A hunter who goes drunk with blood is said to be taken by the Nightmare, destined to wander forever, engaged in an endless hunt. It is a fate that no Hunter can escape.
The Old Hunters’ story will likely resonate with Bloodborne fans who have taken the time to ponder and discuss the events and characters of the game. The expansion doesn’t offer much of an easy to follow narrative. Cut scenes and dialogue moments are few, and they are ambiguous enough that they might not mean a whole lot to the casual observer. Much like the base game though, there is a wealth to be learned about the events surrounding Yharnam by paying attention to seemingly inconsequential details and taking time to consider their implications among all the other seemingly inconsequential details. Those who keenly analysed the lore of Bloodborne will find much here to kindle their sleuthing flame. Characters mentioned in passing conversation and item descriptions make appearances, and it can be truly compelling to piece together all these seemingly disparate chunks of narrative to form and expand your own version of events.
Technically, not a great deal has changed from Bloodborne. The game still runs at a mostly consistent 30 frames per second, and manages to create beautiful scenes out of bleak gothic architecture and creepy environments. There are familiar areas, but they are only superficially so. Start exploring around the expansion’s first area, Cathedral Ward, for example and you’ll find that recognisable landmarks take on an entirely different meaning when considered in their new environmental context. Rivers run red, and new hideous inhabitants make the areas you once knew take on an uncanny vibe. Cathedral Ward offers relatively open spaces in which to manoeuvre, but later areas use cramped spaces and evidence of past goings-on to fashion a claustrophobic and unnerving tone.
Enemy design in this expansion is particularly notable. Some creatures you will face early on might feel like relatively tame reinterpretations of those you’ve faced before in the base game, but very quickly the monsters become wonderfully grotesque. The first boss of The Old Hunters is a spectacular example of the awe-inspiringly twisted creative minds at From Software. The revelatory cut scenes for each of the bosses were captivating, it’s genuinely enthralling to discover the freakishly monstrous ways these beasts look and function.
The hideousness of these creatures and the worlds they inhabit is intensified by the audio accompanying them. The sounds of crunching bones, of slimy tendrils and ear piercing shrieks give each of your adversaries their own distinct vibe and sense of ferocity. Environmental sounds also make sure that each new area you explore feels distinct from the last and begins to take on an ambience all its own.
You can access the new areas of The Old Hunters after you defeat the boss in Grand Cathedral. The method of accessing the area however is somewhat cryptic. This will come as no surprise to veterans of Dark Souls – the DLC “Artorias of the Abyss” had a similarly ambiguous series of steps required for access. In addition, while you can access The Old Hunters from a relatively early point in the game, it really feels designed to be played with characters from a later stage in the game’s progression.
The Old Hunters’ first area is the familiar Cathedral Ward, specifically the area surrounding the Grand Cathedral. There are parts that will feel familiar, but enough has changed here to give the place an entirely different feel, gameplay wise. Rather than immediately facing wretched beasts, you come face to face with intimidating hunters, and if you’re not prepared for them it’s likely that they will surprise you with just how formidable they are. They are equipped with weapons not before seen in Bloodborne, and will take some thought and strategy to overcome.
It will be a fair while before you feel comfortable in this version of Cathedral Ward. While the beasts you once might have feared now cower from your very presence, the world is instead inhabited by other hunters which has the effect of making the entire area feel foreboding. The first time you sneak up on a beast only to have it obliterated by another hunter out of nowhere, who has now set its sights on you, is exhilarating to say the least. You never quite feel safe. When you feel like you’ve gotten the hang of besting a hunter, you’ll find a new one not far off with an entirely new weapon and moveset to consider. You’re always on your guard, and the entire time is wonderfully stressful. Your experience as far as difficulty goes will differ greatly depending on your character’s level, equipment, and your own experience with the game, but I’m confident to say that there is a fair challenge here even for seasoned players.
For those a little less experienced with Bloodborne, there are some concessions available to help you push through and overcome some of the challenges. Spending some more time in the main game levelling up and getting new equipment will help, but a newly added covenant can provide some much needed assistance with the bosses in this expansion. The League is a covenant which was added to Bloodborne in patch 1.07 who are dedicated to the single purpose of helping out players through jolly co-operation. If you swear your allegiance to their cause, you will find yourself able to summon help from the covenant’s ranks to help out just before most of the expansion’s boss fights.
The best part about this is that the game’s difficulty, to a point at least, is entirely within your control. You can choose to challenge yourself to crushing enemies entirely by yourself, or enlist the help of one or two AI-controlled helpers to distract and help in your struggle against your foes. Summoning AI helpers is not new to Bloodborne or the Souls series but this covenant, centred entirely around co-operation, can definitely come in handy. It is often the difference between a glorious triumph or controller-bending frustration for many players.
The only negative that I began to notice in my time with The Old Hunters was that although, for the most part, the new enemies and bosses looked entirely fresh and unique compared to those that came before, the methods of dealing with certain bosses and enemies felt unfortunately familiar. It was definitely not enough to leave any lasting negative impression with me, but it’s worth noting that some of the challenges you face might not need as much creative new strategy to deal with as you might hope.
The Old Hunters, essentially, is more Bloodborne. There are elements which will feel familiar to players well versed in Bloodborne’s world and inhabitants, but when it’s more of something this good I am not one to complain. There is certainly enough new here to satisfy anyone who has yearned for more to do in Yharnam and its surrounds. While the price may feel steep compared to other DLC packs around right now, there is enough here to make the price of entry absolutely worthwhile. Whether you’re here for the challenge, to learn more about how Yharnam came to be the way it is or even just to admire the artistry in the game’s monster design, I feel there is something here for anyone who found themselves ensnared by the Hunter’s Dream.
Large new and remixed environments to explore
Expands on Bloodborne’s underlying story
Incredible monster design
Dynamic, challenging and fast paced combat
Some familiar boss strategies
May take some effort to access depending on your character