In 2015, FromSoftware released Bloodborne to critical acclaim. Commercially, the numbers were better than expected, selling 1 million copies in a week, and raising above 2 million since launch. The relentless pacing of FromSoftware games, and the seemingly antagonistic attitude toward the player, challenged players. Those that resonated with the harsh difficulty and intricate design, found their place in the midst of the harrowing, pandemic ravaging the reclusive city of Yharnam. The depth of both the single and multiplayer components captured them.
Bloodborne is a game with asynchronous multiplayer. Most recently seen in Death Stranding, this form of multiplayer lets you play alongside other players, helping them, hindering them, but in a more hands off way. Bloodborne incorporates a notes system, introduced in Demon’s Souls and refined in Dark Souls. Players leave notes for others, warning of dangers, signaling treasures, or lying about both. Being the grueling experience it is, this awareness of others going through the same hell alongside you gives a hefty dose of encouragement.
Bloodborne borrows a summoning system from Dark Souls also. If you make your game open to help by asking and other players do by requesting to help, they can be paired up to ravage the streets of Yharnam. This, of course, is a double edged sword, opening up the possibility of invasions, leading to a grit filled battle in the malevolent pathways of the town. This highlights the themes of helping and hindering, and really completes the circle.
Bloodborne is fun on its own, but many of its die hard devotees would say this multiplayer aspect is a special part of the equation. Some would say it’s the special part.
Once Bloodborne had been out a good while, folks started to clean up. The hardcore stayed, but those that were in it for one playthrough jumped ship. Then, November 24th of 2015 saw the release of the Old Hunters DLC (maybe one the best realized DLCs I’ve played). This breathed some much needed life into Bloodborne. Then, the servers dried up once again.
2016 came and went. In early 2017, the community banded together and started a new event, Return to Yharnam. On March 10th, 2017, it’s 2 week inaugural run began. Return to Yharnam focuses on repopulating the servers with fans, new and old alike, to relive the cooperation of Bloodborne. I love it.
Bloodborne is the only game I’ve platinumed. I’ve joyfully thrown myself at every challenge in Yharnam again and again, wishing I could erase my memory and experience it again for the first time. Return to Yharnam offers that chance (or at least the closest thing to it). For a 5 year old game, which is (mostly) singleplayer, it’s a beautiful thing that the player base organizes each year. Joining returning players for another romp through this masterpiece is something I anticipate every year. Welcoming new players is even more exciting. Helping someone through a game I love and seeing them through the tough moments is a great feeling. For the negative portrait I often see of the Souls community, I have always felt solidarity, belonging, and encouragement from the inside. It’s great to come back every year and remember the reasons I fell in love with Bloodborne and revisit the bond I will always have with both it and its players.
It’s not just the game we are keeping alive, but the camaraderie that fellow players develop with one another. FromSoftware games require a certain amount of persistence from their players. They are unforgiving at first, but once you’ve been beaten up a few times, you slowly learn the mindset of your enemies. The tricks they use. The weaknesses they show. This process of learning is never something you acquire apart from observation and interaction. Going through this struggle, and coming through the other side, a little broken, but a lot wisened, brings the player base together like few other experiences. March 10th-24th is the time to jump back in and remember how this felt as we first stepped into Yharnam’s night, bathed by the setting sun.