14 things I wish I'd known before starting Bloodborne

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From Software's Bloodborne may have been a change of scenery from the Souls series, but there's no doubt that it's in the same vein. Dark Souls, which currently sits atop our list of the best games ever, and its kind are known for throwing out the kind of intensely demanding difficulty that forces you to learn and grow as a player. Grizzled veterans know this sensation well, but if you've never played a Souls game before and have only heard about how hard they are, you might be feeling intimidated to jump into this grim, gothic action RPG.

Well, don't be. Any challenge can be overcome once you've learned the best approach. After dying more times than I can count in Bloodborne, I've got a few non-spoilery tips to impart so that you don't repeat my fatal mistakes. For all you greenhorns out there, these will hopefully leave you feeling better equipped to face the horrors in the city of Yharnam. And even Souls experts will pick up a thing or two about Bloodborne's new systems.

Don't feel bad if you die in the first room

Here you are, playing Bloodborne for the first time, eager to take on the many challenges that await you. While creeping through the very first area, you encounter a hideously mutated werewolf... and almost immediately, it rips you to shreds. No, it's not that you suck so bad that you lost to the first enemy - you're supposed to die here. You're not expected to be able to beat this monster with your bare hands; this is just Bloodborne's way of introducing you to the ethereal Hunter's Dream hub area. There, you're given access to a choice of weaponry, so you can resurrect and get your revenge on that freaky wolf-creature.

Beginners should focus on buffing their core combat stats

There aren't specialized classes to assign to your Hunter in Bloodborne. Instead, you pick from an intriguing list of backstory origins during character creation, which simply determine your starting stats. And outside of personalizing your avatar's lore, some origins will serve new players better than others. Combat is pretty dependent on your Endurance and Strength stats, with the former determining how frequently you can dodge and attack, and the latter making you hit harder and resist physical damage. Vitality is also important, because it increases your health bar - but staying alive in Bloodborne depends more on your mastery of the combat mechanics than your total HP. When making your first character, it's not a bad idea to choose the 'Milquetoast' or 'Violent Past' origins to give the aforementioned stats a helpful boost.

Aggression (within reason) pays off

In the Souls games, patience is a virtue. It's best to wait and watch for your enemy's movements, studying them to figure out the opportune times to attack. But Bloodborne's combat is much faster than Dark Souls, and sometimes, you need to go on the offensive. Whenever you get hit, striking back in reaction will let you restore some (or even all) of your lost health, thanks to the Regain mechanic. Instead of backing off whenever you take damage, you'll be rewarded for fighting through some pain in a close battle, or being aggressive when an attack takes you by surprise. Just don't try to take on too many enemies at once, because it's easy to get overwhelmed and end up losing health faster than you can fight to get it back. Speaking of which...

Lure individual targets away from big groups

Because shields aren't an option when you're first starting Bloodborne, dodging enemies is your primary method for avoiding lethal attacks. But when monsters have you surrounded, sidestepping their strikes becomes almost impossible. It's best to just avoid the one-against-many situation altogether, which isn't that difficult to do. If you see a gang of enemies up ahead, try to get just within range of the closest one and get its attention (or peg them in the head with a commonly found thrown item, like a pebble). Hopefully, you'll rile it up without aggroing the whole pack, letting you pick off the group piece by piece instead of trying to Rambo your way through all of them at once. Trust me, that approach only works if you can kill the opposition in one or two hits of your sawblade.

Your gun is not meant to be a ranged weapon

Sure, you can use a bullet to get the attention of a distant foe if you're running low on thrown items like pebbles or molotov cocktails. But doing so is a pretty big waste, because guns in Bloodborne don't work like they do in most games. Instead of using your firearms to deliver damage from a distance, you actually want to save all your bullets for when enemies are right up in your face. A well-timed shot during a monster's attack animation will trigger a Counter Shot, giving you a chance to unleash a devastating Visceral Attack that can often kill your opposition in one hit. Enemies that I once feared (like giant brick-wielding ogres) now seem trivial, ever since I figured out how to time a blunderbuss shot in order to set up a quick and messy execution.

Be conscious of which weapon form will serve you best

One of the coolest new concepts in Bloodborne is the two-for-one deal on primary weapons. Simply tap the L1 button, and your blade or blunt object of choice will switch between short and long-range forms. Knowing which form will work best against which enemies in crucial, because the different attack ranges and animations can make all the difference in a fight. Also, be aware that switching to a two-handed form of something like the Hunter Axe means you can't make use of the pistol or torch in your off-hand. Once you really know your favorite weapon inside out, you can even switch forms mid-combo, but it's probably best to avoid that trick when you're first getting your bearings.

Always check your corners

I wouldn't call them jump scares per se, but there were times when I nearly soiled myself after a plagued villager leapt at my Hunter from the shadows. Bloodborne loves to tuck monsters away in the most unlikely places, preying on the fact that most games just let you run from one group of enemies to the next without many surprises. But these aren't cheap, pre-scripted spawn-ins: if you know where to look, you can sneak-attack enemies before they do the same to you. Keep an eye out for any potential hiding spots in the nooks and crannies of the environment, so you can kill whatever you find lying in wait. And when you do fall victim to an ambush, make a mental note of where it happened, because...

Yes, everything respawns when you die

Like the Souls games, killing baddies in Bloodborne isn't a one-time deal. With the exception of bosses, every ghoul, ghost, rabid dog, and creepy villager you kill will come back to life in the same spot any time you die or return to your home base in the Hunter's Dream. This isn't as punishing as it sounds, because once you know how to efficiently kill everything in the immediate area, fighting your way back to where you left off is pretty easy (provided you don't get overconfident and die to total pushovers, like I sometimes do). It also adds a reassuring sense of predictability to the level layouts once you've died a few dozen times, as you'll know exactly where and when to expect incoming danger.

Don't be a hoarder with your Blood Echoes

Blood Echoes are Bloodborne's form of currency, meaning that you'll need them to level up or buy items. And the first time I threw away 14,000 Blood Echoes because of sheer cockiness, I practically screeched in agony. As with Dark Souls, you have one chance to find your corpse and reclaim your Blood Echoes when you fall in battle. Die again before doing so, and all those precious Echoes disappear forever. Bloodborne ups the ante even further: monsters near your dead body can absorb its essence, requiring you to kill them to get your stockpile back. You'll know who took them thanks to their blue-glowing eyes, but if you're unfamiliar with how to take them down, your lost savings might be as good as gone. If you've collected a ton of Echoes, resist the temptation to explore new areas. Head to the Hunter's Dream instead, and spend them on stat boosts or equipment.

Your time alive should be spent getting a lay of the land

Bloodborne takes an ingenious approach to level design. Instead of feeling like a series of disconnected, individual stages, the decrepit city of Yharnam is one big, interconnected labyrinth, full of criss-crossing paths and passages that bridge areas you initially thought were far apart. Oh, and there's no map screen to keep track of where you've been, meaning you've got some serious mental mapping to do every time you set foot into unfamiliar territory. There's an easy way to do this: once you've cleared out the enemies in an area, take some time to really explore the environment. You're guaranteed to find a few shortcuts or secret item stashes, and you're far less likely to get lost if you fall in battle and need to find your body.

Heal yourself with reckless abandon

You might be familiar with Dark Souls' Estus Flasks: potions that you have to ration out during your adventures, given that they can only be replenished at a bonfire. But the self-healing system in Bloodborne works very differently. From the get-go, you're able to carry up to 20 Blood Vials, which you can chug to regain a decent chunk of health. And crucially, enemies will often carry more Blood Vials to replenish your stock, sometimes dropping as many as four upon death. Some creatures, like the aforementioned ogres or red-furred werewolves, will reliably drop plenty of Blood Vials. Once you know how to take them out easily, restocking on potions is a cinch. Heal yourself whenever you feel like topping off your health, because you can always find (or buy) more Blood Vials later.

Don't forget to upgrade your weapon

Upgrading your weapon of choice should be one of your key objectives. To do that, you'll need to track down the required materials on the streets of Yharnam, then head to central building in the Hunter's Dream. The workbench there tells you which materials you'll need and how many Blood Echoes it costs to make your weapon stronger. Don't neglect this in favor of simply upgrading yourself, as pure stat boosts have diminishing returns. A strong arm is worth nothing unless it's carrying a strong weapon, and vice versa. Get a feel for which weapon works best with your playstyle, then be sure to build it up ASAP.

Backstab the big guys

Big enemies tend to use heavy attacks that recover slowly. With that in mind, it's best to quickstep around their incoming offense and go for a less direct assault. There's a particular nuance to maximizing your opportunity, though. You should read their attack winding up, evade accordingly, and then hit them in the back with a charged strike. This will stagger them, allowing you to follow up with a Visceral Attack, which, as mentioned earlier, is very likely to finish them off. You can also tiptoe behind some enemies that have their backs turned to you by ever-so-gently nudging the analog stick, which perfectly sets you up to pull off the same Visceral Attack.

Seek out and open all the shortcuts

Shortcuts don't just save time; they make getting back to where you were before you died much less dangerous. That's very important when you have a lot of Blood Echoes on the line (say, 14,000 or so). Much like in Dark Souls, those shortcuts can be found everywhere, you just need to take things at a considered pace and pay attention. Before tackling the Cleric Beast, for example, make sure you first go downstairs in the unlit Bridge Residence, then head out of the door to the left and up the stairway to open the gate there. This will give you an easy path when starting from the Central Yharnam checkpoint lamp.

There's much more to the city of Yharnam beyond these tips, but you'll have to discover the rest of its secrets and surprises first-hand. Plus, half the fun of Bloodborne is dying a horrible death, then swearing you won't repeat that same mistake again (even though you probably will). Good luck to you, Hunter, and may your Blood Echoes runneth over.

And if you're looking for more, check out what makes Bloodborne’s combat so bloody brilliant?