Bloodborne is March's 'free' PS+ game on PS4 and, given it's the best game ever, that's a pretty good deal. Chances are there are many wannabe hunters that will use this opportunity to take their first steps into Yharnam. But Yharnam... look, I love it, but it's not what you might call a nice place.
I've been playing Bloodborne since release, so hopefully I know a few things that might help if you're exploring this wonderful world for the first time. I'm going to focus purely on the mechanics and certain unusual aspects of how the game works, and completely avoid spoiler territory beyond talking about a few very early items that might make life easier.
More than any one specific piece of advice, though, Bloodborne is a game that requires a certain kind of mindset to fully enjoy. You can't treat this like the average AAA game, which is designed for you to run through feeling good while cooing at the lovely scenery. In this world you have to be cautious when exploring and courageous when fighting. If you ever want to work out what's going on, you have to be curious and clever about what the world is showing you - and what it omits.
Above all else, you need a bit of commitment. My early hours in Bloodborne, and I still remember them now, were a mixture of awe and raw fear, as I gradually inched further and further into Yharnam while being regularly filleted by the local mobs. Yes, you will in all likelihood die quite a bit as you familiarise yourself with this combat system and the wonderful enemies. I promise there's light at the end of the tunnel, or a lot of blood echoes at least, and I'm gonna try and help you get there.
At the start of Bloodborne, following character creation and a cutscene, the first living thing you see will probably kill you. Or you can bravely run away (recommended!). Soon after either option, you'll wind up in the Hunter's Dream - which is the game's hub, you'll be seeing a fair bit of this place - and on the steps leading up to the workshop building there are three weapons on offer: the saw cleaver, the hunter's axe, and the threaded cane.
First of all, every weapon in Bloodborne is brilliant: the selection may not have overwhelming quantity, but it sure has quality. So if you especially like one of those options go for it. That said, I would recommend the saw cleaver to any beginner. It's a fabulous weapon that has a fun moveset, great range, and serrated edges - the latter will see you doing extra damage to beasts and a lot of bosses. The cleaver is a strength weapon, which means ultimately you'll want a character with a high strength stat, but there are a tonne of later strength-focused options too. If you're unsure what to go for, saw cleaver is a versatile and hard-hitting weapon that feels great to use.
You also get a choice of guns - the Hunter's Pistol is tops, and I find it has the most reliable parry timing because it fires fast.
What's a trick weapon?
Bloodborne's tools are called 'trick' weapons, because every one has two forms - typically a short, one-handed version that allows you to use a gun in your off-hand, and then a mode with more range and less speed (which in some cases is two-handed, i.e. no gun). Now, I could go into detail on various trick weapons and how they work, but the key thing to wrap your head around is that transforming a weapon can be an attack in itself.
That's right, and it's one of the reasons this combat system is so beautiful. So: all four shoulder buttons attack in some way. R1 is your 'normal' right-handed swing, the bread-and-butter. R2 is for heavy attacks, many of which can be charged by holding the button. L2 fires your gun while using a one-handed weapon, and if you're using a two-handed weapon it'll become a bespoke attack. And L1 is the 'transform' button, the glue holding everything together.
Stand still, press L1, and your hunter will transform the weapon. This is not an attack, just an animation. But if you press R1 to swing, then press L1 before the animation is finished, your hunter will attack while transforming the weapon. These transform attacks can be chained after any move, including backdashes and dodges, and learning to mix them in is both one of the game's great joys and makes you much more versatile in combat.
To take the saw cleaver and give a very basic example, R1s while untransformed are quick attacks that can be chained together into super-fast flurries, while transformed attacks are sweeps with more range. So if you're fighting up-close, you generally want the weapon untransformed, but if you're fighting at medium range or taking on a group, you want it in transformed mode. Thing is that fights can be all of these things, and so learning to transition from sweeps into flurries (when an enemy is isolated) will make combat much easier on you and also look cooler. There are so many possibilities for how to transform each weapon that all I can say is 'experiment', but the important point is that you should be using the transform move aggressively while in combat - it expands your options enormously.
Incidentally, this goes for combat as a whole. R1s will be different if you're moving normally, running, coming out of a dodge, jumping, falling, or within combos. Same for R2s. There is much more flexibility and depth here than is obvious at first so, while R1 spam is always tempting, learn the differences - especially for the attacks that come out of dodges, which you'll find incredibly useful.
Guns, Bullets, and Vials
He's got a gun! Yep, as well as the trick weapons Miyazaki spoils us this time round with a firearm. Key thing about the gun: it's not really for dealing damage, though it's useful to finish enemies off. The gun is for executing visceral attacks, the game's counter move, and controlling annoying fast monsters like the dogs.
Guns use quicksilver bullets. You'll get these as loot, and you can buy them from the shop in the Hunter's Dream (look for an ornamental bath with little dudes in it, and don't ask me where they get their ideas). There's one more method of getting them which is useful when you're running low - press 'up' on the d-pad and your hunter will convert a chunk of their health into 5 bullets.
The healing item in Bloodborne is blood vials and, if you're not careful, you can run out of them. If this happens there are two options: keep on killing enemies and they'll drop, or go to the Hunter's Dream shop and buy them. Obviously if you don't have the spare blood echoes, the second option is no good. The first shortcut you'll open in Yharnam is near an area containing two hulking figures with rags over their heads, affectionately referred to as the brick giants. This is what you want: these baddies are great for both practicing parries and dropping blood vials. If you're having early supply issues, and can't get your head around the visceral attack, ten minutes or so here practicing will make all the difference.
Visceral attacks: I'm not gonna drone on about these when the only real advice is that you've got to try them out for yourself, and get a feel for how they work. But some pointers: shooting enemies just before their attack will hit is what will cause a stagger. If they do stagger, which is accompanied by a booming sound effect and distinct animation, you need to then be standing in front of them and roughly central then press R1. Key point: do not press any direction on the analogue stick while pressing R1 or you'll just do a normal attack. Last bit of advice: if you're locked-on and they stagger, dash towards, release analogue as you do so, and tap R1 just as your hunter arrives. This requires timing but it's a great way to land these critical attacks, especially when under pressure.
Quick note on dodging
If you're not locked on to an enemy, the dodge button will make your hunter roll like in the Souls games. If you are locked on, however, things change. Now the dodge button is a quick dash move which is not just great for avoiding hits but lets you close distance (and get away) very quickly. Generally, I always want to be locked on in combat - some bosses are an exception - because it makes parries and viscerals much easier to execute.
Bloodborne has two 'currencies' - blood echoes, which are basically souls and are used to level up / buy items, and insight, which does various things. I'm not going to explain exactly what Insight does in the game, because a big part of the magic is discovering these things yourself, but I will cover a few of the early practical aspects to it.
First, you need one point of Insight before you can level up (which is done in the Hunter's Dream), and this should be a priority. You can either get this by seeing the first boss (you don't have to beat it, just set eyes on it) or by finding and using an item called Madman's Knowledge. You can get hold of the latter relatively early and, rather than explaining in detail where it is, here's a video of someone doing a suicide run to get it - not the worst idea in the world, because you want it so you can start spending your blood echoes on levelling (your blood echoes are 'lost' when you die, and can be recovered from a bloodstain near where it happened, but you'll retain all items).
On that note, there's a lot of talk about builds in Bloodborne. If the game gets its hooks into you, you'll learn about all of this yourself. My advice is for people who want a relatively easy life. If you went with the saw cleaver, level up your vitality (HP) and strength. If you went with a skill weapon instead (e.g. threaded cane) then go HP and skill. Endurance (stamina) is not as important in Bloodborne as it is in the Souls games - eventually you'll want that stat to be sitting somewhere between 20-25, but it's really not a priority.
So: level up your main weapon stat, HP, and a bit of stamina. I'd honestly ignore all the rest, and you'll end up with a very powerful character indeed. In terms of the more unusual options, Arcane and Bloodtinge are tricky stats to get the most out of, and the real no-no is that they don't start to pay off until much much later in the game - making the early portions even tougher than they need to be. Build those muscles, hunter, and you'll never regret it - and on a purely personal level, I think strength playthroughs are probably the most fun.
What is Rallying?
Bloodborne's combat is designed to be aggressive and fast, which is reinforced by a health recovery mechanic called rallying. When you get hit, you'll see the damage turn a chunk of your red health bar into an orange colour. After a few seconds this will drain away. While it's still there, attacking enemies will restore health. It's fairly simple to get your head around, but it's also encouraging you to respond to every attack with attacks of your own - if you can, great, but it's always better to take a hit and get out of dodge than stay around and get splattered. Think of rallying as a nice bonus when you can get it, rather than essential.
General Combat Advice
Try to fight enemies alone. When fighting groups is unavoidable, try to keep them at range and within your vision. The deadliest enemy in this entire game is the dogs. Never ever underestimate the edge that a dog gives to the most common Yharnamite. If you're having trouble with dogs, shoot them then rush in to the downed animal and start swinging. Take that ya mangy bastard.
Always take advantage of your environment. Hide round corners while healing, use different levels and barriers to separate enemies, and do not be too proud to exploit a doorway that an enemy can't get through. The only good beast is a dead beast. By the way, you can parry the beasts too.
An underrated item is the pebble. Use these to throw at individuals within larger groups, and pull them towards you.
There's a hooded fat bloke with an axe in an early area, surrounded by graves. If you're up for the challenge, he's a great one to properly practice parries on. But if you're not a sadist, this guy can be left well alone.
Talk to Windows
In front of the second lamp, where you'll probably be respawning quite a lot, there's a little house with lit windows. There's someone in there you can talk to - and as you explore Yharnam, you'll realise a lot of these buildings contain people. Some are just NPCs with ambient chatter, but there are others with more of a role to play in the unfolding events. Keep an eye out for lit windows and doors with incense lanterns outside them - you never know what you might find.
The bells, the bells!
After acquiring one insight, the messengers in the Hunter's Dream will give you an item called the Beckoning Bell. This can be used to summon in other players BUT to do so costs one insight. Early on, insight can be a precious commodity, and the messengers will also sell you two other bells - the Small Resonant Bell (which lets you be a co-operator) and the Sinister Resonant Bell (which lets you invade others) - for one insight apiece. I'd recommend buying the Small Resonant Bell because co-oping is fun, free, a great way to learn the area and bosses, and is also a method for acquiring more insight and blood echoes (if you help the host defeat the boss).
If you want to summon, it's as simple as ringing the Beckoning Bell. Be aware that, if you get a co-operator, this will also spawn a bell-ringing maiden in your world - an enemy character that attracts invaders. She can be found and killed, which will stop invasions. Where is she? Oh come on, grasshopper, I can't make it too easy.
Oh by the way, on March 10 a lot of players will be in Yharnam.
A hunter must hunt
You're sure to be in a fine haze about now, but don't think too hard about all of this. Just go out and kill a few beasts. It's for your own good. You know, it's just what hunters do! You'll get used to it...
You may enjoy some of our other Bloodborne articles, though these are best read after playing the game.