A few weeks ago I finally finished Elden Ring. Lacking that unique Soulslike blend of migraine-inducing stress and emphatic dopamine blasts that only FromSoft games offer, I felt an urge to return to a certain place in the developer’s back catalog. Something about Bloodborne’s relatively linear and tighter world design spoke to me after Elden Ring’s jaw-dropping opener. I wanted to move away from the Soulslike experience by playing a healthier, more condensed iteration of that experience.
And yes, I’m aware that makes me look like someone with a substance problem, but exiting a FromSoft game after spending around 150 hours in it should be done with caution, lest you end up playing to crazy mobile farming games as a throwback to the hard experience you just had. I saw it happen. It’s not a pretty sight.
So I headed back to Yharnam, buttoning up my dandy waistcoat and pulling on my tall leather boots that should keep the gore and scrawl of its delightfully ramshackle streets from saturating my socks.
First impressions were as powerful as I remembered. The story, while by no means straightforward, is pleasantly straight to Elden Ring, and completing that first loop of Central Yharnam to open the door to the Initial Lamp (or Site of Grace, for you Ternished) got me gave me that satisfying sense of accomplishment that I was looking for. The shortcuts, the clutter of coffins everywhere, the weird locals talking behind locked doors. It was good to be back.
And yet, something also felt wrong. Although I tried to bask in the glorious gothic architecture and the feeling that unspoken higher powers were gripping the city with great cosmic claws, I just couldn’t get over the feeling that something was holding me back. getting lost in what for me has always been one of the most unique and evocative settings in the game.
I looked up at the Cathedral Quarter of Central Yharnam, and everything in the middle distance shimmered with pixelation. Looking at the blood moon threatening the city, I could clearly see on my 50 inch TV that it was surrounded by a dark low resolution skybox. As the enemies moved to strike me, their limbs seemingly blended into the jagged landscape around them. I knew a few years had passed since its release, but did it really still look and feel this muddy?
Even at the time of its initial release in 2015, Bloodborne was, technically, a bit of a mess. For starters, it lacked anti-aliasing, an essential technology in modern games that smooths out jagged lines around every game object. In a game that’s so artfully filled with clutter, railings, gnarled trees and from a dense urban geometry, it becomes, like our old friend Ludwig the Cursed, an “unsightly beast”.
Quite a bit of noise was made that when the PS4 Pro arrived, Bloodborne didn’t get the “Pro” facelift like many of its peers. So no 1080p resolution boost and – more importantly – no frame rate boost that would top out at 30fps (although it’s fully capable of dropping to an N64-like 24fps).
It wasn’t a good look for Bloodborne in 2015, it was even worse when the Pro came out in 2017 and modernized many of the console’s best games (sad fact: Bloodborne is only one of two games in our top 10 PS4 that didn’t won’t get a PS4 Pro Enhanced patch, the other being Persona 5). But another six years after that, and Yharnam looks (and feels) seriously worse for wear – and not in beasts, plagues, and malevolent outer gods as it was intended.
The basic requirements for games have changed since 2015, especially since the mid-gen console upgrades standardized 4K games (or would offer the choice of higher frame rate or higher resolution). Back in 2015, the 32″ 1080p TV I played Bloodborne on was pretty standard fare. While 4K TVs existed, console and hardware weren’t quite able to take advantage of these things yet, so our eyes weren’t yet spoiled by the pristine clarity of higher resolutions and the luxury of screens. giants that we use. Until today. Suffice it to say, Bloodborne desperately doesn’t look like it belongs on my 50″ 4K TV. If I could hear the game, I think it would howl like a beast that’s just been hit with a Molotov cocktail, desperately trying to run away in the dark.
FromSoftware has a form for poor optimization. There was all the mess around the original PC port of Dark Souls, and Elden Ring itself was pretty poor. At this point, however, all of FromSoft’s other Soulslikes can be played with buttery smoothness. Dark Souls got a remaster that updated it, and you can still run 50-60 frames per second on Elden Ring on modern consoles. Even Dark Souls 2 – the black sheep of the series – received more love from its creators, being repackaged in Scholar of the First Sin and running like a dream on consoles and PC to this day.
Outside of Sekiro, Bloodborne is FromSoft’s most aggressive and fastest game – more reliant than any of its peers on smooth performance. Its splashy, visceral combat is still wonderful – more danceable and elegant than the endless rolling of Souls games – but it’s clouded by technical clutter. This weird high fiction watermark in the game feels like it’s been left to rot, much like the town it’s set in. Its myth lives on, but the reality is that it is becoming less enjoyable to play as advances in gaming and television technology leave it behind.
FromSoft’s complete silence amid endless calls to bring the game to PC (which would inevitably come with a remastered version for PS5) makes you wonder if Bloodborne is perhaps, like Red Dead Redemption, such a field of mines bad code that it barely works as it does, and trying to fix it to “remastered” quality is just too much for FromSoft to tackle.
In the meantime, I may have to put an end to my desire to relive the beautiful nightmare that is Bloodborne. Thanks to higher resolutions, crisp anti-aliasing, and blistering frame rates, I now have too much Insight, and I suspect that continuing to play this amazing game in its cracking state will only lead ‘to insanity.