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Blis­ter­ingly fast and enor­mously sat­is­fy­ing, Blood­borne’s fight­ing sys­tem means From can ask more than ever of play­ers

Just as we thought, the sec­ond time through, a lit­tle of the magic has gone. The jump scares have lost their spring. Pitch-black rooms and blind cor­ners no longer make us trem­ble. The servers are now on­line, and the ground is smoth­ered in mes­sages from fel­low trav­ellers, warn­ing of threats and prof­fer­ing so­lu­tions to prob­lems we once strug­gled with alone. Nice as it is to be proven right, what took 40 hours last month takes just 15 on the sec­ond time of ask­ing, the stran­gling power this grue­some world once held over us no longer so ef­fec­tive now that its threats, tricks and short­cuts have been com­mit­ted to mem­ory.

Then we reach Ya­har’gul, and are put right back in our place. This is Blood­borne’s Anor Londo, a sprawl­ing, bril­liantly con­structed se­quence of en­coun­ters and en­vi­ron­men­tal puzzles de­signed to push you to what you thought was the very limit of your abil­ity, and then ask for even more. Where Anor Londo summed up Dark Souls’ sense of wan­ing majesty, Ya­har’gul en­cap­su­lates

Blood­borne’s world gone so ter­ri­fy­ingly wrong. It is beau­ti­ful in its way, but it’s hard to ap­pre­ci­ate it when enemies rise up from noth­ing­ness drenched in blood, when dark cor­ners hold hor­ri­ble se­crets, and when colos­sal, in­de­scrib­able crea­tures hang off build­ings and shoot lasers from their – well, we’re not sure. We’re too busy run­ning for our lives to look. Past the lasers is the most smartly placed lan­tern in the game, a chance to un­clench and take a breath, af­ford­ing a fleet­ing sense of achieve­ment and a false sense of se­cu­rity be­fore you’re thrown right back into the hor­ror of it all with one of

Blood­borne’s tough­est en­coun­ters. It’s not even a boss. The bosses are chal­leng­ing enough as it is. Af­ter

Dark Souls II’s pa­rade of hu­manoids bear­ing melee weapons, Blood­borne’s var­ied set of progress-bar­ring beasts are a rev­e­la­tion. And while you can take them on with noth­ing but your wits and your weapon, you can sub­stan­tially change the flow of some fights us­ing cer­tain items. A few hours in, a ri­val will be stopped in his tracks by the song of his daugh­ter’s mu­sic box, but us­ing it too soon has­tens his trans­for­ma­tion, and you won’t like his sec­ond form one bit. Th­ese phys­i­cal evo­lu­tions are a re­cur­ring theme: only at the very end boss does From­Soft­ware of­fer a fair fight against an un­chang­ing foe, though it’s no mere walk in the park.

Those bosses, and the enemies that roam the world in be­tween them, are only made pos­si­ble by the com­bat. Bloody, blis­ter­ingly fast and enor­mously sat­is­fy­ing,

Blood­borne’s fight­ing sys­tem means From can ask more than ever of its play­ers, know­ing that they have the tools to cope with it. The dash, which re­places the tra­di­tional Souls roll when you’re locked on to an en­emy, is trans­for­ma­tive. Com­bined with the re­gain sys­tem, through which you can claw back lost health by quickly chas­ing down and strik­ing enemies, it en­cour­ages a faster, more ag­gres­sive style of play, mak­ing you a more ca­pa­ble fighter than in ear­lier games, al­beit one fac­ing greater odds than ever. It takes a cer­tain chutzpah to re­spond to tak­ing a blood­ied, poi­son-slathered claw to the face by dash­ing af­ter it in­stead of back­ing off to heal, and it takes some get­ting used to. You’ll get there, your con­fi­dence grow­ing, your at­tach­ment to your cho­sen trick weapon be­com­ing ever stronger with each beaten mob and fallen boss.

Ah, yes. About that. There was some con­ster­na­tion on­line at our only hav­ing found six trick weapons in 40 hours. While we’d found a good deal more by the time the cred­its rolled, this is hardly Di­ablo. Blood­borne may have fewer weapons than we’ve come to ex­pect from a From game, but each is a weighty joy to use and, thanks to their dual forms, use­ful in just about any sit­u­a­tion. As the Souls se­ries pro­gressed, it took the con­cept of weapon va­ri­ety to lu­di­crous ex­tremes, pre­sent­ing you with more op­tions than you could ever hope to up­grade, and leav­ing you feel­ing like you were miss­ing out on some­thing bet­ter. That weapon anx­i­ety is gone: you know there’s no greatsword with a bet­ter moveset or scal­ing value than Ludwig’s Holy Blade, be­cause it’s the only weapon of its kind in the game. With fewer stats on your char­ac­ter sheet, you’re rarely put in the un­happy po­si­tion of find­ing a great new sword that you don’t have the skill to use, and the lower tiers of up­grade ma­te­ri­als are plen­ti­ful, en­cour­ag­ing you to beef up each new dis­cov­ery and play around with it.

That may sug­gest Blood­borne is a less re­playable game than its fore­bears, but 80 hours in there is plenty here left to dis­cover. There are surely more friendly NPCs to send to the in­cense-sweet­ened sanc­tu­ary of Oe­don Chapel. There are the Covenant-like Oaths to seek out and join up with, and at least two op­tional boss fights we’ve shied away from out of fear. We are still dis­cov­er­ing the ef­fects In­sight – this game’s equiv­a­lent to Dark Souls’ Hu­man­ity and the me­chanic From asked us to not dis­cuss in E278’ s cover story – has on the world. Some of the tough­est enemies we faced on our first trek through Hemwick Char­nel Lane are nowhere to be seen now we’re spend­ing our In­sight on co-op sum­mons. And at some point we hope to find, and si­lence, the source of the haunt­ing, dis­tant cry that per­me­ates the back half of the game and per­sists into New Game Plus. And when we’re fi­nally done, a hun­dred-plus hours in, there are more sleep-starved school nights to be spent in the Chal­ice Dun­geons.

We’ll ad­mit we were scep­ti­cal. How could a stu­dio so renowned for the in­tri­cacy of its worlds pos­si­bly hand off the heavy lift­ing to a pro­ce­dural al­go­rithm? We were right in a way – there are none of the main game’s eureka short­cuts here, el­e­gantly lead­ing you back to an area you left be­hind hours ago. Rooms are big, boxy and fre­quently reused. But the Chal­ice Dun­geons’ magic

comes not from their lay­outs, but what those re­peated en­vi­ron­ments might con­tain. Walk­ing into a familiar room with no idea what awaits, or where it is, in­jects a new sort of thrill into From’s for­mula, end­lessly sus­tain­ing the ten­sion and ter­ror that even­tu­ally fades as you un­pick the world above.

Don’t just ex­pect ran­dom spawns of recog­nis­able Yhar­nam enemies ei­ther. There are lots of those, of course, but they might now fling poi­son knives or have flames lick­ing from their blades, and there are many brand-new kinds of hor­rific ag­gres­sor. There are new bosses as well – plenty of them. Some drop new chal­ices, oth­ers the ma­te­ri­als to put in them, oth­ers still leav­ing their gear for pur­chase from the mer­chant at the Hunter’s Dream, your base of op­er­a­tions and hub through­out the game. Dun­geons are share­able, ei­ther by giv­ing friends a glyph pass­word or by open­ing the doors to the world, and you can down­load and play oth­ers’ cre­ations too. A throw­away, un­der­de­signed gim­mick? Not a bit of it. This is Blood­borne’s End­less mode, and there’s enough here to power a game of its own.

It’s all playable in co-op as well, with a pass­word sys­tem mak­ing it straight­for­ward to link up with friends. In­deed, mul­ti­player in gen­eral is a good deal kin­der. When Hide­taka Miyazaki told us that he has no prob­lem with any playstyle ex­cept those aimed solely at an­noy­ing other play­ers, what he didn’t tell us is that he has de­signed such ap­proaches al­most out of ex­is­tence. In­va­sions, as we know them, are all but gone. Ring the Sin­is­ter Bell to sig­nal your in­tent to face an­other Hunter and you’ll only find an op­po­nent if they have just rung the same bell in the same area, or if a player has just sum­moned a co-op part­ner. When a friendly joins your game, From spawns a bell-ring­ing woman some­where in the vicin­ity, open­ing up your world to in­va­sion. In Blood­borne, PvP ei­ther means a fair fight against a will­ing par­tic­i­pant or in­vad­ing with the odds stacked against you – though this be­ing Miyazaki, there’s a twist. Bell-ringers are regular enemies in some ar­eas, and since there’s no longer a no­ti­fi­ca­tion when you’re in­vaded, you’d bet­ter watch your back. Yet such mo­ments will be rare. Yhar­nam is a harsh enough place as it is, with­out the threat of an un­der­lev­elled troll with a plus-ten blade ly­ing in wait just be­fore the first boss.

That change is just one of a host of seem­ingly small tweaks that have had a pro­found ef­fect on the From­Soft­ware tem­plate. This is the best com­bat the stu­dio has de­vised; its most in­tri­cate, flow­ing world; its steep­est, most re­ward­ing chal­lenge; and quite pos­si­bly its most re­playable cre­ation too. It’s a shame that the part­ner­ship with Sony Ja­pan Stu­dio hasn’t elim­i­nated From’s trade­mark tech­ni­cal is­sues – the fram­er­ate that stut­ters as you turn a cor­ner, the cam­era that loses you a boss fight by spend­ing a fa­tal split­sec­ond on a close-up of a gi­gan­tic beast’s arse, the long load times be­fore you’re back in the ac­tion – but such con­cerns pale into in­signif­i­cance in the con­text of an­other Miyazaki master­piece. Few would have com­plained had From’s pres­i­dent sim­ply made an­other Souls game, but it wouldn’t be right for a cre­ator that pushes his play­ers to the limit to sim­ply rest on his lau­rels. The re­sult is a daz­zling work of dank, ab­ject hor­ror that ce­ments Miyazaki as one of the all-time greats. Six­teen months af­ter PS4’s launch, the new gen­er­a­tion has fi­nally be­gun.

Boss fights end with an ex­plo­sion of vis­cera – a per­fect op­por­tu­nity for a ges­ture and a press of the Share but­ton. Ac­ces­si­ble via a touch­pad menu, poses can also be trig­gered by hold­ing X and mov­ing the con­troller around

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