Bloodborne: Bosswatch (Part 1)

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Welcome back to Bosswatch! With this feature, I attempt to analyze Souls games by focusing on their bosses and environments: what I often consider the most important unique elements from Souls game to Souls game. The combat and game mechanics always superlative, of course, and Bloodborne especially brings a new dynamic that - perhaps unfortunately, depending on your take - are geared towards playing a specifically aggressive way. I'll probably have more to say on aspects like those, as well as new features like the optional Chalice Dungeons and the gemcrafting, in my more general appraisals in the Sunday Summaries feature.

As far as Bosswatch is concerned, however, we're focusing at the climactic battles that bookend every area of the game, bringing with them some indirect lore and background about the world of Yharnam and a sense of the danger it presents. More crucially, however, is that these bosses - and their locations - are the best source of the game's creativity in both its art style and game design. A good Souls boss takes a few attempts before the player is able to get a good read on their attacks, how their behavior will shift as they continue to take damage and which approaches will and will not work.

There's also usually a handful of juicy story implications behind each encounter, so if seeing a list of boss and region names wasn't a sufficient hint: this feature contains spoilers for the first half of Bloodborne. In fact, let's say where I'm up to (in vague terms) in case some of you out there are also only partway through: the next mission-critical area is a place of learning with a goofy Welsh name. Hopefully I didn't reveal too much with that clue. If you've played enough of Bloodborne to know what I'm talking about, or don't care too much about boss spoilers either way, please read on.

(One more disclaimer: I'm only partway through the game and am avoiding most story spoilers myself. The lore interpretations here are my own, and possibly inaccurate or based on incomplete information. There's already hundreds of resources out there on painstakingly accurate loremongering, so I figured: why not present an interpretation hilariously off the mark? Seems to me like a more valuable contribution.)

(If you're new to Bosswatch, here's the three-part series I created for Dark Souls II (naturally with DS2 spoilers throughout): Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.)

Central Yharnam

The game doesn't give too much away early on. The player is quickly killed trying to exit the laboratory/clinic building in which they begin by one of the more difficult werewolf enemies. This introduces the Hunter's Dream: a hub-like world for leveling, upgrading equipment, trading with merchants and warping to different locations. The NPCs here include the nameless doll who acts as this game's Emerald Herald/Maiden in Black equivalent ("level waifu", as some reprobates have taken to calling them); Gehrman, an elderly hunter in a wheelchair who doles out directions; and the Messengers, who are these helpful if creepy little kodama things that hint at the supernatural terrors to come.

Central Yharnam, though, is a lot easier to comprehend. Depicted as an ersatz 18th century European city, of the type that is filled with awkward streets and side paths due to the disparity between the ages (and subsequent architectural styles) of its buildings and other structures. With every Souls environment, including the ones to follow, it's presented as a labyrinth by its classical definition: a mostly linear maze made obtuse by its many twists and turns. It's not quite a labyrinth - there are paths that wrap around back to the start, creating shortcuts in the process - but the intent with areas such as these is to disorient the player to a mild extent: not enough to frustrate them, but enough to make them feel unsettled. Even so, there's not much in the way of eldritch threats here: mostly deranged hunters and monstrous versions of common dogs, rats, crows, one particularly big pig and other city animals. There's also the sewers, which are a brief detour from the streets above but aren't quite as unpleasant or as confusing as they look.

For all its twisty passageways and, well, its hub-suggesting name, Central Yharnam doesn't offer too many branches. There's only one exit, excepting the starting clinic area which remains closed off after the introduction: the path to Oedon Chapel, which in turn leads to Cathedral Ward and the upper areas of the city. There are, however, two bosses to fight, the first of which is an optional encounter at the end of a very long bridge...

Cleric Beast

The game's chief obstacle, at least so far, is that the player has been unable to increase their level. That changes as soon as they find the Cleric Beast boss fight. They don't even need to win: the precious secondary resource of the game, Insight, is gained whenever the player finds a boss encounter and increases further after they defeat one. Insight is treated as a Call of Cthulhu-esque double-edged sword: the more of it you have, the more you're able to interpret the more irrational aspects of the world. Or really the world beyond ours, poised as it between this universe of science and natural law and one where reality is a little more malleable. The classic Lovecraftian "thin veil of reality separating us and 'them'" approach, in so many words. This means that, with Insight, you can embrace and understand the intangible and inexplicable, like the animated doll that allows you to level up, though it also reveals more of the eldritch beings that hover just outside of your perception and makes certain enemies more powerful as a result. It's a great system that rewards and punishes curiosity in equal measure - a running theme with Bloodborne, as well as Lovecraftian fiction in general - and, unlike humanity, isn't a resource that is easily lost. Insight can only be spent or taken from you by force: it doesn't go away in the event that you die and are unable to recover your souls (or blood echoes, in this case) from the resulting corpse run.

Insight talk aside, the Cleric Beast is a tough first battle but at the same time one that sets the standard going forward. It's presented similarly to the early Taurus Demon fight of Dark Souls: the foe is enormous, at least compared to anything you've seen so far, and the arena is a fairly narrow bridge. This forces the player to utilize more dramatic ways of avoiding the attacks of larger foes by running straight at them, going underneath their swing and emerging inside their weapon's radius. Larger bosses are at a disadvantage in situations like these, as the player is free to hack away before the boss creature can extricate itself and create a bit of space with which to regain and exploit its superior reach. Seasoned Souls players, of course, already know this trick when fighting larger enemies, and especially those that attack on all fours that are often at a loss when their opponent is inside their space or directly behind or adjacent. While its attacks get stronger as it takes more damage, it doesn't do offer much in the way of surprises. It's simply a straightforward fight to acclimatize newcomers to Bloodborne and its boss battles.

As for lore, I didn't really find much on this guy. I think the implication was that it was a creature built from magic; the cleric of its name suggests that its conception was of a clerical or alchemical bent. In actuality, it probably means that the beast itself was once a member of the game's "Healing Church" clergy (hinted to be something a little more cult-like and ruthless, given their fascination with blood and "the Great Ones") and became a beast at some point after the endless night fell. You'll see many more cases, the rest far more overt, of church members turning into monsters before fighting you and that includes the next boss.

Father Gascoigne

Father Gascoigne creates two precedents with this fight: the first is that of the Hunter NPC enemy, who fight with one of the many "trick weapons" that the player might acquire, and tend to be fast and versatile opponents that essentially fight the same way that a player-controlled invader might. It feels like the game takes full advantage of the technological leap to create AI opponents that more closely skew to human than most, so you'll find a lot of opponents like these throughout the game - a few are bosses, though many more are regular hostile NPCs that guard a few critical locations. Father Gascoigne is one such Hunter NPC who, despite being the same size as the player, is a far more dangerous and unpredictable opponent than the Cleric Beast. The player soon learns to take advantage of the arena and its many gravestones: Gascoigne's firearm will often leave you staggered and vulnerable for a more vicious attack with his saw weapon, as well as remain a persistent irritant throughout, if the player doesn't use cover to shield themselves.

The second precedent of the Father Gascoigne boss fight is the aforementioned "going beast mode" of certain members of the Healing Church. After taking enough damage, Gascoigne loses what little humanity he has left and becomes a werewolf-esque monster which, despite all appearances, is just as cunning as the man it once was. There's no flying bullets to worry about, but the arena ceases to become advantageous - the boss is now strong enough to bulldoze any gravestones in its path - and it's a lot harder to stay one step ahead or find a quiet moment to heal up. The only advantage the player has now is the fact that the erstwhile Father Gascoigne has very little health left to remove before the battle is over.

You learn some additional lore about Gascoigne before and after this fight, though I don't believe you can communicate with him directly: he's a fellow Hunter like you, pressed into action to protect his family and, like the player character, is intimated to be another foreigner who ingratiated himself to Yharnam and its Healing Church sometime before the player arrived. You meet the nearby corpse of his wife - unfortunately mauled by Gascoigne in his frenzied state - and his two children who, if encountered, will eventually run afoul of beasts themselves. It's a not-so-cheery look at one family and their travails during the endless night of the hunt. Most other chatty NPCs wisely hole themselves up in their houses while the beasts and crazed hunters have at it on the streets.

Cathedral Ward

Cathedral Ward opens with the Oedon Chapel, which presents a safe haven for many of the NPCs that are willing to find shelter outside their homes, as well as leading to many other locations both off and on the beaten path. Cathedral Ward's also a more vertical area than Central Yharnam, as the region naturally slopes upwards to a massive Grand Cathedral and its requisite boss fight. This area also has more oddballs in it: the less human Church Doctors, who all wear creepy masks and roar at you like Donald Sutherland in The Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, and the disturbing and enormous Church Giants. As well as those, there's also the odd mindflayer (and man, was I not ready for their brutal attack) and, eventually, the fearsome Snatchers (more on those in just a moment, however).

What I appreciate most about Cathedral Ward is the emphasis it places on the importance of Yharnam's church and the elevated position of its clergy caste. The church is all-powerful in this city, and have evidently taken most of the affluent upper regions of Yharnam for their own. In addition, the number of locked gates would suggest that they were keen to keep out the riff-raff long before those same gates became necessary barricades to the beasts and mad hunters in the town below (and yourself, annoyingly). It's a serene place, relatively speaking, though hardly any less dangerous. In fact, entirely silent if not for their roars, the Church Doctors can easily sneak up on you if you aren't paying attention to your quiet surroundings.

For this reason Cathedral Ward also feels the most "SpaceWhipper"-ish of Yharnam's regions, because most of its exits are cordoned off until the player has reached a certain point in the game's progression. You'll be returning to Cathedral Ward often to discover new paths that have opened up and learning that there's always more to be done. Reaching the boss fight here is actually (technically) contingent on fighting another boss elsewhere, making this semi-chronological guide to the game's bosses and regions a little off as a result. For that reason, we'll be describing the next region before covering the boss of Cathedral Ward: Vicar Amelia. (Of course, there's a very expensive item you can buy that'll let you skip directly to Amelia, but why not go the fun circuitous route instead of grinding out enough blood echoes for a lousy shortcut?)

Old Yharnam

If Cathedral Ward represents the prideful ostentatiousness of Yharnam's elite ruling class of pious men and women, then Old Yharnam is the other side of that coin: diseased slums of heathens that all are forbade to enter. It's also remote and its creatures are of no threat to anyone outside its boundaries, which is why you'll find the elderly (but profoundly skilled) hunter Djura protecting the region from his vantage point atop an old clock tower. The first half of the stage requires that you avoid the steady stream of bullets from his stationary Gatling gun whenever you're caught out in the open; an incongruously "action-adventure game" sequence that recalls the Nepal rooftop helicopter escape from Uncharted 2.

Old Yharnam's creatures, meanwhile, are both vicious and pitiful. Half of them look like they were victims before turning into beasts, though even the most monstrous were clearly once people. It's here that the player learns that all beasts are transformed humans, in case they believed that Father Gascoigne was a one off, and the hunters are essentially Church-ordained murderers of those stricken by this plague and are only one or two steps removed from the same condition themselves. Most, if not all, Souls games are built around the concept of a civilization teetering on the brink of destruction, undone by its own hubris and/or the ever-encroaching forces of chaos and darkness that have long sought to undermine it, and determinant on the player's actions the protagonist is there to rescue that civilization from its demise, or be the agent thereof. Narratively speaking, Old Yharnam is a major component to the player's gradual understanding of the nation and its problems - though they won't get the full story without some digging - and meeting the principled Djura helps to fill in a piece of the puzzle.

After passing Djura's watchtower, the player passes through a large church via its rafters in the game's customary vertiginous beam-balancing sequence before strolling out into a darker street area and towards the boss arena. These areas represent what the church of Yharnam perhaps used to be, or a different church all together: still as quiet and austere, but not nearly as grandiose. Whatever catastrophe met Old Yharnam, and fire would seem the most likely culprit given the amount of burned out structures the player passes through, it seems likely that it was man-made and motivated by dark ambitions.

Blood-Starved Beast

As with the Cleric Beast, there's an insinuation that the Blood-Starved Beast is a devout human turned extremely powerful and resentful beast. It's more human-like than the Cleric Beast was, dressed as it is in a bloody ragged cloak, but fights more like the bestial form of Father Gascoigne. It's fast, in other words, and the pillars that dot the cathedral arena don't necessarily offer as much protection from sudden lunges as they might suggest.

This fight, then, feels more like the middle ground of the first two. It's not quite big enough that the player might confound them by getting in close, but it's certainly bigger than the werewolf form of Gascoigne and therefore has a reach that's not to be underestimated. What's worse is the poison attack it acquires after losing about a third of its health: the poison status quickly builds up due to the boss's combination swings, and it's harder to escape to quaff a sneaky blood vial when the boss is so aggressive and fast. Bloodborne's most vital and paradoxically most easily overlooked combat feature is its regain system: that a player, if particularly reckless or aggressive, can recover a significant amount of their lost health after getting hit by immediately retaliating before the health bar can finish draining. If the player avoids getting staggered, they can weather a blow and instantly recover from it by wailing on the boss a few times in response. With poison, however, that lost health won't easily come back and the player needs to exercise more caution to avoid it, or they'll be forced to carve out a small moment necessary to use a restorative item and risk their demise from their supremely quick foe. It's the first real fight where status effects are an issue, though definitely not the last, and is therefore a little more deliberate than the previous two fights: which, depending on how the player approached them, may well have been quick and dirty battles of attrition.

Vicar Amelia

More of Cathedral Ward opens up after the defeat of the Blood-Starved Beast (provided the player didn't take the shortcut instead) which eventually leads to a region named for the Healing Church and, from there, to the Grand Cathedral and Vicar Amelia. It also leads to the exits to Hemwick Charnal Lane and the Forbidden Forest, which become important locations in due time. The third location ends in a curious dead end, lorded over by an enormous invisible creature: I've yet to ascertain the true nature of these beings, but I suspect they're strongly linked to the game's Cthulhu-esque mythos. What little I could make out from its form was hard to ascertain, and it turned my hunter briefly insane before dropping them from a great height to their death. Let's push a pin in that for right now, though, and talk about Amelia.

Amelia is, like many of the bosses we've fought so far, a transformed beast of immense cunning, speed and tenacity. Like Gascoigne, we're briefly treated to a scene of her as a human before she transforms and turns to face you. The Amelia-wolf, while still appearing haggard and wild, has a brilliant white coat and is more vulpine in her movements. The most troubling aspect of the Amelia fight is her self-heal ability, which triggers once she's lost around half her health and can get some distance from you. Naturally, it behooves the player to interrupt this process as quickly as they are able. This is a fight in which the player can't afford to be judicious, creating a stark contrast to the otherwise similar Blood-Starved Beast battle, and the player is at constant risk of getting torn apart from Amelia's fast combos all the while staying close enough to ensure she can't restore herself.

If I had to guess, I'd say from the elaborate white raiment and her prominent location that a "Vicar" in the world of Yharnam and the Healing Church is something akin to a cardinal or even the Pope: that is, a very high and exalted position in the clergy. There's something almost sympathetic about the way Amelia cowers at her altar, praying for the curses to end and ruing everything that occurred and her part in it. These early bosses, I feel, are meant to inspire regret in the player for what their hunter is forced to do: to bring down once-human creatures that have fallen under a curse they couldn't anticipate or protect themselves from, in the process driving them to seek out the true culprits behind this city-wide descent into madness and blood. (Man, am I getting into the spirit of this or what?)

Hemwick Charnal Path

Hemwick Charnal Path is another optional area, I've determined, though the item you acquire at the end of it may well be necessary for completing the game if only because of the advantage it provides. Leading off from a cemetery area adjacent to the Grand Cathedral, the Hemwick Charnal Path is an oppressively grim and linear path through a graveyard. The usual hunters have been replaced by equally deranged crones, and with them are more of the burly Executioners that - despite having less health than other large enemies - are a lot faster than they look. The linearity of the area is fairly surprising: it's more of a straight line than any other region I've seen so far, and only briefly splits near its boss arena for a dead end with a few items. It feels more like a gauntlet than anything, though fortunately one with a couple of convenient shortcuts.

I couldn't say what this region represented for a pre-insane Yharnam. Possibly, it's a nearby location intended for the burial of the common folk - I'd imagine members of the clergy are interred somewhere more elaborate. That the main force of enemies are all women suggests that burying the deceased was a gendered role within the church. Unlike most churches, where positions for women are usually a little more limited, there aren't too many indicators to suggest whether women or men were better off in the Healing Church. It's interesting that there's so many here, and conversely so many exclusively male hunters wandering the streets of Yharnam. I mean, beyond the purely mechanical reason of not creating two entirely different sets of enemies to account for both genders in both regions.

Witch of Hemwick

Ah, our first puzzle boss. I was starting to get worried. Up until now we've had fights with fast-moving creatures that tested our mastery of the game's mechanics; in particular, how an aggressive approach is the most conducive to quickly recovering lost health and keeping the pressure on your opponent. With the Witch of Hemwick, the intent is to figure out how the fight works and then execute on that plan. In that sense, it's not a million miles divorced from the Bed of Chaos fight in Dark Souls: these are witches, after all, and there's no victory to be had without first figuring out how the fight ticks.

The battle begins with a crazy-eyed spindly skeleton that appears out of nowhere and strides towards you. These skeletons follow you unhurriedly, waiting for you to make the first move before suddenly becoming a lot more aggressive. They aren't the target, however, and this becomes evident as soon as you take one down and notice the health bar hasn't moved an iota. The real target is an invisible witch that teleports around the field and is even slower than her summoned skeletal minions. She has numerous visual clues that you pick up on as the fight continues: a shining red lantern, which she uses to summon the skeletons, or the occasional noise or temporary burst of visibility. Chopping down the witch is simply a case of running around the arena looking for these signs (or just getting lucky) while avoiding the skeletons. As the battle continues, more skeletons are tagged in to distract the player. And then you defeat the Witch of Hemwick.

...Only for a second one to appear. The second is a lot more offensive than the first, sometimes stunning you which makes you very vulnerable to a devastating throat-slashing attack from the witch as well as attacks from any nearby skeletons. What's worse is that this second witch will eventually resurrect the first, though she doesn't get all her health back, and the two of them gang up on you by using themselves as bait. Once you've found one, the other is likely behind you and ready to hit you with another stun spell. It's only by defeating both (and avoiding the increasing throng of skeletons) that the battle finally ends.

There's no big exit or lore dump behind the witches of import to the rest of the game, but there is a single item that comes in very useful indeed: the rune workshop tool. This allows the equipping of Caryll runes: the game's ring equivalent. Equipped runes provide all sorts of effects, from boosted stats to having more bullets or blood vials at your disposal, and seem to be the key to creating a character powerful enough to tackle the game's harder challenges, along with the socketable blood gems. It's interesting that they placed such a useful if ultimately inessential item behind an entire area and boss encounter like this. Almost as if to taunt speedrunners in suggesting that, while they can avoid this part of the game entirely, they do so at their peril.

Hypogean Gaol

After a certain point in the game, a few ominous hooded figures started appearing in the Cathedral Ward. They move slow, but hit extremely hard, and will eventually "berserk" after taking enough damage increasing the speed behind their already deadly attacks. Getting killed by them does something curious: rather than waking up (or, I guess, falling asleep) in the Hunter's Dream, the player's hunter instead emerges in this region: the Hypogean Gaol. The snatcher enemies are in full force here, their home, and there's a few other menaces too including a less-powerful version of the Hemwick witches that can still insta-kill the careless. It's actually a fairly small region, all told, but I suspect I'll need to come back here under more auspicious circumstances. Which is to say, without dying first.

So far, so Duke's, but what's curious about this region - beyond the painful method of getting here - is that it appears to be entirely isolated from Yharnam and its church. In fact, signs suggest that this village has their own cult-like religion going on, though whether it's any more or less accurate about the world beyond remains to be seen. Doors are locked, passages are impassable and with the exception of the shortcut behind the boss there's plenty to suggest that the region's a lot bigger than it presently is. I'm wondering what it'll take to open up more of this area, and how much further I'll need to get before it becomes accessible.

Darkbeast Paarl

I grossly underestimated this foe the first time through the Hypogean Gaol, and it wasn't until I came back a long while later that I was able to beat him. For the sake of disclosure, I was kidnapped shortly after the Blood-Starved Beast, but it wasn't until I'd defeated Amelia and the Witch of Hemwick that I'd try my luck against the Darkbeast a second time.

The Darkbeast is, like many of the foes we've faced so far, a quadruped of extreme aggression and speed. In addition, it shines brightly with a powerful aura of electricity that charges its every attack for even more damage. The Darkbeast is a rare example of the reversal of the late-fight boss boost: while it does get stronger closer to death, like its contemporaries, the battle is quickly won once the player gets the upper hand by forcing the offensive. After receiving a large amount of damage, the Darkbeast will momentarily lose its voltaic aura and will try to get some distance from you to reapply it. By continuing to hound it, so to speak, you can keep it on the defensive for the entire fight. The only challenging part here, then, is surviving that initial assault in its fully-charged state and finding an opening to drain its batteries with a heavy attack. The usual tactics against four-legged bosses also apply, of course: staying underneath or near its back legs tends to be the most effective area to attack from, though you do have to watch out for some large AoE attacks when it's powered up.

What I liked about the Darkbeast boss, beyond the whole heavy metal electricity/wolf/skeleton aesthetic combo it had going on, was that it didn't look to be a recent victim of the curse. The beast looked ancient and entirely non-human, being mostly bones with a few scraps of skin and fabric, and there's no telling whether it was part of Yharnam's curse or was something that long predates the current catastrophe. It might be that this curse has been around for a very long time, and has only recently become too much for the Healing Church to handle.

Forbidden Forest

Oh, you mean Snake Forest? Well, let me tell you about Snake Forest...

Forbidden Forest felt like that region. You know the one. The one that's an utter pain to progress through, because it's determined to annoy you in a dozen different ways. Your Valleys of Defilement, your Blighttowns, your Earthen Peaks or your Shrines of Amana. I don't even know if there's going to be an even more irksome region after this, but the forest was wall-to-wall traps, tricky enemies, large monsters who still manage to sneak up on you in spite of their size and what felt like an incredible amount of ground to cover. That being said, I was kind of into it. Being out in the open made for a nice change after all those lanes, rooftops and dilapidated buildings.

The forest can be broken down, essentially, into two parts: the first half suggests that this forest was where the hunters of Yharnam once made their living. Lots of shacks and tools of the hunting trade amidst the copses, and a couple of pitfalls, traps and other obstacles intended for less intelligent prey. Plenty of hunters too, naturally enough, and it was the first time in a while that they'd become a problem just out of the sheer number of them wandering around. This half of the forest also contained a poisonous cave which lead back to Iosefka's Clinic: the very first area of the game. Something was clearly up with this kindly nurse with the maniacal laugh so I didn't pry too far after she warned me away, though part of my wanting to avoid conflict was because that - if ever they give you the option - it's good practice in a Souls game to never turn any NPCs hostile if you can help it. Who knows when they might be important to the story later on? (OK, yeah, I cheated a little and looked ahead too. I really don't care for Souls games and their arbitrary "you dun goofed" failstates.)

The next part of the forest, after a brief stop at a windmill, is snake city. Every enemy around here has snakes in it: there's balls of snakes that slowly creep up on you,; there's gigantic balls of snakes that puke poison from 50 yards away; and there's people with lots of snakes for heads in what can only be a visual reference to Resident Evil 4's Las Plagas. There's pigs and crawling corpses too, but it seems like they really wanted to give snakes their due this time around after giving so much of the spotlight to rats last time. Definitely more anti-Henry Jones Jr. than anti-Henry Jones Sr. this time around.

The Shadow of Yharnam

The boss here is actually three bosses: specifically, three cloaked figures with different weapons and different attack styles. It feels like a three-on-one hunter NPC fight, and hunter fights are tricky enough when you only have the one opponent to worry about. Fortunately, they aren't quite as agile as the hostile hunter NPCs you've met so far, but that doesn't mean that they aren't as dangerous.

There's three types, which makes it easier to A) figure out which is which and B) figure out which one to kill first. It's the classic Souls multi-boss, complete with multiple health bars, and one that gradually becomes easier as you continue to remove combatants. The first guy looks to be the classic pyromancer build, which is odd because this game doesn't really do magic the same way as the previous ones. From what I can tell, Bloodborne's magic system amounts to a handful of "tools" that usually scale damage based on the player's magic stat. They all take ammunition, somehow, and provide various tactical benefits like pushing enemies away or hitting them from an unexpectedly long distance - unexpected because most human-like bosses can approximate your reach and try to stay out of it. He's the only one of the three to keep their distance, making him easy to isolate and defeat first. If not, those homing fireballs of his became major nuisances. The second guy is the most aggressive, and will run at you with a curved sword. The third guy also has a sword, but in his other hand is a flamethrower weapon that he'll use at medium range. For that reason, he won't close the distance quite as quickly as his friend.

Naturally, the first inclination is to focus on one enemy, and then head onto the next and then hack apart the last one while he's alone and vulnerable. Unfortunately, the Souls series is well acquainted with designing boss fights like this, and they've anticipated this approach. Instead, when one of the hooded figures gets close to death (say, around a third of their health left), all three of them will transform into far more dangerous snake people. (Why did it have to be snakes?) The fireball guy now creates meteor strikes that are harder to look out for, the sword guy now has a long-distance whip attack with its snake arms to surprise you and the flamethrower guy has also somehow lit his blade on fire, presenting two different methods to inflict fire damage. The player is left to determine whether they'd be better off quickly killing one shadow and dealing with his full health, powered-up friends, or to spread the damage around when the three are still in their comparatively sedate initial forms. Personally, I really wanted to make sure that the fireball guy was dead first, but in retrospect it's probably a smarter idea to attack all three in equal amounts. I appreciate that the boss battle was designed in such a way to make either option viable.

Chalice Dungeon: Pthumeru

I should probably wrap this up. I wanted to do ten bosses, since that was the cut-off for the Dark Souls II Bosswatch feature, but this has gone on long enough. I'll end it with a quick chat about the game's Chalice Dungeons.

Chalice Dungeons appear to be semi-randomized dungeons that have little to do with the main plot progression, but offer a means to go Mystery Dungeon-ing for a while for additional crafting materials and other useful items. Most of the items you find in Chalice Dungeons are simply there to aid you in creating even harder Chalice Dungeons, but even if you don't walk out with armfuls of loot there's still the blood echoes you earn from fighting all the creatures down there. There's two types: the standard Chalice Dungeons and the Root Chalice Dungeons. The former have fixed environments, with each successive one offering more dangers and treasures, while the Root Chalice equivalents are truly random with environments and rooms that are procedurally generated every time you create one with the necessary ritual ingredients. The Pthumeru dungeon is the first one you can create after acquiring the chalice in question from the Blood-Starved Beast fight, and it contains three "layers" each with a separate boss.

I've no clear idea how many of the Chalice Dungeon's future boss encounters rely on stronger versions of bosses from the "main" mode, or if they're simply bigger versions of regular monsters, but the three I encountered in the Pthumeru (which sounds like someone trying to spit out a piece of paper stuck on their tongue) were fairly distinct.

The Undead Giant was a large but lumbering foe and reminded me of the giants from the first area of Dark Souls II. The Merciless Watchers were a trio of ogre-like enemies that, like the Shadow of Yharnam, required some divide and conquer tactics. The third, and most impressive, was a giant flaming hound that played out similarly to the Darkbeast fight: though damaging with its elemental attacks, sustained attacks would put his fires out and force him to retreat to reignite himself. He'd also create exploding AoE attacks the same way as the Darkbeast did, so trying to hide underneath him was often deleterious to survival.

I dunno if I'll keep tracking Chalice bosses for Bosswatch, if indeed I continue with the Chalice Dungeons at all (there is a trophy for it though...), but there's some indication that, for these pre-generated dungeons at least, the bosses are as well-considered as they are for the rest of the game. Watch this space, I suppose.

And with that, I'd like to thank you for joining me on this trek through the beasties and creepers of Bloodborne's early game. I'm sure as we move on the bosses will get less and less, well, rational, as the game's really starting to ramp up the whole "Great Old Ones" aspect of its narrative. I already found Patches (what's up, dog?) and a school full of slime people, and it didn't look any more pleasant after leaving that place and discovering some weird floating poison lake nexus. There's also the small matter of a frozen Gwyn-type warrior sitting on top of an icy vampire castle, who has brutally handed me my ass three times now, and whatever awaits me at the forbidden academy of Byrgenwerth. I'm guessing it's spider-related from the enemies I've met so far in that region, so that'll be... neat? See you then.

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#1 Posted by csl316 (14946 posts) -

Snake city is.... oh, man.

Good lord, I started up NG+ for the DLC, and since I finished all that I thought about going through the rest of the game. But sorry, not dealing with those snake balls ever again. EVER. AGAIN.

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#2 Posted by ArbitraryWater (15664 posts) -

Snake City gonna get ya! Also, if you thought the bosses were weird and grotesque up to this point... they get a lot weirder and more grotesque. Same goes for the DLC bosses.

There are a decent number of Chalice Dungeon-exclusive bosses, though I should warn you that one or two of them fall fairly deep into "postgame" territory, either because of how hard they are or because of how hard it is to get to them.

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