Laughter of the mad surrounds you as the blood moon rises over the top of a damned city. You tighten your grip on the controller and your stress level rises as a terrifying visage approaches in the distance, unearthly aberrations sprouting from its squirming limbs. Soon the laughter of the mad is yours; the impossible battle that you have finally managed to obtain a fraction of control over takes an unexpected turn, and you realize how little you know. Welcome to Bloodborne, where death and insanity lurk around every dark corner and nothing is as it seems.

You are a tourist in From Software’s mad dreamscape, and your journey through this atmospheric masterpiece leaves you unsettled and craving more. You face the impossible and the unreal, and through prowess and persistence, you overcome the nightmares with an unrivaled sense of achievement and satisfaction. Yes, the game is as challenging as a Souls title (also made by From Software), but just as with that series, multiplayer options and player progression can provide methods for anyone to triumph.

Bloodborne is a shining example of fantastic gameplay combined with terror, with its introductory hours rooted in traditional horror tropes, rife with werewolves and twisted humans in the cursed city of Yharnam. The tale quickly takes a turn for the weird and the wonderful as the true plot is revealed layer by layer, an esoteric and eldritch trek through a luxurious Lovecraftian yarn. Never before has From’s dark fantasy setting been so intimately realized, with strong visuals and atmosphere, and the switch to a pure horror aesthetic allows the studio to embrace aspects that have only been subtly injected in previous titles.

Combat is deliberate like the Souls series, but faster and focused on a razor-sharp balance: Offense is rewarded and passivity punished. The best defense is a good offense, whether you’re landing precise blows with the threaded cane or heavy impact slams with the tombstone-on-a-sword Kirkhammer. The regain system encourages this – as enemies cut into your life, you have a window to gain back many of the lost hit points by returning blows within a short time frame. Your adventure is steeped in exploration through Bloodborne’s vast interconnected world, unlocking shortcuts and learning. Through every death you obtain critical knowledge that you can use to avoid the same fate on your next attempt, and those deaths come often.

You have many opportunities to select new weapons, level up, purchase new armor, and equip runes and blood gems to customize your character. While the selection of weapons isn’t vast, the customization options and the fact that most weapons have “trick” settings that allow it to function as essentially two completely different entities should curb any associated woes. The loot ramp up, while slow, is satisfying as you cobble together different builds and combinations, tailoring certain builds to better face certain encounters or zones.

The boss battles are fascinating, some built on special gimmicks or setpieces. Each functions as its own special battle, with few uninteresting or generic monstrosities; many bosses serve up multi-phase encounters that transition from the understandable and controllable to crazed transformations with cosmic terrors. These battles sync up incredibly well with the overarching themes of the game – keep your cool as the music and tension rise, and you shall emerge soaked in blood as fiends fall before you. Battles with other NPC hunters can often be as thrilling as boss fights – with guns blasting and swords swinging in a frenzy – and a single mistimed maneuver can be the difference between victory and defeat.

If you’re having trouble playing solo, you can call in friends (or random players) to help. You can also invade others’ games, providing they have enabled the option. These aspects are great for players having trouble with certain bosses, or those that want to explore Chalice Dungeons. Chalice Dungeons come in several flavors: locked-configuration endeavors that have set bosses and areas, and procedurally generated dungeons that can be shared with friends. These continuing challenges add a lot of longevity to the game outside of the traditional new game plus.

If there are any qualms about Bloodborne, perhaps one of the only ones is the long load times associated with entering new areas or death – these long affairs can become quite irksome during the frequent, inevitable deaths that go along with playing the game.

Bloodborne is a blood-drenched horror gem that has only the faintest of cracks in its façade. Bloodborne succeeds through sparse storytelling, lush atmospheres (conjuring up notions of the best of Lovecraft’s work), and tight combat that forces you to be aggressive. While this new IP doesn’t stray far from the established Souls franchise, it is a magical, wondrous work that admirably instills both terror and triumph in those brave enough to delve into it.

Online Functionality
I tested Bloodborne’s online elements on a pre-release press server that allowed me to engage in the multiplayer components. Under those conditions, everything worked as intended, though whether the live server performance is smooth at launch remains to be seen. Bloodborne is a fantastic game online or off, though it is enhanced with many more players involved in the shared discovery process, Chalice Dungeons, and world invasion.