Bloodborne Hands-on: Gothic Looks, Cutthroat Combat

SAN FRANCISCO — At Game Developers Conference (GDC) 2015, there was only one game whose booth consistently had a line of eager fans waiting to play the demo. That game was Bloodborne, a PlayStation 4 exclusive made by Japanese studio From Software, developers of the cult-hit-turned-AAA-franchise Dark Souls.

After a lackluster 2014 holiday lineup, Bloodborne is just what Sony needs, and the reason I'm finally ready to buy a PS4. Here's my take on the upcoming Gothic-inspired action role-playing game.

Bloodborne, which arrives in stores and online March 24, takes the tried-and-tested formula of responsive combat and multiple playstyles (fast and agile, slow and strong, or everything in between), and adds an extra sense of urgency and aggression. Unlike Dark Souls and its sequel, which often had the player hiding behind the cover of a shield, Bloodborne rewards you for proving that the best defense is a good offense.

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You can find and equip shields in Bloodborne, but players are much better off with a pistol or rifle in their off hands. While this prevents you from blocking, you can still roll to avoid attacks and use guns to shoot enemies, disrupt their patrols and perform devastating counter-attacks by returning fire right as you are about to get hit.

This latter move will temporarily stun your foe, giving you a window to dish out a return strike with increased potency. Even if you mistime your counter and take damage, you can regain a small portion of your lost health through regular attacks, but only within a limited time.

Weapon types are more creative than in the Demon's Souls/Dark Souls series. In the demo, my character started with a standard broadsword, but with a single button press, I was able to combine it with a massive stone attachment to form a hulking two-handed sledgehammer. Other characters in the demo used one-handed swords that turned into a single double-edged blade, or a one-handed axe that transformed into a polearm with impressive reach and power.

In terms of graphics, the demo had me walking around the beautiful cursed city of Yharnam, which looks like something out of a Bram Stoker novel, complete with sharply steepled buildings and wrecked horse-drawn buggies. I loved the rain-slicked reflections coming from my adventurer's cape. From what I saw, the only PS4 games that can match Bloodborne's stunning graphics are Destiny and the upcoming Metal Gear 5: The Phantom Pain.

The final encounter of the demo pitted me against a sort of rabid mutant werewolf with long wiry hair and menacing jaws. While I didn't vanquish the beast on my first attempt, I had already fallen under Bloodborne's spell. With adrenaline-pumping action and pedigree from a team that hasn't misstepped yet, the hype for this new game by Dark Souls creator Hidetaka Miyazaki is real.

Sam Rutherford is a Staff Writer at Tom’s Guide. Follow him @SamRutherford on Twitter, and Tom’s Guide on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

Sam is a Senior Writer at Engadget and previously worked at Gizmodo as a Senior Reporter. Before that, he worked at Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag as a Staff Writer and Senior Product Review Analyst, overseeing benchmarks and testing for countless product reviews. He was also an archery instructor and a penguin trainer too (really).