Bloodborne: The Old Hunters Review
Sony PlayStation 4
Expansions, DLC, whatever you want to call them, are a mixed blessing. Giving you more of your favourite game for a small charge, while at the same time often leaving you wondering why it was not included in the first place. From Software, the developers behind Bloodborne and the Souls series, have a reputation for doing expansions very well. They are not only expansive, but subvert the style and approach of the game at the same time. The Lost Crowns Trilogy of DLC for Dark Souls 2, for example, was superb, containing some of the top highlights of an already incredible series. The unique environments, warping landscapes and the awe-inspiring climax emphasised why this series has become so beloved by its devoted fan base. The Old Hunters, Bloodborne’s first expansion, perhaps fails to reach quite these heights, but that may simply be because they are insurmountable. It still definitely worth the investment, giving a new perspective on the complex storyline, and providing, of course, some fresh weapons to experiment with and more hellish battles to fight.
Do you remember that moment just outside of Oedon Chapel where a massive ethereal hand grabs you from above and then unceremoniously dumps you back down to Earth causing massive frenzy damage or, more likely, another unfair death? Well it turns out it was not a bug or a mockery, much like the other entrance into the nightmare realm, it will transport you to a new area but only if you have purchased the expansion.
You awake in a new land, and discover you have entered the Hunter’s Nightmare. Much like any nightmare, things seem oddly familiar but not quite right. The steps that ascend to the Grand Cathedral from Oedon Chapel still rise out of the ground, but now the paving is covered in huge hulking roots and shards of bone that snarl around the landscape creating that disturbing Lovecraftian style that From Software have claimed their own. What at first may seem like a lazy approach to development, reusing previously created assets, forms into a frightening world where familiarity is distorted. Cracked statues become monuments of skulls and sewage systems flow as rivers of blood, meanwhile routes will not lead to where you expect and most notably you will be killed by things you do not anticipate. It makes sense, it is after all a nightmare.
This first area is actually a thing of beauty, be it in a dark and horrific manner. Deranged hunters are slaying beasts as you approach them, but they can no longer tell between man and beast and once their feral prey are killed they will turn on you. Meanwhile frightened bugs hide in streams of blood, passive until you stray too close and promptly cover you in acid. It’s the From Software way. The area culminates in a, perhaps too familiar, fight with another giant beast, but even here it subverts the norm with it wrestling a sword from its guts altering the format of the battle halfway through.
Sadly the consistency falters as the player progresses through the campaign. The second area which takes place in a towering hospital turned unnerving laboratory proposes an interesting take on the blood infusing that takes place in Bloodborne, but is let down by mutated patients that come in a swarms and frustratingly mob the player to death rather than allowing for the artful dance that is the usual combat in Bloodborne. Meanwhile the third area which collapses into a dank decaying fishing village filled with malformed fish monsters, does not flow like the the rest of the expansion, or indeed the rest of the game. Giant aquatic beasts fling themselves towards you, their movements awkward as if they were designed in haste. A sentiment which is echoed in the level design which feels uncharacteristically disjointed.
Where the Old Hunters expansion excels is in the continuation of the plot and lore of Bloodborne. Again nothing is written out and explained in detail, but the astute will find traces of answers hidden away in muttered comments from the few sane characters, or hints in random item descriptions, or even in the design of the creatures and bosses themselves. It reveals some of the truth behind the formation of the hunters and perhaps how the land of Yharnam came to be cursed. The use of a nightmare with its skewed perspective and its ability to skip from area to area is an ingenious way to tell it.
In the end the Old Hunters expansion is just as an essential purchase as Bloodborne itself. It may lack a little consistency in quality over its four to eight hour play time (the variance depending on skill and inquisitiveness), but having more of this game is always a joy. A welcome return to that unique fighting system that relies on both frighteningly quick reactions and calm level-headed intelligence, as well as more of that fantastic level and character design that have seen From Software become one of the most renowned developers today.