Eight months, a Dark Souls 2 remaster, and the announcement of Dark Souls 3 later, From Software has released the first (and probably only) expansion to their brutal, action-heavy masterpiece. FromSoftware routinely releases DLC with some of the best content in their respective games, and The Old Hunters is no different. If you were worried a bid to appeal to a wider audience, to streamline, to bring action to the forefront would make Bloodborne any less a FromSoftware game, you were wrong; if you worry The Old Hunters is anything less than phenomenal, you are wrong. The Old Hunters pulls no punches; this expansion brings with it some of the most aggressive and deadly bosses and areas Bloodborne has ever known. Fans of Bloodborne won’t want to miss this, and if you missed out on Bloodborne the first time around, now’s the time to pick it up.
After you figure out how to access the DLC, your journey begins in The Hunter’s Nightmare – the first area of the The Old Hunters. The Hunter’s Nightmare, with its obvious parallels to The Hunter’s Dream, is a warped, transformed version of places you’ve been before. You start in what looks like Odeon Chapel, and you progress through a Cathedral Ward lookalike. But things are anything but the same; those areas might have wanted to kill you, sure, but your first run-through was merely a preamble to the true nightmarish violence of your return.
The first few minutes of The Old Hunters has you stumble onto an enormous plaza where common mobs fight other hunters, and these hunters will fight you, and each other other, on your approach. A little later on, after a tense fight hugging a stone pillar with an enemy wielding a gatling gun, you will totter into the cave of a beast. An enormous, horrid creature will strike fear into your heart; in your haste to regroup and think out your strategy before fighting the monster, you might think to backtrack, escaping the demon’s aggro. There will be no escape. Anxiety will turn to agony as the unholy abomination doggedly pursues you into the clearing from whence you came. Not just any clearing, but the den of nightmarish Bloodlicker spiders (overlooked by hunters atop a bridge who are all too ready to rain down bullets upon you). At the very depths of your sorrow, your certainty you will be beset upon by a gruesome death, the hell-dwelling monstrosity will turn its attention to the spiders. A den no more, the vile fiend will shriek and thrash in wanton fury against the Bloodlickers, downing spider after spider until the devil itself falls victim to its own aggression, burning out like a candle.
Aggression is the name of the game. From numerous other hunters and beastlike abominations of once-hunters to giant frog-shark giants and supercharged nightmare executioners, The Old Hunters doesn’t soften any blows. Especially on new game(s), every few steps reveal a new mini-boss tier enemy; they suck up damage and deal it out in spades. And they respawn; there is no reprieve. The Old Hunters makes the player feel more anonymous, more tangential to the violence than ever before. The world is less a specially designed trial for the player and more a larger battlefield. Your deaths are drops in an endless, flowing ocean of ceaseless chaos and bloodletting.
The bosses in The Old Hunters are akin, in difficulty, to the harder bosses of the chalice dungeons – they are some of the most challenging Bloodborne has to offer. Each boss pummels the player relentlessly with swipe after swipe, pound after pound, slash after slash. They are often unceasing torrents of combo and offense; as such, playing defensively will get you nowhere. To emerge victorious, players must take the fight to the boss and rally constantly to deny your foe even the briefest respite. When victory does come, and it will given time, the candy-sweet afterglow is as compelling as ever. FromSoftware, with 4 distinct releases and DLC packs under their belt, has not yet managed to lessen the absolute high of proving your mettle.
If I have made The Old Hunters seem unfair, I assure you it is not. This is no Shrine of Amana; Undead Crypts need not apply. Enemies might be hyper-aggressive, but they are very manageable. More so than any other single area (or sequence of areas) in Bloodborne does The Old Hunters force the player to operate outside of their comfort zone. From the moment I could pick it up, through all the chalice dungeons, I used Tonitrus for most of Bloodborne. Sure, sometimes I needed the stagger of the Hunter’s Axe’s heavy attack, but by and large Tonitrus was my chosen implement of destruction. By the first boss in The Old Hunters I had repurposed all of Tonitrus’ blood gems, so I was free to try my hand at a new setup. The Whirligig Saw, with its incredible pizza-cutting heavy attack and impressive stagger, became my primary weapon; Ludwig’s Holy Blade, my secondary. Like many enemies throughout Bloodborne, most of the foes in The Old Hunters were much harder to best with one particular weapon than with another. And the new weapons introduced are, as a whole, some of the most interesting in the game. The Whirligig aside, new guns like the gatling gun are awesome, albeit somewhat impractical; side-arms like the stagger inducing Fist of Gratia are conducive to evolutions in playstyle.
In addition to The Hunter’s Nightmare there are 2 other distinct, fully-realized areas in The Old Hunters, each with its own twist. Where The Hunter’s Nightmare is filled with hunters, the Research Hall is environmentally treacherous and relies on hordes of common mobs who will gang up on the player given the chance; the Fishing Hamlet is a gorgeous, rainy village with equal parts hunters and big baddies as well as common mobs and layered environments that hide many a secret. These 3 areas are large and intricate; to explore them fully, find all 16 unique weapons, and defeat all 4 bosses (and one hidden boss!) will take upwards of 20 hours. The Old Hunters is a meaty expansion to a sadly brief jaunt through Lovecraftian horror.
In short, The Old Hunters is superb. Enemies and bosses alike are vicious, and will give you a run for your money; areas are expansive and varied, and only time will reveal their secrets; new weapons will compel players to try new things and play differently. The Old Hunters doesn’t fundamentally change the base mechanics of Bloodborne, but it by no means needs to do any such thing. The Old Hunters brings exceptional fresh content to a pre-existing masterpiece, and I could ask for no more. Hunters rejoice, the hunt goes on; may the good blood guide you.