In the general scheme of things, the arrival of a new item of downloadable content (DLC) is a pretty unremarkable occurrence. But that is emphatically not the case when that DLC was lovingly fashioned by the legendary Japanese developer From Software, and extends what is universally acknowledged as one of the games of 2015, Bloodborne. For PlayStation 4 owners – who haven’t been served with a particularly impressive roster of exclusive games this Christmas, although there are some treats due to arrive in early 2016 – The Old Hunters, even though it is “just” DLC, constitutes a big deal.
Anyone who played the Dark Souls RPGs will know that the word “compromise” isn’t in From Software’s vocabulary, and the sorts of compromises that routinely afflict DLC created by lesser developers, such as suspicions that they exist mainly for marketing purposes or padding out games that weren’t ready for release, are naturally absent from The Old Hunters.
So, The Old Hunters is hard – as in the original game, you will die a lot. Indeed, even to access it, you must work your way through a big chunk of Bloodborne proper: The Old Hunters only becomes available after the Vicar Amelia boss-battle. Perform some ritual shenanigans, and you will be able to access the Hunter’s Nightmare – a sinister counterpart to the Hunter’s Dream hub from the original game – that gives you access to five new areas of Yharnam.
They are all great: each has a distinctive look and ambience (in context, naturally, with the game’s general Gothic vibe), as well as new enemies, which are often satisfyingly freaky, weapons and, of course, terrifying and challenging bosses. The new weapons, in particular, present something of a dilemma: either you can ignore them, presuming you’re on a second play-through with levelled-up weapons, or you can grind for a considerable period, levelling them (and your character) up, before plucking up the courage to take on the bosses. Ludwig The Accursed, in particular, will have you tearing your hair out, and he’s the first boss you encounter (throwing seemingly insurmountable obstacles at you early on is a classic From Software ploy). Luckily, you can summon help from some legendary artificial intelligence-controlled Hunters, or any of your mates who are playing through The Old Hunters at the same time as you.
The Old Hunters pretty much gives Bloodborne fans exactly what they crave: a substantial new chunk of the game in which to kill everything that moves, collect weapons and armour (we particularly love the Holy Moonlight Sword) and discover arcane secrets which can lead you into some gloriously abstruse detective missions. As ever, From Software has indulged in precisely zero hand-holding: it’s up to you to use your instincts and, most importantly, vast reserves of persistence in order to uncover even a small percentage of the bizarre lore of Yharnam.
Even those superhuman individuals who breezed through Bloodborne the first time around will, we suspect, feel the urge to summon some co-operative assistance in The Old Hunters – at times, its difficulty levels reach insanely masochistic new heights. Which, of course, makes proceedings all the more satisfying when you prevail. We would class ourselves as average players, and The Old Hunters yielded well over 15 hours’ gameplay. Which makes it one of the most substantial items of DLC ever encountered. For Bloodborne fans, it’s difficult to see how From Software could have bettered The Old Hunters – it breathes plenty of new life into a glorious game, and manages to feel both familiar and distinctive. From now on, we’ll be taking DLC more seriously.