As the first game in Dark Souls’ lineage that doesn’t actually have “Souls” in its name, you might expect Bloodborne to be a little different — and you’d be right. Dark Souls, this is not.
With that in mind, even veteran Souls players are going to need some help starting out in Bloodborne. From Software has altered the very DNA of its punishing and rewarding signature formula, and you’re going to have to adjust the way you approach the developers’ newest dark, twisted world.
If you’re new to the series entirely, this applies triple — and you’ll need a lot of luck besides to progress in Bloodborne. So before Digital Trends’ full Bloodborne review goes live at a later date, check out these tips and explanations to help ease you into the world of Yharnam and beyond.
As with past games in the series, Bloodborne opens with an in-depth character creation process — now with beards and sunglasses! Once you’ve selected those, you’ll also choose a starter class. For melee builds, try out the well-rounded Military Veteran class; if you want to focus more on guns, which probably isn’t advisable for a first run, choose a class with a high “bloodtinge” stat. The best advice is to pick whatever you think will fit your play style best, even if it’s the blank-slate “waste of skin” template that starts out at the lowest level so you can choose exactly where to allocate your skill points later on.
No matter what you choose, you’ll soon find yourself in the midst of the action. Bloodborne is a clear evolution from the Dark Souls games, but more remains closely rooted to the first game, Demon’s Souls. Just like in Demon’s Souls, you have to die once to be sent to the hub world, the Hunter’s Dream. In Bloodborne you don’t start out with a weapon, though, meaning that death will come even more swiftly.
Still, it’s worth exploring the first area to find some blood vials — the new, finite healing item — and silver bullets, the other essential new consumable. You’ll now heal by pressing “triangle,” regardless of what item you have equipped. It’s a convenient change, although it may also lead to you wasting some vials if you’re used to using triangle to switch your combat stance in the previous games. It’s something you’ll need to get used to, along with a ton of other changes that are detailed in the combat section below.
Once you’ve died — or found the first lantern (Bloodborne‘s progress-saving bonfires), which is far less likely — you’ll finally arrive in the safety of the Hunter’s Dream. Examine the adorable little pygmies popping up out of the ground around here to gain your first weapons. Like the starting class, which you choose depends on how you want to play.
The cleaver is fast and lets you keep your firearm out even when it’s fully extended, while the axe can do more damage and has better reach, but forces you to put your gun away when you’re two-handing it. Similarly, the blunderbuss is great for close-quarters attacks and crowd control, while the pistol can do more damage from further away.
Any weapon you choose here is going to get the job done for the time being, and the others will soon become available for purchase, in case you change your mind later on or want to experiment. No matter what you decide on, you’ll want to open the “options” menu and equip your new gear by selecting the slots on the “arms” row that’s second from the top. The first two slots are for your right arm, and are generally where you’ll put melee weapons. You can switch between two equipped weapons using the right directional button.
The second two slots can be used for firearms and other gear, like torches and this game’s pathetic excuses for shields (it really, really doesn’t want you to use them — more on that below). Switch between these with the left D-pad button.
You can’t level up before fighting the first boss, but there is one thing on which you can spend your “blood echoes” (Bloodborne‘s version of experience-slash-currency “souls”). From the fountain near the center of the Hunter’s Dream, you can purchase a new set of armor that should help in your fight against the beasts — until you find something better, at least.
With all your blood-spattered, deformed ducks in a row, it’s time to access the closest headstone on the right from where you entered the Dream. This will send you back to Yharnam, and back to the Hunt.
Bloodborne‘s combat is similar enough to the Souls games’ that veterans will know the basics right away, but there are a few key changes that will require hardened and fresh players alike to learn some new tricks. You still use “R1” for light attacks and “R2” for heavy attacks. But “L1” now transforms your weapon, changing its attack patterns. You can even do this in the middle of combos to string attacks together for longer.
But you will not be using a shield to block enemies’ attacks. Even when you get one later on, it will be ineffective compared to the steel walls you could wield in past games. So you’re going to need to dodge around a lot with “circle.” Get used to it.
Enemies attack more quickly, in greater numbers, and without the ability to block you’re going to need to be on the offense more than ever. Luckily there’s another new incentive to stay on the attack in Bloodborne; if you land some hits on your foes immediately after taking damage, you can gain part or all of your lost health back without having to use precious healing items.
Finally, while past Souls games let you parry enemy attacks using a shield, this crucial move is easier to pull off in Bloodborne thanks to the brand-new firearms. Study your enemies and learn their attack patterns. Then, when they’re raising their claws or weapons to strike, blast them in the face with your gun. They’ll become stunned, giving you a short window to tap “R1” and get in a powerful critical attack. The timing can be dicey, and it varies from enemy to enemy, but you’ll know when you’ve pulled it off, and you’ll get used to relying on it. This technique is your new best friend.
Nevertheless, it won’t save you in every situation. That’s how this series works: There’s no one technique that can get you out of any jam. You’re going to have to study every situation, never be overly confident and drop your guard, and — when you fail — change your tactics and adapt.
A few more crucial tips
Keep these things in mind while you’re playing and you might be slightly less inclined to chuck your PS4 controller across the room:
- Your blood echoes — Bloodborne‘s currency and experience — won’t always remain on the ground when you die. Sometimes enemies will pick them up, making them even more difficult to retrieve.
- Be cautious, but don’t be so afraid to die that you miss out on potential rewards. Losing a few thousand echoes is not the worst thing in the world, especially if you learn something in the process.
- When you lose health, you don’t have to attack the enemy that did damage to you to regain some of it. As long as you land some hits on any foe within a few seconds of taking damage, you’ll still get some health back.
- You can only hold 20 blood vials and 20 silver bullets. If you find yourself full up on vials, press up on the directional pad to sacrifice some health for five extra bullets on top of your standard cache of 20, then use a blood vial or smack an enemy to gain that health back. It’s always nice to have extra ammo.
- In Yharnam, a lit window or a pink lantern next to a door usually means you can approach and have a conversation. The city’s residents are not friendly to outsiders, but you never know who you might meet this way.
- When you do meet someone, continue talking to them until they repeat themselves. They’ll occasionally give you something once their dialogue is exhausted.
- You’ll eventually get a torch. Equip it to your left hand so you can light the way when you don’t need to have your gun out. Some enemies will even shy away from the flames.
- A hunter must hunt; if you’re low on supplies, slaughter some beasts and either buy more vials, bullets, molotovs, or other items from the fountain vendor in the Hunter’s Dream, or receive them as drops from searching corpses.
- If you continually find yourself running out of these items and not making progress — from dying to the same boss multiple times in a row, for example — go explore somewhere else for a while. It’s irritating to have to farm echoes and supplies, and this is From Software’s way of telling you to try a different approach.
- Unlike in the Souls games, you can equip whatever armor and weapons you want without worrying about your movement speed, so go nuts and throw on all that sick gear.
- Keep checking back at that shop; new items will periodically become available for purchase.
- There’s a workshop in the Hunter’s Dream, and you should always upgrade your weapons when you can. The early upgrade materials are extremely common, and you’ll save echoes by strengthening your gear instead of having to repair it periodically.
- You won’t see a fog gate before you fight a boss for the first time in Bloodborne, so always be ready to face a massive foe. You never know where they’re going to appear.
- Play in online mode whenever possible, even if just to watch other players’ deaths — cautionary tales — or read their helpful notes. When you unlock cooperative play, invite your friends in to help with tough sections.
- If you see a large enemy with a sack thrown over its shoulder that you don’t remember being there before, run in the other direction as quickly as humanly possible.
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