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Prey Slaughtered // A Hunter Must Hunt

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May
06

Like many PlayStation 4 owners, I have been completely obsessed with From Software's Bloodborne since its March 24th release. I am a "Souls" virgin, meaning I have never played either of the Dark Souls games. I played a little of Demon's Souls and absolutely hated it at the time. As someone who tries to actively keep on top of all of the latest and greatest games in the industry, missing this crucial output from From Software has always stung.

It's a bit hard to explain exactly why I decided to jump onboard this late in the game. Part of it is the art direction, I'm sure. The Souls games have always had very creative creature designs, but the overall look of the games always said very traditional "dark fantasy" to me. Bloodborne, on the other hand, is everything I ever wanted a 3D Castlevania to be (and I say this as a huge fan of the Lords of Shadow games).

The horror aesthetic has certainly been a big part of my love for the game so far. The game is equal parts H.P. Lovecraft and Bram Stoker, and every shade of macabre in between. Part of it is the challenge and aggression inherent in the combat: the controls are nearly perfect and the game has some of the coolest animations I have ever seen (especially the transforming animations of the game's "trick weapons"). Hacking monstrosities to pieces in this game simply feels right, in a way that all future melee action games will struggle to match. There hasn't been an action game this sublimely satisfying since Capcom's 2005 classic Resident Evil 4.

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Oh yeah, the game is unbelievably hard too. But the buzz about these games has been accurate: it is rarely anything less than fair, and it operates under a set of rules that are unfailingly consistent. Dying takes away your Blood Echoes (currency used to purchase items and level up your character), forcing you to work back through an area until you reach the spot that you died and can reclaim them. As frustrating as that can be, any items you find are yours to keep regardless of death. Any physical progress you make, such as unlocking a shortcut that loops an area back in on itself, remain accomplished. Death can be an obstacle, but it is never the end.

Compare this to something like The Evil Within, which has checkpointing that is haphazard at best. Some missions in The Evil Within place a save point in a central area and allow you to make use of it whenever you want; other missions are entirely linear and won't save your progress for over 45 minutes. Death in Bloodborne comes often, but the consistency of its rules allows you to focus less on your frustration and your losses and more on refining your strategy and learning from your mistakes. A game like The Evil Within just enraged me to the point of quitting.

I've put around 40 hours into the game so far and I still feel like I'm a babe in the woods. Few games have taken me through the full range of emotions like this one has: a 15 minute session can take me from joy and wonder to trepidation and fear, and I have gone from feeling like the world's worst Bloodborne player to the best (and vice versa) literally within a span of 5 minutes. If you are new to From's games, as I was, I would say this is a great place to start. After researching more about the Souls games the general tempo of Bloodborne's combat and strategies required for success within it couldn't be more different.

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If you're thinking of taking the plunge, here are a pair of things to bring with you on the trip:

Patience and a willingness to experiment: This has probably been my biggest obstacle to overcome. I don't respond to "failure" very well in games. It flares up my already out-of-hand anxiety to ridiculous levels and has me ready to break through my TV. I completely lose my mind, to put it mildly. I still have moments, but looking at failures in Bloodborne as opportunities is a critical key to success in the game. You have to be able to focus on your victories: sure, you may have screwed up and died and lost all of your Blood Echoes... But now you know where all of the enemies are located, what their key moves and weapons are, what techniques might be effective against them, and unlocked a shortcut back to the save point that will remain open forever. In short, despite its horrific tone Bloodborne will turn you into an optimist if it kills you.

A love of melee action games: Due to its key differences in pacing and challenge hardcore Souls veterans may bristle at this comparison, but humor me. Being a virgin to this "series", I would not be succeeding half as often as I am if I weren't in love with games like Devil May Cry or God of War. As different as the games can be, there is an obvious through-line in training your senses to handle the level of spatial awareness necessary to succeed in this game. Attacking and dodging in a constant back and forth is something I'm very used to. Although you'll never see me showing off my skills in a crazy combo video, I'm pretty good at these types of games. I have madly loved these sorts of games since the original Onimusha: Warlords and Devil May Cry took over my life in 2001. In short, this is my wheelhouse. And that passion has helped me immeasurably during the early hours of Bloodborne.

Above all else, I would say that if you own a PlayStation 4 and are up for a challenge, this is a game you at least have to try. It might not be for you, but if it is I can almost guarantee it will become a new obsession. The hype is very real with this one and it's clear that this is the first new-generation exclusive that really validates owning a new system at this stage. Games like Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor may be more innovative and may make more ambitious use of the increased hardware these systems provide... but Bloodborne goes right for the heart, splitting open your chest cavity and digging in with gleeful abandon. I can say with absolute confidence that I love this game.

I can think of no higher praise than that.

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