Developed by From Software
Available exclusively on PS4
Rated M for Mature
Every once in a while, I am reminded of my hubris. Having reviewed Bloodborne (review), beaten it twice, played through the NG+, and delved into the higher level chalice dungeons, I figured myself well prepared for the DLC. Perhaps I was, level 170 with maxed out gear and months of experience. I was quick to find that as a freshly made level 30 with a Threaded Cane+3, I was not so well prepared.
I made the decision to experience The Old Hunters fresh after learning it could be accessed after the 4th boss. As this is a DLC review, I am going to assume that those reading this are familiar with the game, so I’ll only spend a little time clarifying things. After defeating Vicar Amelia and turning the game into the second lunar cycle, you can return to The Hunter’s Dream and receive the Eye of a Blood-Drunk Hunter. Item in hand, wait in the spot at the side of the Oedon Chapel in Cathedral Ward where the Amygdala grabs you. Instead of killing you, you are transported to The Hunter’s Nightmare, where the DLC begins.
If that was all gibberish to you, I can give you a brief idea of what that means to us well versed in the series. Bloodborne is a largely non-linear game, with only certain key fights being required to complete the game. Only 7 of the game’s 17 bosses are required to win, with Vicar Amelia being the second mandatory boss. She is for most players the 4th boss that you will encounter, with the two optional bosses before her being significantly easier stepping stones. At this point, you’re only through about 15-20% of the game, as the subsequent bosses are increasingly more challenging to reach. At this point, players will likely have only unlocked a few weapons, the ability to upgrade, and maybe the additional power of the rune slots. Placing the DLC at this point would imply that it is geared for this level of player.
That is not the case. I rushed through the first 4 bosses in about 4 hours, which is slow for me. I generally go Strength, but decided to use a mix of Skill and Bloodtinge to try something new. The build had a slower start, but after some investment was powerful enough to at least carry me through Rom (roughly the game’s 2/3 point). Wanting to jump into things right away (and not wanting to trudge through the Forbidden Woods), I sacrificed myself to the Amygdala, and was off to converse with The Old Hunters. Upon arriving, I was promptly oneshot by a humanoid enemy wielding an extending chain death-cock.
I spent about 30 minutes learning the attack pattern, figuring out the parry frames, and whittling it down. I figured that this was probably just a boss enemy, here to give me a proper beatdown to remind me that this is a Souls game. The Artorius of the Abyss DLC in Dark Souls similarly opened with a challenging boss fight, so there is precedent. I was soon dispatched, this time in two hits, by the second humanoid enemy, this time wearing a bladed glove that punched holes in me faster than Kenshiro. Ah, so that first enemy wasn’t a boss. Those are just the enemies.
The content is plausibly beatable around level 50-60 for experienced players and 80-90 for scrubs. It is the hardest Bloodborne content by far, with the scant exception of a few optional semi-secret fights and those bullshit frenzy brain things. Given that the DLC is in no way connected to the main game, they could have placed it anywhere. Opening it up when they do doesn’t make sense, and will likely only confuse and infuriate new players. I get that this is a Souls game and things are hard, but even this series has always had a reasonable difficulty curve. Previous titles added DLC that fit the pace naturally, so it is unclear why they chose not to do so this time.
That single criticism is all the bad I have to say about The Old Hunters. This is easily one of the most robust and interesting DLC packages out there. In a market flooded with microtransactions, costume packs, and cut content that should have been a part of the main game, The Old Hunters is a shining example of what DLC should be.
For $20, you get 4 massive new zones, 5 new bosses, and 16 new weapons. One of my scant few complaints about Bloodborne was the limited arsenal, which totaled only 24 unique items (technically 26, but the torch and shield don’t count). The DLC almost doubles the options, but more importantly does so without feeling like padding. The weaponry in Bloodborne was complex even for a Souls game, giving an intimate feel to each weapon’s unique style and moveset. The Old Hunters takes this a step further, expanding the available functions of weapons without breaking the game. It offers compelling new options over straight power buffs, proving itself to be a legitimate piece of compelling content over a cash grab designed to force players to buy it for the strongest gear.
My personal favorite new item is Simon’s Bowblade, which swaps between a sword and greatbow. It’s a good skirmish weapon, and appeals to my cowardly nature and caffeine fueled twitch reflexes. I wish I had taken my old Arcane/Strength build into the DLC, because the Kos Parasite is a barrel of multi-tentacle extra-dimensional monkeys fun. Bonus points for making a weapon so slimy and gross that it even makes your PVP opponent uncomfortable. There are no “regular” weapons, with even the most standard Boom Hammer and Beasthunter Saif providing such variety that they would be the star attraction of any other action-RPG. Now more than ever, Bloodborne truly has something for everyone.
As far as DLC is concerned, I generally expect new items, bosses, spells, bells, whistles, hats, and of course guns. I don’t expect the world to be lifted up to new heights thematically. While Bloodborne felt like a mad world falling to pieces, The Old Hunters is a hellscape completely collapsed. It starts in the heavily distorted familiar settings of Yharnam and Cathedral Ward, and evolves into a nightmare world where madness is truly king. The vague logic that held sway over the hunters and denizens of Bloodborne is gone, replaced with a perverse unquenchable desire for blood. Enemies are numerous, but lines are blurred as foe frequently fight foe. It offers unique gameplay opportunity to pit your enemies against each other, picking the winner off after or simply escaping the confrontation altogether.
So you’re pumped, experienced, and ready to dive in? Well let me tell you, unless you are fucking fluent in Parry-nese, you don’t stand a chance in hell of making it through. The basic enemies have thousands of health and unstaggerable attack chains, so good luck just mashing your way through their 500+ damage basic attacks. For those of you unfamiliar with the series, at level 60 I have 1000 health and hit for 150. Prepare to be shocked when your visceral attack takes away a soul crushing sliver of their health bar, and be prepared to do this repeatedly to finally achieve victory. When you can, look for alternate methods of victory, as direct confrontation is not always the only option.
Aside from being soul-rendingly difficulty, the series is known for its epic bossfights. As far as boss encounters are concerned, Bloodborne is the pinnacle of the series. Bosses ranged from giant malevolent corpse piles to maddened fellow hunters, and the multi-phase design made each fight a constantly evolving challenge. In a roster already comprised of some of the best designed baddies video games have to offer, The Old Hunters bosses are the best of the franchise. Rather than just adding a few attacks, the different phases change both the look and feel of the foe dramatically. A hobbling abomination will sit upright and wield a sword. A standard sword fight will suddenly become a ball of flaming death and explosions. For a title that already raised the bar, this DLC pushes it past the limits.
This is absolutely a must-buy for fans of the series. If you aren’t a fan of Souls games, I pity you. You are missing out on one of the most complex, challenging, rewarding, and satisfying experiences on the market. The Old Hunters just took that level of sublime quality and raised it even further. For the few hours asking price of mastering the mechanics, you are guaranteed dozens, if not hundreds of hours of playtime. I have easily put over 600 hours into the titles, and what The Old Hunters offers has easily just put another 50 hours on top of that. This is what DLC should be. This is what gaming should be. Buy it.