish was to pierce the sky. It feels cruel, bleak, and beautifully foreboding. Twisted, branching pathways lead to precious items, gnarly new weapons, and a host of seen and unseen NPCs. The city streets are crowded with packs of mad townspeople and far more dangerous terrors. Level design is simply brilliant. For me, discovering a looping short cut is almost as satisfying as defeating an area's boss. Almost. As the world opens up beyond the city walls the level and enemy design remains superb.

Combat has been revamped, but I haven't yet taken proper advantage of it. Players can now equip their characters with firearms. Most guns are used to stun attacking enemies, which allows players to perform high-damage counters. These gut-wrenching attacks offer a primal sense of power...or at least, they do when I remember to use them.

For me, trick weapon combos are where it's at. The "Regain" system allows you to replenish your damaged health bar if you strike back at an enemy quickly enough. If you just want to go crazy you can wreak havoc; just watch your stamina bar. For my haphazard playstyle that's more important than HP. Transforming melee weapons add some depth to the combat, and they have kept me in the fight long after I should have been dust. I wish there were a few more of these fun little toys.

Masochistic players who have been rolling through Hidetaka Miyazaki's dark fantasies sans shield for years may not notice the lack of protection, but you will notice how the enemy lock-on changes the good, old-fashioned, overpowered quick-roll into an equally overpowered (but slightly different) quick-step. I've gotten wrecked by camera chicanery while switching between the two in several encounters.

I really dig Bloodborne, but I was frustrated by the abysmal load times, long waits to connect to friends, and poorly designed fast travel system. I would recommend it to players who are unfamiliar with From's other fantasy games, but not to those of you who have tried and already dislike Miyazaki's game direction. Good hunting.

Locke's Thoughts

Bloodborne is an interesting successor to the series, with some great departures from the formula. The world created by Miyazaki is haunting. From the ghastly inhabitants of Yharnam to the gothic architecture, it is a forbidding place where even the most experienced demon hunters have to tread lightly. The style of the game really shines, and not just all the different outfits you can dress your character up in. Blood spatters all over your armor after laying waste to a pack of werewolves. Little touches with the lighting and ambient noise make all the difference in a game like this.

I'll echo my co-operators here and say the combat is the most drastic change in Bloodborne and I welcome it. Exchanging shields for sidearms give a much needed change of pace to every encounter. No longer can you hide behind a shield and poke at your enemy, or use the old trick of circling around until you can backstab. The combat here is much more decisive and aggressive which also matches the ‘hunting' theme of the game. Building on the combat are the trick weapons, my favorite addition to the game. Swapping between weapon forms mid combo is satisfying and one of the coolest aspects about Bloodborne's weaponry, making up for the lack of numbers we have seen in previous installments.

Bloodborne is a really enjoyable game, and while not the most approachable game in the series it is an intelligent departure. It continues to show innovation while keeping with the heart and soul of what made games of this nature popular. The exploration, challenge, and unknown factor when playing Bloodborne is what draws me into the game, and I feel they nailed it making for an awesome solo and co-op adventure.