There’s a reason downloadable content has an unflattering reputation. It’s been used to flog everything from pointless cosmetics to extra missions to content held back from the final release in order to extort a few extra bucks from the ultra-hardcore fan with a lot of disposable income. DLC doesn’t have to suck though and Bloodborne: The Old Hunters is an example of what DLC looks like when you get it right.
The Old Hunters is Bloodborne’s first DLC expansion and gives players three areas to comb for fresh weapons and loot, of which there is quite a lot, and five new bosses to chew through that will put your skills to the test, even by the lofty standard of difficulty set by the base game.
God damn, Bloodborne is hard. It had been a while since I’d played it and the steep learning curve put me squarely on my backside a few times before I started getting back into the rhythm of it. For those heading into The Old Hunters fresh, you’ll want to take a character above level 66, or at least one that is equipped to deal with late-game content, but if you’re looking to grind through again on New Game+ then you should take some time to get yourself to 120 before making the leap.
Fluff and lore players are going to find a lot to like about The Old Hunters. You’ll bump into fully-fledged characters that were previously only mentioned in passing or had their names buried in item or weapon descriptions and it will be a moment of genuine delight. For everyone else, it will be like jumping into Doctor Who for the first time – vaguely familiar, but dense and rather confusing a lot of the time. So more or less exactly what you’d expect in terms of storytelling in a From Software game.
Once you kick off, you’re dropped into the Hunter’s Nightmare, an especially woolly hellscape that looks like Tim Burton got loose in Yharnam and went on a grotesque redesign spree. Hunters are whisked away to this realm when they’ve had too much (blood) to drink and once there they wander about in eternity, hunting forever. A lot of what you’ll be doing is trying to track down the Nightmare’s hidden secret, which is your impetus for moving into each of the three new locations the expansion provides.
In many respects, the Hunter’s Nightmare is the same map you’ve already spent many hours traipsing around with a few stylistic differences here and there. While it’s initially pretty fun to wander around and check out the changes From have made, it loses its novelty value quite quickly and becomes repetitive within the first few hours. There’s a few hunters ambling about with new weapons which keep things lively but other than that you’re still slaughtering the same crows and blood bugs and on and on that you’ve done hundreds of times before.
Once you arrive at the first boss, however, things get interesting in a hurry. The expansion’s second and third areas are really quite unique and will give Bloodborne stalwarts a lot more to see and do. These areas are full of new secrets and enemies and some areas, like the Research Lab, a maze of balconies and staircases that adds vertical exploration, completely change the way you play the game.
Speaking of bosses, The Old Hunters pulls out all the stops and ratchets up the difficulty again with each of its five boss encounters. The result is some of the game’s most creative, difficult and stressful battles. The pace is lightning fast, the odds are infuriatingly one-sided and victory is so satisfying you almost pass out from the endorphin rush.
Veterans of other From Software games know that DLC is where the best weapons and loot are usually found and The Old Hunters maintains the tradition. Players have another 10+ weapons to track down and level up with some truly devastating moves and properties at higher levels. There’s new off-hand weapons too, which is great for creating strange new builds and keeping people with hundreds of hours already under their belts hooked in.
For those who have spent that kind of time with vanilla Bloodborne, The Old Hunters should take a fairly comfortable 10 hours at most to knock over but set aside up to two hours just for dealing with the game’s first boss which is a logistical and endurance-based nightmare. The Old Hunters starts a little slowly but by the time it breaks into a sprint, it delivers on expanding one of the hardest but most rewarding experiences of the year. From fans and those who love a stiff challenge will be all over this.
Review Score: 8.5 out of 10
Highlights: Great bosses; new loot; stiff but satisfying challenge
Lowlights: Early stages a bit repetitive
Developer: From Software
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Released: 24 November 2015
Platform: PlayStation 4
Reviewed on PlayStation 4