“Whatever happens, you may think it all a mere bad dream,” the player is told during the opening moments of Bloodborne, the upcoming PlayStation 4 exclusive from Sony and From Software. A bad dream, however, is not what follows, as the newly released Bloodborne footage from IGN is indicative of a game that has plenty to offer.
Bloodborne’s opening, as seen in the video, is in many ways a departure from the Souls titles that came before it. The cinematic viewers are treated to appears much more focused than From Software’s previous efforts, putting players into the character’s shoes from moment one. Unlike Dark Souls II, which attempted to add some backstory to the game during its opening cutscene, Bloodborne’s opening transfusion scene does little to add anything to your character before that exact moment in time. Contextually, Bloodborne’s cutscene seems to exist only to show the player that they have entered into a strange new world, one that raises many questions.
As the screen blurs and the man who once hovered above the player fades into obscurity while bellowing a wicked cackle, it’s hard not to wonder what exactly has transpired. What is this transfusion he spoke of? Why would he recommend that we think of this apparent surgery as a bad dream? The cutscene continues and in traditional Souls fashion, no questions are answered. Instead, new issues arise.
The player character’s eyes open once more, slowly allowing for his vision to come into focus. The room you find yourself in appears vacant except for a snarling shape that lurks across the way, awash in a pool of blood. The creature moves closer, into view, revealing it to be a hulking werewolf which reaches out towards the player, revealing sinewy limbs and terrifying claws. Just before the beast can reach the player, he bursts into flame, howling in anguish.
What should be a moment of relief is nothing more than a temporary reprieve, however, as shortly after the beast collapses into nothing, the player character is beset upon by strange white beings. Their faces appear split, their breathing labored, their intent is questionable. As the screen begins to fade once more, the creatures climb towards the player character’s head, inching ever closer.
“You’ve found yourself a Hunter,” a female voice declares in the darkness.
And like that, Bloodborne throws the player into its world, ceding control.
As the gameplay footage progresses, Bloodborne feels at once similar to its predecessors, while still maintaining a unique feel of its own. The player awakens and rises, moving forward through the Clinic in which the opening cutscene took place. The first thing worth noting is placement of the primary HUD in the top left of the screen, a prominent, yet ultimately unobtrusive position.
Even in the first few seconds of exploration that takes place in the Clinic, one can see that From Software has put a lot of emphasis on environmental detail and atmosphere. The Clinic you awaken in feels worn down, passed over even. It seems like the kind of place where people often do not get the chance to recover whatever ailments landed them there in the first place.
Moving forward, Bloodborne quickly presents players with the first enemy encounter, another werewolf. This experience seems to be a callback to the opening moments of Demon’s Souls, in which players were pitted against a much larger, heavily armored foe. The main difference between Bloodborne’s first battle and the Vanguard Demon of Demon’s Souls is that the player squares off against the werewolf completely unarmed.
The purpose of this battle is not to win, however. Death is expected, with the end goal being to introduce players to one of Bloodborne’s most interesting elements, the Dream Refuge.
After being devoured by the werewolf and seeing the familiar ‘You Died’ text, the player is transported to the Dream Refuge, an area that seems to function similarly to the Nexus of Demon’s Souls. Upon arriving at the Dream Refuge, players are hit with its strange, somber score. The juxtaposition between the sonorous music and the beautifully gothic stylings of the Dream Refuge paints the picture that this is a location firmly rooted in between the conscious world and the dreams of the dead.
It is in the Dream Refuge that players are presented with their weapons. Eschewing the class selection of the Souls titles, Bloodborne offers players the opportunity to select their starting weapons. The weapons available will be nothing new to those who have been paying close attention to Bloodborne’s development. The most interesting part of obtaining the weapons is the declaration of them as ‘trick weapons’.
Similar to the trick weapons (Saw Cleaver, Hunter Axe, and Threaded Cane), the player is given a choice of firearms next. The Hunter Blunderbuss and Hunter Pistol are the two options here, both of which have been shown to operate exactly how their name implies.
Upon gaining weapons and a notebook which allows the player to communicate with other Hunters, the player character makes his way to a large tombstone. Called a Headstone of Awakening, these markers work similarly to the Archstones of Demon’s Souls, transporting the player to different parts of Yharnam. With an outstretched hand and a dedicated knee to the ground, the Hunter makes contact with the Headstone, drawn back once more to the Clinic.
The second time around, the Hunter can do some damage, making quick work of the werewolf that previously defeated him. Interestingly, slaying the beast makes text stating ‘Blood Transfusion Collected’ appear, in a manner that seems identical to the Humanity Restored text of Dark Souls. Perhaps Yharnam’s obsession with blood and the concept of blood transfusions is the driving force of Bloodborne. The humanity of the Hunter and those within the city of Yharnam is guided by blood itself.
Finally stepping out into Yharnam proper, the Hunter begins his trek through the city. Yharnam is filled with creaks and groans, evocative Gothic masonry and impressive environmental details. As the Hunter progresses through the dilapidated streets, he finds himself in battle against the shambling citizens who wander about.
Each encounter is over relatively quickly, as the combat in Bloodborne is considerably faster than in any other Souls game. The Trick weapons that the Hunter wields are quite strong in capable hands, allowing for payers to string together brutal chains of attacks. When the Hunter encounters each enemy, they seem to let out guttural sounds when initiating combat, only to utter human cries and whimpers when defeated, adding to the overwhelming feeling that something is very much amiss in Yharnam.
In the gameplay video, the Hunter pulls a lever to make a ladder drop down, allowing for him to easily reach a different section of Yharnam. This dropping ladder points to the fact that astute players will be rewarded in Bloodborne. Attention to details, more so than ever, will result in shortcuts and other secrets.
After climbing upward, the Hunter interacts with a lamp in the middle of the street. The lamp, the game states, will now transport you back to the Hunter’s dream. In addition to serving as a transport to the hub, the lamp will also be the place where the Hunter awakens after death.
There is some interesting word choice in the flavor text for the lamp. First and foremost, its function of transporting players back to the Hunter’s dream (a term which seems to be interchangeable with Dream Refuge) is interesting, giving more credence to the idea that the location is literally between worlds. Secondly, the lamp is where the Hunter ‘will awaken’ upon death, which implies along with the opening cutscene and the name of the Dream Refuge, that the concept of the player sleeping, or dreaming, is an integral part of Bloodborne.
Of course, the parallel between the bonfires of Dark Souls and the lamp of Bloodborne is evident, both in function and form. Next to the lamp, the Hunter moves towards a lit window, and begins a conversation with an unseen voice. The text, which follows below, is perhaps the most intriguing element of the gameplay video.
“You must be a Hunter. And…not one from around here, either. I’m Gilbert, a fellow outsider. You must have had a fine time with it. Yharnam has a special way of treating guests. Though I don’t think I could stand if I wanted to, but I’m willing to help, if there’s anything that can be done. This town is cursed. Whatever your reasons might be, you should plan a swift exit. Whatever can be gained from this place will do more harm than good.”
In typical From Software fashion, players are given a lot of exposition in a single string of dialogue. The player’s interaction with Gilbert comes across as intimate, two strangers in an unforgiving land. Gilbert, it seems, has been in Yharnam for some time, long enough to have injured his leg. He warns the player, stating that the city has a special way of treating guests, implying that outsiders have an unfortunate habit of perishing within the city’s walls. Whatever the curse plaguing Yharnam is, Gilbert recommends turning back in favor of survival.
Like many NPC interactions in the Souls games, the conversation with Gilbert is equal parts informative, creepy and interesting. We, as the player, never see Gilbert, only the lit window that he resides by. Does this have something to do with his aforementioned injury, or is there some deeper implication of his unwillingness to be seen?
Upon speaking with Gilbert and moving forward, the conversation still stands out. Yharnam feels as though it is alive itself. Even when it is just the Hunter solely stalking the streets, the atmosphere exuded by the Gothic passageways and towering buildings is one of secrets and eyes following your every action. Much like Gilbert said, Yharnam feels cursed and it seems to see all.
As viewers are given shown more and more combat, something begins to look strange about it. Overall, combat in Bloodborne is properly paced compared to the weapons available. Everything feels faster and more brutal by extension, fitting for the world that From Soft has created. The strangest thing about the combat is that the beloved (and despised) backstabs of Souls seems to function entirely different in Bloodborne. In terms of both actual game mechanics and implied storytelling, the backstabs (now referred to as backstrikes) are considerably different. The backstrike has the Hunter reaching executing a charged attack with their trick weapon, and lunging towards the downed foe, reaching into their back with what appears to be just their bare hands. After doing this, the enemy’s corpse glows a subtle red. What does this feral attack pattern say about our Hunter? Is he himself a beast?
The nature of the backstrike in Bloodborne also raises questions regarding the exaggerated limbs of many characters that the Hunter encounters. The basic ‘townsfolk’ type enemies that are seen throughout the streets of Yharnam seem to have one arm that is considerably longer than the other. While further research into this can lead to potential spoilers, it seems as though this is a sign of the curse that has spread through the city. This sentiment is echoed by the next character that the Hunter encounters.
After navigating through numerous alleyways and surviving an onslaught of enraged villagers, the Hunter finds himself in front of another mysterious character. This time, however, the Hunter can see who he speaks with. Cloaked in black with what appears to be a plague mask obscuring their face, the stranger speaks.
“Oh, a Hunter are ye? And an outsider? What a mess you’ve been caught up in. And tonight of all nights. Here, to welcome the new Hunter.”
The masked character hands the Hunter an item called Bold Hunter’s Mark
“Prepare yourself for the worst. There are no humans left. There are -“
Unfortunately, the last line of dialogue is cut off in the gameplay video, as the Hunter moves away from the character before the line can be spoken, but even still, this character seems to have a lot of information to offer us.
Much like the conversation with Gilbert, this masked stranger seems quick to point out our status as an outsider and that we seem to be caught up in a mess during a disastrous time in Yharnam. The masked figure’s stress on “tonight of all nights” seems to imply that there is something wicked happening on this specific evening, unless perhaps, we are to take this line of dialogue in conjunction with the motif of dreams that has run through the gameplay video. The events so far – and those that come – can then be interpreted as manifestations of the Hunter’s sleeping thoughts, maybe even the dreams of a madman.
Sadly, there is no way to genuinely dissect the dialogue at this time, as there is little other context that can be ascertained other than the few minutes of gameplay footage that came before it, which doesn’t paint a broad enough picture of the game’s narrative.
Another moment that stands out in the gameplay video is a quick interaction with yet another hidden NPC. From her window, the young woman speaks out, asking if the Hunter knows of any safe places.
What is most interesting about this interaction is that when examined to the conversation with Gilbert and the Masked Figure, suddenly it becomes clear that every NPC encountered in Yharnam has had their face obscured – seemingly an intentional action. Gilbert told the Hunter that Yharnam was cursed and we have seen it with our own eyes. The villagers appear crazed, their bodies taking on strange proportions. We have been told by the Masked Figure that there are no humans left in Yharnam, even. Is this in reference to the strange evolution of the townsfolk? An indicator of their more feral nature?
Toying with the concept of there being no humans left in Yharnam, even the enemies that the Hunter kills allude to this. Their garbled sounds and human cries seem to reflect some kind of unholy duality in their existence. Some even yell “Cursed beast!” at the Hunter with their dying breath, pointing the finger towards the player as something unnatural as well. Perhaps the opening cutscene and the transfusion mentioned there, as well as our need for blood as both a currency and gameplay mechanic is a heavy-handed allusion to this even.
The Bloodborne gameplay video continues on with another trip to the Hunter’s Dream, in which the player meets Gaermin, a self-proclaimed friend to the Hunters. Gaermin is, at this time, the only other character located in the Dream, and seems remarkably self-aware. He warns the Hunter not to think too much about ‘all of this’, stating that the player should just go out and kill a few beasts. What greater purposed the wheelchair-bound Gaermin serves remains to be seen, but it is interesting that he continues the trend of hidden faces (with his hat) and debilitating injuries (much like Gilbert) that occur to NPCs.
Clearly, there is a lot going on in the eighteen minutes of gameplay footage shown of Bloodborne. Dark themes, a curse and brutal combat seem to be the key focal point so far, and after examining as much of the video as possible, it seems like gamers will be in for a treat when the game finally releases. What dark secrets Bloodborne will hold for us remains to be seen, but this video has proven that lore and information can be ascertained in even the tiniest of details. Keep your eyes peeled, Hunters.
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