Developed by From Software. Published by Sony. Released on November 24 2015. Available on PS4. Review code provided by publisher.
Downloadable content gets a bad rap, and often deservedly so. Too many times it feels like developers are holding back content that should exist in the actual game in the hopes of selling it later to squeeze more money out of its die hard fanbase. But DLC is not always inherently evil, and if done respectfully, can be a great way to extend the life of a game and reignite interest. From Software is one developer that seems to understand this, as their downloadable expansions for both Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2 remain as some of the most beloved examples of DLC done right.
The Old Hunters, Bloodborne‘s first piece of DLC, continues this trend, offering up three densely packed locations to explore, a variety of new weapons to collect that stand out as some of the most unique weapons in the game and five* new bosses, all but one of which rank up there with some of the most memorable and challenging bosses in the entire game.
[[*Author’s Note: At the time of publication, I was aware of only four bosses. There are in fact five total in the DLC.]]
Fair warning, though, the content in The Old Hunters is not easy, and unless you have a character who is leveled high enough to survive in the late game areas, you’re going to have some trouble even in just the starting areas of the DLC. The recommended level for players starting out is 66, and if you’re playing through new game plus, like I was, you might want to consider beefing yourself up to at least 120 or so.
Players ready to take the plunge will find themselves inside the Hunter’s Nightmare, a place hunters are taken to once they become drunk with blood. There they are destined to wander forever, engaged in an endless hunt. Eventually you learn that the Nightmare holds some sort of secret, which serves as much of the driving force behind your exploration through the DLC’s three new areas.
Bloodborne lore hounds will no doubt find tons of stuff to sink their teeth into as they encounter important characters that were previously only mentioned in item descriptions, while most others will find themselves familiarly confused, only getting a very surface level understanding of what’s actually going on. In other words, it’s business as usual for From Software.
The Hunter’s Nightmare itself starts off as a twisted version of Yarnham, featuring many identical locations from Central Yarnham and the Cathedral Ward, but with crooked architecture, rivers of blood running through the canals and strange grooved roots that have overtaken the town. While it’s initially neat to search out the familiar areas inside the Hunter’s Nightmare, the novelty eventually wears off, causing the first first third of The Old Hunters to feel a little too familiar. Outside of a bunch of hunters that patrol the streets with new trick weapons, you’re fighting the same crows, the same small beasts, the same blood bugs, the same villagers and the same dog enemies that you’ve been fighting all throughout vanilla Bloodborne.
Fortunately, after the first boss, that familiarity melts away as you explore two more completely unique areas, each with their own set of enemies and mysteries to uncover. The Research Lab in particular is a personal favorite, as it is an environment that’s completely unlike anything else in Bloodborne: One that’s designed with a focus on verticality. It challenges players to navigate a labyrinth of stairways and balconies, often having to drop down in order to find a way to get higher up.
Loot was always a high point of the Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2 DLCs, and things are no different here. There are more than 10 new weapons to find in The Old Hunters, and while I’ve only gotten to level one of them up to a point where it’s actually usable, they each have some very impressive movesets and properties. My personal favorite is the Amygdalan Arm, which as the name implies, is the actual arm of a lesser Amygdalan — one of those beasts you see clinging to the walls of the Cathedral Ward. Its main form is a club that can just be slammed repeatedly, but once you transform it, its true form takes shape: A giant bone with a scythe blade attached that has a mind of its own and flails about whenever you swing it.
There are some great off-hand weapons as well, such as a Gatling Gun that gives players with a heavy focus on Bloodtinge another option to deal big damage from long range; a shield that blocks magic attacks; and a brass knuckle that can stagger enemies.
But it’s the bosses that are the true selling point here. Three of the four new bosses are some of the best and most difficult fights of the game, with a great amount of variety to them as well. Regardless of whether you’re facing a huge and grotesque beast, a legendary human hunter, or something different all together, the one thing that each boss fight has in common is that they’re ridiculously fast paced, intense and incredibly satisfying once you’re finally able to make it through them.
Skill level will play a huge role in how much mileage you get out of The Old Hunters, but I’d feel pretty comfortable saying that most players will get at least 8-10 hours out of the DLC on a blind playthrough; more if they decide to try and find all of the secrets. My playthrough was about 9 hours or so, with at least an hour to an hour and a half of that dedicated solely to the first boss.
It gets off to a bit of a slow start, but once The Old Hunters finds its footing, it provides some of the most exciting action you’ll find in Bloodborne. Fantastic bosses, great rewards, and some truly fascinating places to explore make The Old Hunters a compelling reason to return to one of the best games of 2015.
Bottom Line: The Old Hunters is a worthwhile expansion to one of the best games of the year and a shining example of how DLC should be made.
Recommendation: $20 may seem a little steep, but with three lengthy new areas to explore, more than 10 weapons to discover, and five new bosses to attempt to overcome, Bloodborne fans will likely find a lot to sink their teeth into in The Old Hunters[rating=4.5]