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Bloodborne: Bloody, Bloody Fun | Review

Several years ago my friend and I were playing through Dark Souls, our wits tied to no end, when I turned to him and said something on the lines of: “You know what would be absolutely rad? A Dark Souls with muskets.” With little provocation, and a stellar idea, we spent that entire night coming up with ways this could work.

Needless to say, when From Software announced Bloodborne, I went catatonic, prepared to buy a PS4 exclusively for this release. I was anxiously awaiting the moment I could go out and get my copy after it released March 24th of this year, unable to reach a store until four days later.

The hype was real, the fans were happy, and a new wave of Souls-like masochists sprouted from the fertile ground of the current-gen consoles. As soon as my game case passed over the counter, I pried it open with the utmost care, taking a whiff of the new-game smell. If it was anything like I had hoped, I was in for another wild ride.

Bloodborne is a fantasy RPG developed by From Software and published by Bandai Namco. It follows the Souls’ style of gameplay with a few unique elements, but mostly focuses on difficulty and grinding to present a hardcore challenge to all gamers. The setting – where all previous games had been a medieval fantasy-extinction – is a dystopian city with Victorian architecture and heavy Lovecraftian influences, much of which will hopefully be covered in more detail in the following few months by my favourite lore speculators Vaati and DaveControl.

Blood, disease, and insanity are the chapters of my tale, an eldritch story for only the most daring of individuals.

Enjoy!


Chapter 1 – Bless us With Blood

I stepped into Yharnam as an entrepreneur, ex-soldier to a distant land, and current stranger to a vertiginous city. The locals were unfettered by logic, judgement, and social standards, their make-shift weaponry clashed with my elite hunter attire to little avail.

With the depletion of my health I found I could steal the blood of others, and what a show that was. Blood rained down upon the ground, my cloak, and doused the enemies in selfhealsanguine ichor. Blood was everywhere to be had, worn like a cloak to a date with death.

Many different items were that of blood such as vials used to heal, petrified blood used to upgrade weaponry, and clumps of gelatinous blood used in fortifying my resolve or in various rituals. I was caught in a mire I didn’t fully understand.

Blood was so important that you collected it from fallen enemies and used it to level up, much like the souls in Dark Souls. This time, however, if you died carrying blood, an enemy would absorb it making them relatively more difficult as your only liquid currency was now on the line, waiting for you to either recover it from their slain corpse or die to them again and lose that blood forever.

My stubborness succeeded my patience when I lost it to more difficult bosses, dissuaded from using my healing items in the fight and wasting them upon death. It was a treacherous way to learn, but when I had used all my blood vials I was forced to go grind an inhabited sector of the city for my precious healing items.

Consider this a very big crutch under the arm of progress. I walked when I should have ran, but the only thing stopping me was the manufactured need for replenishable health, something I was not used to stocking up on (see Dark Souls). As it turns out, every boss in the game became 90% easier with twenty (max) blood vials, also something I was not used to.

Movements were fast, unnaturally so. This made for a good challenge when facing NPCs who dodged as much as I did, carried the weapons that I had, and had the audacity to wear my clothes. They showed a capacity I had not seen before, but also a capacity I recognized all too well.

Trick weapons were the main weapons of choice, right-handed sticks of steel that transformed from one weapon to another with the flick of a button or the seal of a sword in sheath. Weapons weren’t very rife, but amongst them several favourites could be found. Guns from blunderbusses to cannons could be found, chucking hot lead into the faces of enemies, parrying and riposting them in two simple moves.

The amount of weapons offered little variation with narrow skills as even the strong

Mr. Bricks' cousin, Mr. Statue.
Mr. Bricks’ cousin, Mr. Statue.

movesets were faster than most enemies, one of which I lovingly dubbed “Mister Bricks”. There was Strength, Skill (dexterity), Bloodtinge (guns), and Arcane, all of which seemed interchangeable at a moments notice. There were benefits to be gained from skill-dumping levels into one path, and several playthroughs down the line would assure this.

Upon my path I found that I could use lanterns to return to a central hub known as “The Hunter’s Dream”. Every time you used a lantern you would be ported to the eponymous dream without being allowed to sit at the lantern, so let me take a moment to defend this purpose. First and foremost, for those who may not know, the dream is a place where one will be restored to full health, can level up, shop, upgrade, and hangout with relative peace and quiet from the terrifying world above.

Long loading screens aside, The Hunter’s Dream changes with the story,Image-bloodborne-screen-36d often new dialogue or events escalating as the hunt progresses. By automatically redirecting you to this euphoric oasis, one has a moment to reassess the situation, restock supplies, and remember to do tasks otherwise forgotten. This becomes especially important in key parts of the story and is done in part to diminish confusion no matter how inconvenient.


 

Chapter 2 – The Eldritch Epidemic

Yharnam grew on me as soon as I stepped foot inside, but one thing is for certain: there was much less than I expected, and much more to be had. The complexity of the compact city reflected its inhabitants, helping me to actualize myself as a hunter, dodging crowds of sentient villagers, tearing apart hordes of virulent beasts, and dueling witches on the edges of cliffs.

The sheer beauty of it all was one to acknowledge, taking a moment to stand still and watch the lurid moon play tricks upon the exalted spires and monolithic towers. I felt like an ant under the lead boot of a feverish omnipotence, but I enjoyed every second of it.

The enemies were much more creative than they ever could be, sporting design and care for what they lacked in movesets, however, solace could be found in the throes of thechalice-dungeon-prozedural-generiert-richtet-herausforderung-mehrere-spieler-148997 Chalice dungeons. These randomized, seeded pits of despair were a curious respite from the main story, a contradictory haven where one felt like a true dungeon-crawler, wading through enemies in order to demolish the decrepit hosts.

Giant beast, denizens who played on my futility were not hard to get to in the Chalice dungeons, and within the world above it seemed the more difficult it was to go from lantern to boss correlated negatively to how difficult the boss itself was.

Several times I met enemies who endowed me with a status effect known as “Frenzy”, a superlative effect that ravaged one’s health until blood shot out every orifice. Spikes in challenge, like the Frenzy enemies, were discordant in some respects, eschewing meticulous design for operative convenience, but the curve was met with enthusiasm and dread, all the same.

The world was constructed in a way not dissimilar to Dark Souls in a vehemently labyrinthian way. In some cases I could feel my stomach churning as I slipped past enemies undetected with new stealth options, only to run into a fight I could have never planned for. Trying and trying again was the only solution, finding new ways to circumvent tougher enemies, dispose of the annoying ones, and ultimately tread the paths least traveled, for down these paths a darkness coiled in listless slumber.


 

Chapter 3 – Fear

Absolute fear.

You can consume skulls found around the world known as “Madman’s Knowledge”. Without saying too much, it allows you to gain insight into the world around you, opening figurative locks within your perception, often evoking both subtle and conspicuous changes in the world around you. Even looking upon certain beasts and bosses, areas and events, all can give you insight into the cruelties of your host city, Yharnam.

Lovecraft___Shoggoth_by_damnengine
Click on picture for artist info.

I said earlier that Bloodborne descends from Lovecraftian roots, and it is this descent that is the most incredible Lovecraftian experience I’ve had outside reading his work directly. Abominations surround you, voices beckon you or shriek in terror when you consume more Madman’s Knowledge, and the enemies you fight become more ferocious, products of your mind dissolving.

There were several moments within Yharnam where I felt like a paranormal investigator working for the university in one of Lovecraft’s books. I was finding ancient runes, creatures of incomprehension, and watching lost souls creep into the clutches of madness.

Bram Stoker’s influence made an appearance as well, briefly shadowing a Dracula (minus the vampires) sub-plot over my head as well as several occurrences of unnatural behavior in the city’s surrounding areas. Hamlets shrouded in woods filled to the brim with witch-like folk and cobbling feral lunacy, demonic creatures in the woods preying on the lost adventurer I felt I had become, and Damocles reminding me that my next step of avarice could mean my death and several levels of experience lost.

Click on picture for artist info
Click on picture for artist info

At least two times I can recall I had felt true and absolute terror preluding abject afterthoughts. Many times I had to go and meditate in The Hunter’s Dream for several minutes, adrenaline tearing laps through my veins, remembering the sanctity of my Hunter’s head space.

At least one of those intense moments was caused by a stray NPC.

It was this thrilling and trying journey, a resolution compounded by complete disregard for my comprehension of the story, and a sinister undertone echoing in my head many hours after the PS4 had been turned off, all combined into a journey that may never end.

I wanted to go back, seeking the ins and outs of a world that lifted not a single finger to captivate me. So, with a fashionable walking stick, a gun in my hand, and a lantern at my side, I started anew.

Yharnam could never be so blessed.

9.8/10

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Dark Souls II | Review

Dark Souls II

 

Dark Souls II(DkSII), the younger sibling to Dark Souls(DkS) in many respects, trying to be much more than its predecessor, but flowing in the veins of Soul-Vania, was probably the second game I had ever bought on release for Xbox 360. I garnered much respect and experienced much enjoyment for this next installment, and if you haven’t checked out Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin, I strongly recommend you do. It’s the entire DLC package and base game, and serves as a fantastic gateway to the Souls series.

Dark Souls II is a fantasy action-RPG developed by From Software and produced my Bandai Namco. It’s renowned for being difficult, but often chided for following in the steps of cult classic Dark Souls.

It was my love for the first game that persuaded me into buying Dark Souls II, the yearning for more adventure as my banner. I wanted to stretch my legs in unfounded territory, to see the sights, and to bury my sword into the supple undead flesh of my adversaries.

I wasn’t disappointed…

 

Dark Souls II follows in the footsteps of those who came before, featuring the same fighting mechanics as Dark Souls with a few tweaked elements including different riposte animations, i-frames being reliant on your adaptability skill, different enemies with different strategies, and a storyline finding itself peering over the entrenched walls Dark Souls had spent much time establishing years previous.

I had spent several months on Dark Souls beforehand, battling my way through bosses time and time again, and only thought it fair that I hold Dark Souls II to its own standards, reflecting upon the fact that it was not directed by Miyazaki, but instead by entirely different faces.

When I first showed up in Drangleic – the next continent victimized undeath – I noticed right away that the lighting and textures were extremely vibrant and showed great variation, especially when it came to the expansive and undoubtedly attractive set pieces, much in the spirit of exploration and discovery.

There were mountains of ice, pits of fire and lakes of lava, giant bogs with mutated enemies, castles that rose above the clouds and towers that eclipsed the moon. It was in between the glorious reaches of Drangleic that I had found a new, temporary home.

Above all things, I was instantly enamored by Majula, the new Firelink Shrine in some respects, albeit bigger majulaas it felt like I was inside a village I must reconstruct. It was the central hub, where I could find oft reliant NPCs and a small host of aggravated enemies. A step to the side and I quickly found the correct path to go down. It was here that my journey began.

A few differences were noticeable right away. For one, I now had to level up through another NPC and when I died I lost a bit of max health. It came not as a shock, but as a creative and technical difference in how I would play, or so I thought. In the previous game one could not warp between bonfires to start out, and bosses in DkS seemed to be constructed in a way that wasn’t detrimental to the evolutionary curve of your character. I found that with every step I took in Drangleic, a moment of judgement was required to determine the dangers of my surroundings, and after one or two attempts, the answers came to fruition.

It was not nearly as difficult as my first time playing DkS, but I chalked that up to being somewhat experienced with the whole ordeal. This began to bear on me as I cleaved my way through several tons of steel in armour plating, and when my weapon began to degrade, only then I realized I had drawn a trump card in terms of destructive capabilities.

I had found my all-time weapon with which I was to fight every boss for the rest of the game. I enjoyed the fights for the most part, recognizing movesets and character similarities, learning quickly what it meant to be a victim rather than a victor.

The path to each boss was probably the most vile feature of this new crusade, and in the end the bosses proved no more than robots on stilts. It was fun, regardless, and when the challenge had been mounted I felt the chalice of victory’s cold metal if only for an instant.

It was as if I had returned to a place long forgotten, tried to make a difference, and when the game’s final credits rolled, it was as if this place would only exist in a distant dream or a squalid nightmare.

I connected to my character more than ever, the cohort of weapons and cosplay being magnanimous in stature, and broad in girth. I dressed up my fetid knight, tossing him into the bowels of destruction to face every challenge one on one, and I felt like a retired hero from Lordran who had sailed to Drangleic in a quest of mystery and want.gaming-dark-souls-2-screenshot-11

DkSII had proven to me that From Software could rehash their Souls games over and over again, pressing Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V, until I paid them $60 for a piece of software. I wouldn’t question it, because I, like many others, fanboy over the prospects of our gracious overlords opening the food traps, even though it might be leftovers or the same shitty meatloaf.

But DkSII tried to be different, much in every way that it stayed the same. The sequel wasn’t inferior by far, it was a different game with tweaked rules, but I realized after my first 200+ hours that I bought these games not to punish myself, or because I was diehard, but because no matter what, I trust From Software to instill in me a spirit of adventure and to test my limits.

They gave me variation, and I will say that I’m hoping for a Dark Souls III either in factuality or spirituality. With Bloodborne being released two weeks ago, I can only see From Software on the horizon as the frontiersmen paving the way for a beautiful mix of survivalism and hardcore RPGs that seemed to have gone the way of the dodo.

8.7/10


Dark Souls II is currently available on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC for $19.99.

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Dark Souls: Prepare to Die | Review

With the recent release of Bloodborne I thought it fitting that I should write reviews on Dark Souls, Dark Souls II, and Bloodborne in order to express the gratitude I have for this trying serial experience. I might do Demon’s Souls and King’s Field, but we’ll see.

Players may remember “Prepare to Die” as the chief slogan for From Software’s release four years ago, as it even graced the complete DLC package: Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition. I myself gawked at the prospects of dying repeatedly to contrived gains, but after the dust had settled, and I “prepared to live” just a little bit longer, I soon realized that Dark Souls was just that; a game about living.

For those of you who are virgins to the series, or have only experienced Bloodborne as your first Souls, you really only have to play one to play them all, but let me take you on a journey that will hopefully convince you to do otherwise.

Dark Souls is a third-person fantasy RPG developed by From Software and produced by Namco Bandai on the Xbox 360, PC, and PS3. It features rogue-lite elements in that death is consequential to the game, and a core aspect within the story itself. The combat is nuanced and takes a little bit of adjustment from cookie-cutter sword fighting games, and the story-telling is nigh on subliminal levels, often feeding you lies or misdirection. Adversity will be fought and hard-won no matter how you look at it.

And here’s what I learned:

After the opening cutscene rolls over, you show up in a place called Lordran, a land hosting impending doom, preaching the desolation of mankind and the feeble flame within. It all very unclear, and lore becomes even more elusive and convoluted as you venture on.

The tutorial is more than abject horror for most new players, but the game offers you the tools to succeed and even lightly pushes you in the right direction, although the right direction often fades through a veil of swords and shields. It’s this swordplay that tests the mettle of most gamers, and when you’re pitted up against a giant creature three times bigger than you, wielding architecture as a weapon, I can see how most would flee to the ends of the earth.

Combat is an illustrious art within these games. You trade blows with enemies, either attacking, dodging, blocking, using items, or running away. Sound familiar? It’s spiritually turn-based combat, but it’s also TBC you must pay attention to because the entire construct is now based around real-time actions. You must understand the ebb and flow, watch for different strikes and must act upon the egregious mistakes of your enemies. It’s a dance of swords, where you must focus and put forth the effort required to accomplish victory. Cowardice is always optional.

However, if you die, don’t fear. You just respawn at a bonfire and lose whatever souls you happened to be carrying. You have one chance pick the souls up off the ground and it’s practically the same as if you had never died in the first place. Souls are the global currency of the game. You grind enemies to obtain their souls and use that loot to level up, buy items, etc. It’s all slightly off the beaten path, but it works flawlessly as a mechanic. The amount of souls you obtain gives you a feeling of power, but also makes you a glass cannon in that you could lose several levels of experience if you carelessly walk off a ledge or press on into a fight you weren’t prepared for.

You see, it’s understanding and defeating enemies that makes the game enjoyable, far beyond the beautiful scenery and creative design choices, but it should be incidental to the whole guise of Lordran that the lore and physical creations are a Frankenstein’s creation of several real-life analogues, from sun gods to hydras and even the hefty medieval weaponry.

Or Gargoyles for that matter…

Everything feels very impactful within Dark Souls including the force of your weapons and the bosses depleting your health bar one violent strike at a time. Even the stories intertwined with each NPC hold weight and all it takes is a few seconds of listening, but within the burden of stories and sword strikes lies a fact that one cannot ignore.

The story will leave most new players confused or scrounging the forums for answers to diluted questions, answers that must justify their efforts and rectify this disillusionment. Far too many will be dodging the sword to read into the lore, and this could never be influenced by the game itself without being a hassle, much different than Ubisoft’s love for spamming the screen with lore and objectives, or The Elder Scroll‘s middle-school-theatre presentation of global occurrences.

It takes dedicated players to piece together a story, and the result is far beyond the tribulations of their journey, ends justifying the means, so to speak. If you’re new to Dark Souls, it’s only a favour to yourself when you take the time and immerse yourself in the chaotic graveyard you have trespassed upon. Regardless, you are subjected to the nature of this world, but even reading a small line of text or dialogue can benefit you mechanically. Keep that in mind.

I said before that Dark Souls is a game about living, and this could never be more true. The goal is never to die on repetition, but rather a subject of survival and pushing the boundaries beyond their breaking point. In Dark Souls you are just as powerful as you choose to be. Your resolve shines above defeat, and death is but an option.

I say this heroically, a champion of the gauntlet, but what Dark Souls showed me is that you really have to want to win. You need to kindle the desire within yourself to overcome the odds presented before you. This is very much reflected in the story, with some NPC’s who disagree with you, don’t trust you, defile your path, or even straight up try and murder you.

The bosses exist within a canon reaching into the upper stratosphere, and when you learn their stories, their past, and their own struggles, perhaps a bit of sympathy is to be gained from their brutal desecration.

It stands the test of time (so far) that Dark Souls is my favourite game to date. Love at first sight, perhaps, but I think it’s the case with anyone else who loves the game as much or more as I do: this game grew on us. Every time we loaded up to Firelink Shrine bonfire, we could remember the sights and sounds, and then, before we know it, we’re venturing off into the many diverse areas that Lordran has to offer.

Bonfires are your respite from the world, your haven, or hub to regroup and set your head straight. You can level up here, change some different aspects, but mostly they serve as a breather between intense situations. It’s the variation between bonfires that strikes a yearning for the different areas of Lordran.

There’s forested areas, valleys, sewers, cities that grace the sky, and trenches within the dark and fiery recesses of the world that make you long for daylight. There’s something for everyone, and when the artists began constructing Lordran, they created much more than unique models, they created individuals who you must overcome. In some sense, every enemy must become your closest adversary so that you can pass through them with the utmost efficiency, and when this becomes truth, it finally becomes clear that every step you take is worth its weight.

9.5/10


Dark Souls: Prepare to Die is currently available on PC, PS3, and Xbox 360.

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Dark Souls II wins Game of the Year; DayZ wins Best Original Game | Golden Joystick Awards 2014 winners revealed

Dark Souls' dark setting and art style help set the mood for one of the most intense games of the year.
Dark Souls’ dark setting and art style help set the mood for one of the most intense games of the year.

Dark Souls II and the intense challenge it brings to players, has been given the honor of Game of the Year.

With nine million voters this time around enticed by a free copy of X-Com: Enemy Unknown, GreenmanGaming and ComputerAndVideoGames’ award display had an assortment of winners, but The Last of Us: Left Behind, DayZ, and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag each tied for most awards in show (2).

From Software’s Dark Souls II won the most prestigious honor with the Game of the Year win. The difficult gameplay, dark style, and the intense online multiplayer were more than enough to entice the voters.

Future’s (Publisher of CVG) head of content and marketing for film, games and music, Declan Gough commended the event for it’s success.

“This year’s awards have been another triumph for both Future and the world of gaming. The fans have once again voted in their absolute masses with some categories literally coming down to the last hours of voting. The Joysticks have once again demonstrated the depth and quality of this market and something we are very proud to be part of.”

Here’s the full list of winners below:

Best Original Game in association with Digital Spy
DayZ

Best Online Game in association with PC Gamer
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft

Best Storytelling
The Last of Us: Left Behind

Best Visual Design
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Best Audio in association with PDP
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Playfire Most Played Game of the Year
Rust

Best Multiplayer in association with Absolute Radio
Battlefield 4

Best Indie Game in association with Official X-Box Magazine
DayZ

Innovation of the Year in association with T3
Oculus Rift DK2

Best Gaming Moment in association with Sony Xperia Z3
The Last of Us: Left Behind – “The kiss”

Best Handheld Game
Pokemon X & Y

Best Mobile Game in association with Kiss FM
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft

Most Wanted in association with The Sun
The Witcher III: Wild Hunt

Gaming Personality of the Year in association with Kotaku UK
PewDiePie

Studio of the Year in association with CVG
Ubisoft Montreal

Gaming Platform of the Year in association with GamesRadar
Steam

Lifetime Achievement
Hideo Kojima

Game of the Year in association with Green Man Gaming
Dark Souls II