When I reviewed Bloodborne earlier this year, I wrote: “Like a controversial piece of art, I completely understand why someone might not enjoy it, but I do think the industry as a whole should be able to appreciate it for what it is.” I also called it a masterpiece, and I stand strongly by that deliberation to this day. I’ve been a fan of the series since Demon’s Souls, but the elegant, fat-trimmed design of Bloodborne appeals to me the most with its captivating eldritch universe. I’m often critical of any systems or mechanics that don’t respect my time, and this is something Bloodborne is less guilty of than its predecessors. With specialist weapons, refined statistics, and resistance-based gear, it was the most elegant Souls experience yet, and with this, I required no arm twisting to return and try my hand at another nightmare.
I’d be lying if I said The Old Hunters DLC wasn’t intimidating at first. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not afraid of a challenge, but I’m also not someone who easily retains nuanced information about a game once I’ve completed it. It takes a big investment for me to come back because of the time and effort I need to put into refreshing my memory, so I rarely bother with any DLC that isn’t a fleshed out expansion of the main game. It’s for this reason I first want to thank From Software for being considerate by combining the Bloodborne DLC into one solid 10+ hour experience. It stands on its own merits, but also compliments what we learned in the core game. I can’t say I was thrilled by the obscure way it was integrated as I personally would have preferred stand alone access from the Hunters Dream, but it was worth it.
To access The Old Hunters DLC, you must first defeat Vicar Amelia in the Grand Cathedral and activate the skull on the pedestal. Once you’ve done this, return to Oedon Chapel, exit the door on your left, and head to the top-right corner. An Amygdala will then transport you to ‘The Hunters Nightmare.’ Yep… It’s pretty obscure, but I do have to admit it fits well with the tone of Bloodborne’s world design. Before doing any of this, however, you first need to make an important decision. If you’re currently playing in a new game plus, be aware the difficulty of DLC is also increased. As such, you need to make a call whether you want to step up to the challenge with your current arsenal, or, work up to it on a fresh playthrough. I assume fans will be keen regardless, but be prepared for some hellish bosses on NG+.
Let’s talk about what the expansion offers, as, in addition to new environments, enemies and bosses, there’s a lot of cool gear that can be taken back to compliment the core game. Regarding the locations, there are three new areas to explore: The Hunters Nightmare, the Research Hall and Fishing Hamlet; each of which is starkly different both visually and in environmental design. For those fans who felt the main game lacked a variety of weapons, be excited, because there are 16 new weapons, not to mention 9 new armour sets and a selection of new Caryll Runes to collect. You’ll also find a new co-op focused covenant called “The League” which allows you to summon various AI-controlled Old Hunters (who you’ll want the help of if you’re playing NG+), as well as several new NPCs added throughout the game.
The Hunters Nightmare is the first area you’ll encounter and it’s going to feel oddly familiar. Essentially, it’s a warped, bulbous reimagining of the Cathedral Ward; although it’s hardly recognisable, so don’t mistake it for a cheap copout. It’s quite unnerving to see the sun for the first time, not to mention the rivers of blood which flow through once-familiar streets. Immediately, you will be faced with one of many mad hunters, the first of which uses a devastating whip-style weapon that forces you to reconsider your tactics and sets a precedent for what’s to come. In this area, you can expect to see a variety of enemies, though many resemble what’s come before. Naturally, there are lots of shortcuts to unlock, ambushes to survive, and one hell of a boss waiting for you. And boy, does this first boss of the DLC hit hard!
Opening with a familiar yet twisted landscape was a great way to cultivate expectations before transporting players to some of the more unique settings in the Bloodborne universe. Although, I should point out that I struggled to move beyond the first boss on NG+ without co-op players or help from The League covenant. I highly recommend joining them, which can be done by speaking with Valtr, who is located near the first lamp in the Forbidden Woods (inside the shortcut hut). In the past, I’ve praised the philosophy behind From Software’s approach to integrated multiplayer, and Bloodborne was no exception. It’s an unparalleled co-op experience, but I do admit that I enjoyed the option of an AI companion; especially when there weren’t suitable players online. Just know summoning AI hunters consumes insight.
I’m not going to discuss the subsequent locales in too much detail, but I will say the Research Hall is something truly special. In particular, I very much enjoyed the aesthetic as it reminded me of The Tower of Latria from Demon’s Souls, and I also found that the level design encouraged a much more survival horror style of play. If you’re someone who enjoys digging into the lore, this is where you’re going to learn a lot about the experiments conducted by the Healing Church. There is a lot of fascinating backstory to uncover while you’re here, as well as an exciting revelation pertaining to one of the most prominent characters in the Bloodborne universe. Of course, if the story isn’t of great importance to you, just anticipate the same formula seen in the core game: venture forth, survive, find shortcuts and fight bosses.
Weapons are a big deal in The Old Hunters, but I have to admit I’m a purist when it comes to the Saw Blade. I was dedicated to mastering it, and only ever used other weapons if the situation demanded it. Often, I used the Rifle Spear for tight corridors, but for the sake of experimentation, I made sure to play with as many as I could find. Of all the new additions, my personal favourite is the Whirligig Saw, which looks like a pizza cutter and introduces some fun move sets. However, fans should know by now that the success of a weapon comes down to its wielder’s ability to counter enemy patterns and fit with the physicality of the surroundings. As such, I wouldn’t say the new weapons provide an advantage over the original set, but all are unique and offer exciting trick mechanics to facilitate even more playstyles.
Ultimately, this expansion is about pushing players to their limits and From Software doesn’t disappoint. From familiar enemies that play on your preconceptions to a fresh variety of grotesque creatures you’ll need to learn, there are lots of exciting new obstacles to overcome. Although, at the end of the day, we’re all here for the boss fights, and this is where the Old Hunters DLC truly shines. Whether solo, co-op or fighting alongside the sometimes stupid AI-controlled Hunters, I found each encounter equal parts compelling and hellish. There are five bosses in total, four of which are mandatory, and all of which are unique in how they play out. I’d go as far as to say one encounter is arguably the most definitive of the entire game, and I think fans are gong to walk away satisfied if they can put an end to this nightmare.
Simply put, Bloodborne: The Old Hunters is a complimentary experience for devoted fans. It doesn’t try to do anything outrageously different, it’s not totally essential, but if you enjoyed the core game and want a definitive challenge, then you’re going to have a great time. In saying that, introducing a new array of gear will certainly be welcomed by many, and the addition of AI hunters is a nice thought, even if they aren’t always the brightest. I already believed Bloodborne was the most refined Souls game to date as well as the best game of 2015, and this expansion doesn’t change that. In truth, I would have preferred more convenient access and perhaps more exposition on the conclusion, but this DLC exists to push fans to their limits, and it succeeds. If you are prepared to die, you should go and play The Old Hunters.