Review: Bloodborne: The Old Hunters (PS4)
The Souls series can be described in a single word: despair. From the eerie locales to the mercilessly unforgiving enemies, you are reminded again and again that you are worthless. From Software aims to teach you through repetitive failure that no matter how frustrated you get, how loudly you swear, or how many controllers you break, you need to adapt to the game or die trying. And die you shall.
Bloodborne was no different (because let’s face it, it’s a Souls game in all but name) and The Old Hunters DLC builds on everything that made the base game a success, while still finding new and exciting ways for you to question if it is even possible to beat with human hands. Before discussing some of the new additions, I feel that it’s necessary to address the issue that many have been worried about since the DLC’s announcement and that’s whether it would live up to the standard of difficulty that we’ve come to expect, nay, demand from the Souls series. The short answer is an absolute and unequivocal yes. A thousand times yes.
When I first received the code, I figured that as a Souls fanboy I would have no problem with the fairly short 5-10 hour mini-expansion, especially because my Hunter was already on level 169 and had all the best weapons and armour in the game. I was very wrong. I jumped into NG+3 and breezed my way through the first 4 bosses of the main game in order to reach the new area, getting them down in no more than 1 or 2 attempts. Upon entering the first area of the DLC, I noticed that true to its name, The Hunter’s Dream is very much like a nightmare. It takes a few of locations from the main game and distorts them almost beyond recognition, while still providing a sense of familiarity.
Old Locations Get a Makeover
The Cathedral is now even bleaker than you remember and, despite the daytime setting, seems even more foreboding than ever. Heading up the stairs, I was greeted by one of the new enemy NPCs: a ‘roided up version of the Hunters that we’d encountered in the past. These new Hunters differ from the old in a number of ways but most importantly, they respawn. They also stand considerably taller than those in the main game and their weapons hit with the force of a small space-shuttle. This can be particularly vexing when you encounter the Hunters with a sword/whip trick weapon, which seems to be heavily inspired by Renji’s sword in the Bleach anime, and has enough reach to knock off half your health from 15 feet away.
More Difficult Than Sucking An Elephant Through A Straw.
After finding my feet and adapting my tactics to the new enemies, I continued my journey through a river of blood, avoiding the fire of the many machine-gun turrets (another new addition) on the way. It took me a little over an hour of decimating Hunters 2.0, Cthulu Giants, and a few blood-gorged spider-monsters before arriving face-to-face with the first boss. In order to avoid spoilers I won’t tell you the name of the boss, but those of you who follow the lore will instantly recognise his significance when you find yourself up against this grotesque monstrosity. It was at this point that I hit a speed bump and my progress slowed right down. By speed-bump I obviously mean an obstacle about as small as Everest because I was stuck on this boss for days with very little progress being made. When I looked at the stopwatch I use when reviewing games, I had spent about 15 hours repeatedly getting my head handed to me, officially putting it above Ornstein and Smough from Dark Souls as my longest boss fight, which was around 10 hours (although that was on NG rather than NG+3, so I may be comparing apples to oranges here).
It was about 4 hours in when I noticed another new addition that I had hoped would be my salvation: a place to summon allied NPCs to help make the boss fights a little less harrowing. Unfortunately if you’ve played the older Souls games, you’ll know that these NPCs aren’t exceptionally bright, and Bloodborne carries on this proud tradition. They can be helpful in drawing attention away from you for the early parts of the fights, but as the bosses transform (yes, some of them do that now too), their repertoire expands to include a number of AOE attacks. Because the summoned Hunter is such a brainbox, they seem to feel that the centre of said AOE would be the ideal place to lay out a picnic, leaving them very dead. This means it’s up to you to take on a beefed-up boss for the final, more difficult, phases.
In addition, these NPCs are very easily side-tracked meaning you’ll need to clear out every single enemy between their summoning location and the boss beforehand if you don’t want them to get wander off on a suicidal killing spree, and doing this significantly lengthens the time between attempts on the boss. There is one NPC, however, who is actually quite competent and I wouldn’t have been able to beat the first boss without him. Available to everyone who downloaded the free patch, The League is a new covenant that focuses on co-op and its leader can be summoned to help you with some of the more challenging fights. I highly recommend joining this covenant before tackling the first boss of The Old Hunters, because in case I haven’t made this clear enough, he is really (REALLY!) difficult.
There are a total of 4 new areas in the DLC and each one feels both unique and familiar at the same time. Moving past The Hunter’s Dream, you’ll find yourself in an area that feels like a combination of The Duke’s Archives from Dark Souls and The Tower of Latria (my favourite area in the Souls series) from Demon’s Souls. Like the enemies in both of those areas, the creatures here are extremely aggressive so you’ll need to carefully plan every swing of your weapon, and it’s more important than ever to draw enemies one at a time.
The Old Hunters provides a number of new additions in the way of weapons and armour, even including a worthwhile shield. The shield doesn’t do much to mitigate physical damage, however, so you won’t be able to make use of the sword-and-board strategy from Dark/Demon’s Souls, but it’s pretty handy at dealing with any sort of magic attacks that come your way. The recurring Souls weapon, the Moonlight Greatsword (renamed as Holy Moonlight Sword), also makes a return in The Old Hunters and, as usual, is outstanding if you have an arcane build.
Same same, but different. But still same.
Ultimately though it’s pretty much more of the same, and that’s a good thing. The settings may not be as impressive as the new areas in the Dark Souls 2 DLCs, and the bosses lack a lot of the grandeur of those in the main game (with the exception of the first boss who is a terrifying behemoth that I’ve come to loathe). With that said though, 4 of the 5 new bosses provide a challenge that should have you screaming in frustration. Without telling you which one, From Software even mimicked what they did in the final Dark Souls 2 expansion by placing a boss from the main game out in the world, just in case you’re feeling a little too comfortable. Well, in a pitch-black cave and aided by a Hunter wielding a Gatling gun, so as you can imagine, it’s pretty damn difficult.
The only real issues I had with the DLC were basically the same ones that I had when the base game was launched earlier this year. There are occasional drops in frame rate which are exacerbated by playing with people online, and summoning people to help you is just as frustrating as ever, so I often waited for periods as long as an hour for the game to match me with a partner for some jolly co-operation.
Overall, The Old Hunters is a fantastic DLC for an already excellent game so it’s a little saddening that this is the only planned expansion for Bloodborne. Its new take on old locations, additional lore, and stylish new equipment makes for a very enjoyable experience and I would highly recommend it to anybody with a passion for the Souls series (or anybody who gets their jollies by experiencing hours of excruciating torment).