When I began Bloodborne: The Old Hunters, I spawned in the Cathedral Ward. But something was different. The sun was shining and giant tree roots were growing out of the walls, destroying the city of Yarnham. I slowly proceeded in the only direction available to me. After ascending from my location, I encountered one of the Old Hunters. Not knowing whether he was friend or foe, I approached him with caution. Before I could react, the Hunter attacked me with what I can only describe as a giant stone club-chain, and within just two strikes, I was down and out. It was here that I realized more of the rage and anger that defines From Software's games was about to come my way, but as we've come to know, the challenge yields a blissful satisfaction in your ultimate triumph.
In my time with The Old Hunters, one thing kept coming to mind: “This expansion is incredibly hard.” I know these games are meant to be this way, but I can easily say The Old Hunters is the hardest experience From Software has yet produced. But despite the difficult, I powered through. And I'm thankful I did.The Old Hunters tells the story of a storied group of hunters who fought and ultimately lost the battle for Yarnham. One issue you could fairly hold against Bloodborne is its story. It's not that the story was bad, it was just impossible to follow and well-hidden in obscure clues and item descriptions. The Old Hunters doesn't make it much easier; its story is similarly told through item descriptions and world lore. As the months passed after the release of Bloodborne, the community pulled together to draft story theories about this brutal world we fell in love with. It's amazing, after reading these theories and experiencing The Old Hunters, how accurate they were. The Old Hunters depicts the horrific experiments that the Healing Church conducted with the power of blood and experiencing it firsthand left an eerie impression on me.
As I explored this new nightmare, I discovered just how bad things were. Rivers flow with blood and decomposing bodies shower the streets, some even clinging to life and asking for help. Some merely beg for the sweet release of death as giant bloodsucking fiends enjoy a bloody all-you-can-eat buffet.
Speaking of fiends, The Old Hunters features both new and returning monsters. Some of the returning monsters now exhibit a shred of humanity, with some begging you not to kill them while others run away, holding out their arms as a sign of mercy. The new monsters, on the other hand, are just plain disgusting. The Old Hunters easily features the most disturbing creatures that From Software has created, especially when it comes to the bosses. One boss in particular had me asking, “What the hell am I fighting?”
When it comes to the bosses and new monsters, it became quite clear to me that From Software really wanted to push the limits of difficulty. The operative question seems to be, “How hard can we make this while still giving players a fair challenge?” Unfortunately, The Old Hunters not only features the most difficult bosses in the franchise, but also the most unfair. This is even true of some regular encounters. Some of the most difficult enemies are ones that use Arcane skills. These magic users attack from a distance and are incredibly annoying, as dodging them in tight spaces is near-impossible. There is one enemy that I encountered deep into the expansion that was so overpowered, I never actually killed it. It was such an unfair encounter that I felt like I was facing an unwinnable boss fight every time I came across it.
One of my favorite aspects of Bloodborne is the weapon designs and The Old Hunters features a whopping ten new weapons. One of the best (and my new personal favorite) is a big cylindrical saw. In its two-handed form, it begins to run like a chainsaw, with cool effects to accompany it. The expansion also features some new armor sets. Just like the core game, items that give no explanation of their use pop up, leaving it to the player to discover their importance.
The Old Hunters also features some new NPCs to interact with that explain more about the events taking place. Hidden locations and encounters can be discovered at the player’s choosing, including a hidden boss. Its also worth noting that the expansion is not as long as the game would want you to believe. Due to all the dying and exploring I did, it took me about ten hours to complete, but for those with incredible skill and a certain From Software aptitude, I expect the expansion will be completed in half that time.
From Software has delivered some of the most brutally difficult games over the last ten years, but The Old Hunters takes the cake. But with this journey comes the kind of emotional roller-coaster and mysterious storytelling that makes the Soul series and its offspring so special. The creature designs and locations I visited are easily the most shocking and enthralling of recent memory. With the inclusion of some great new weapons and crazy boss battles, The Old Hunters is a great expansion to one of this year's best games. It’s just a shame it’s the only one that Bloodborne will receive.