Bloodborne is almost certainly going to remain the best video game release of this year whenever the final days of December roll around. Complete with its always challenging, rewarding combat, its gorgeous, arresting, unrelenting gothic horror atmosphere, its expertly designed environments that cohesively form a single, breathing world, Bloodborne is exceptional. Only now, around five months after its launch, do I realize another special trick up its sleeve; a second trip through its world feels significantly different, and in its own ways more enjoyable.
There is a certain, visceral feeling of dread synonymous with the first play-through of Bloodborne. It’s unclear whether or not a monster will be hiding around the next corner, and when said monster appears, it’s rarely apparent how best to defeat it. While the game is designed in such a way that players will likely never find themselves with no idea of how to progress, there is still a constant, creeping feeling of not being in the right place, thanks to all of the branching paths, many entirely optional and all of varying difficulties.
As I play through a second time, it’s rarely about overcoming stress anymore. It’s like putting on a worn pair of shoes, comfortable in familiarity without the obstacles of finding the right fit and wearing them out a bit. Sure, the excitement of something new isn’t there anymore, but there’s something admirable about comfort. Before, Bloodborne was something I had to involve myself in with a large degree of dedication, whereas now, it’s simply a fun way to decompress and enjoy myself.
This time around I’m getting a much more streamlined experience. I know where I’m going, having explored all of the game’s environments the first time for what felt like ages. The variety of the level design feels even better, and since the entire world is explored at a much faster pace, it feels more and more like one big chunk. Being stuck in a certain area begins to make it feel like it really is its own place, stuck in a vacuum, but that doesn’t happen in the second play-through.
Additionally, general freedom from stress makes much of the game easier to appreciate. Bereft of thoughts strictly-focused on not dying, I can do things like gawk at the architecture and enemy designs. Bloodborne really is a phenomenal-looking game, with globs of black and detailed backgrounds blurred into saturated oranges and purples and reds. Enemies are horrific, complete with eerie nuances in animation like slight twitches from the head along with the scraggly fur and bulbous flesh at the surface.
Bloodborne is required playing for lovers of video games. It’s a perfect example of how to do just about everything it does and just like any good art, there is value in coming back. Expect to get something new out of it the second time around.