Bloodborne: The Old Hunters
Returning to Yharnam’s blood-soaked cobblestones
While The Old Hunters was originally planned as a two-part expansion to Hidetaka Miyazaki’s beguiling Gothic slasher, at some point during its sixmonth development the FromSoftware team decided that this DLC was a dish best served whole. It’s certainly been a busy time for the Tokyo-based studio since Miyazaki’s elevation to the role of president: its various teams are reportedly working on more titles today than ever before in the company’s history. Such a heavy workload doesn’t appear to have adversely affected The Old Hunters, however; indeed, the splicing together of these two addons seems to be born of artistic choice rather than commercial imperative.
Split across three distinct districts, The Old Hunters is almost a quarter of the size of the base game’s map. With numerous new character builds, its glittering spells, ten additional weapons (that’s main and off-hand armaments) and a host of fresh NPCs to be summoned to even the odds in your favour, this is the kind of generous return visit we’ve come to expect from the studio.
Not that The Old Hunters’ scale is much in evidence from the frustratingly brief segment of it that is playable at this year’s Tokyo Game Show. Instead, we are treated to a 15-minute zip over a hill (with Yharnam, still crumbling and still resplendent, in the distance) and down into a gully awash with puddles of blood and punctuated by grey reeds. Here, among the ruins, tumbledown masonry and wonky buildings, you’ll be reintroduced to the familiar cast of enemy crows and crook-backed hags. But there are also rangy, red-eyed hunters pacing about in pairs, wielding scythes. Manage to defeat these, or sprint past them, and you’ll be met with a boss battle in that most familiar of Bloodborne locales: a derelict church.
While the challenge has clearly been softened for the conference setting in order to allow as many attendees to make it through as possible, even in this Bloodborne- lite state, the wonderful rhythms and texture of the original game have been preserved. The boss fight is, as ever, the best showcase, waged against a mournful quadruped with a goatlike head that’s filled with chaotic teeth. This vile beast was once the Hunter Ludwig (Healing Church founder and he of the Holy Blade). Tactically, it varies approach, rushing you and lunging in to bite, before retreating to the ceiling for a moment’s respite when its health bar is sufficiently nicked. While it’s hiding, drops of blood drip to the floor, indicating its position. Fleeing this gory clue is imperative, since it heralds the beast hurling itself to the ground, hoping to pound you beneath its hooves. Occasionally, the camera wheels up behind Ludwig’s head as you continue the fight from its point of view. It’s a neat, if disorienting, trick. The three character builds on offer at TGS showcase different weapons, the most immediately enticing of which is a curved sword that, in its more powerful form, becomes a bow and arrow, or ‘Bowblade’. One character build, dubbed the Mensi Scholar – a reference no doubt to the Nightmare Of Mensis from the main game – comes with a clutch of spells, including icy shards that can be fired at enemies like spears. Another, dressed like a vagrant samurai, wields a katana that doubles as a bladed whip, with irregular, difficult-to-master rhythms.
The story is, in Miyazaki’s typical style, abstruse and enigmatic. The Old Hunters thread will, however, be accessible at some point in the first half of the game, even if the team is warning that its challenge will be commensurate with the latter stages of the original. This is important to bear in mind for newcomers who pick up the final incarnation of Bloodborne, complete with the expansion, in December. For veterans, the low-cost, standalone DLC arrives a month sooner. Then the business of untangling Bloodborne’s deepest secrets can truly begin.