Back in March of this year, Hidetaka Miyazaki’s Bloodborne enthralled us with its haunting Lovecraftian aesthetic, breathtaking level design and deliciously visceral combat; so much so that we awarded it our first ever perfect score. As a result, we’ve been waiting with baited breath for this first (and last) add-on to From Software’s Eldritch masterpiece; and following its TGS announcement in September, ‘The Old Hunters’ DLC is finally here.
After wiping the crusted bloodstains from our saw-cleavers and donning our hunting leathers, we prepared to step once more unto the breach, before immediately encountering our first challenge: finding the entrance to the new area.
In typical From Software fashion, specifics were thin on the ground; but a key item left in The Hunter’s Dream pointed us vaguely in the direction of Oedon Chapel. For those of you that would rather work things out for yourselves, we shan’t reveal the solution; but eventually a calculated risk landed us in the first of the DLC’s environments, ‘The Hunters Nightmare.’ The area bears a striking resemblance to the vanilla game’s Cathedral Ward, but the twisted landscape you’re presented with on arrival is far from familiar. If you thought Yharnam was bad, think again. It’s called ‘Nightmare’ for a reason.
Hostile, blood-drunk hunters lurk around every corner in this zone, and unlike the ones found in the main campaign, most of them don’t stay dead. This DLC has been made to be challenging, and even experienced players will need to stay sharp in order to survive.
Don’t worry though, there’s plenty more variety to be found in The Old Hunters’ denizens than just a few mad humanoids. As you delve deeper into the new zones, the landscape changes and so do its inhabitants. The Research Hall boasts some great verticality and plays home to the deformed victims of Bloodborne’s signature, cosmic pseudo-science. Towards the end of the content, the Fishing Hamlet provides the most diversity in its design, with the mist and mire concealing the advances of some horrific, marine-monster hybrids.
Of course, no souls game DLC would be complete without some obnoxiously difficult boss battles, and The Old Hunters has five of them for players to bang their heads against. From the titanic, malformed monstrosity of Ludwig, to the elegantly poised huntress atop The Astral Clock Tower, the DLC’s bosses are nothing if not diverse. While no single encounter goes so far as to subvert expectations, each one has multiple phases, making them increasingly challenging and deadly as combat evolves. There’s very little that’s mechanically ‘new’ here, but these bosses are easily the toughest in the Bloodborne bestiary, and are sure to test the skills of even seasoned hunters.
An arsenal of brand-new trick weapons is on-hand to help ease slaughtering your prey, and there are some perversely brilliant designs amongst them. Notable additions are the Whirligig Saw – a rotating saw blade at the end of a wooden pole-arm, the Boom Hammer – which can be ‘transformed’ to erupt in flame on its impacts; and there’s even the severed appendage of a certain Old Great One, which may or may not still have a life of its own… Those willing to do a little legwork will also discover the ability to transform into a beast at long last, plus a hidden opportunity to change into something altogether more ‘cosmic.’
As part of the 1.07 patch that preceded The Old Hunters’ release, there are now summonable NPCs in set locations around the world, as well as a brand-new covenant known as ‘The League’, which places a strong emphasis on cooperative play. It’s worth mentioning that both of these additions are free, regardless of whether or not you’ve purchased the new add-on.
In short, The Old Hunters adds a generous amount of content to an already spectacular title, but ultimately feels like more of the same. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing of course, but fans hoping for a radically different challenge may be left disappointed. The new enemies are certainly formidable, but the tried and tested techniques that worked for players in the vanilla game will serve them equally well here. There’s definitely an optimal level at which to be arriving at the new area, and those who haven’t met the requirements to access the DLC (or aren’t strong enough to tackle it) may be frustrated at having to jump through hoops in order to play the content they’ve just paid for.
For most fans, the biggest appeal of The Old Hunters will be the huge amount of extra lore it adds to the Bloodborne mythos. Piecing together the history of The Hunter’s Nightmare still requires delving into item descriptions and interpreting the cryptic dialogue of NPCs, but ultimately adds some brilliant backstory to some favourite characters.
More Bloodborne was never going to be a bad thing, and the 6-10 hours of new content The Old Hunters provides is well worth the £15.99 price tag.