Misery Loves Company
Mercifully, you won't have to tango with Bloodborne's difficulty all by yourself; just like in the Souls series, it provides a co-op system that fits neatly within its world's lore—and one with the same degree of restrictions. Co-op revolves around the use of two bells: The Beckoning Bell, which pulls co-op friends into your world, and the Small Resonant Bell, which signifies your interest in being summoned. And while there's no Hollowed/Human states to complicate mechanics this time around, Bloodborne will only let you summon players if you haven't yet finished off the boss of your current area: A smart choice, seeing as the overall point of summoning is taking out whatever horrible thing stands between you and the next area.
It's a system I like a little more than Souls', at least in theory. Instead of having to scour the landscape for summon signs, you can simply ring the Beckoning Bell and get on with your life as it searches for players to pull into your world. Ringing said bell consumes a single point of a resource called Insight, but, from my experience, there's more than enough to go around in Yharnam—even if it's a little annoying that you're not refunded if the Bell fails to do its job. FromSoftware hasn't made playing with your friends any easier, though; as with their past games, it's intended to be anonymous, though they do provide a way to work outside of the game itself to set things up. After being summoned into someone else's world and failing to kill the boss, he contacted me through PSN, and gave me a four-digit password so we'd be able to meet up again instantly. It took a few minutes, but, after feeding this info to Bloodborne, we found each other and did what needed to be done.
Now, I say I enjoy Bloodborne's multiplayer in theory because, in practice, things haven't always worked out the way I expected. When Dark Souls 2 launched, for instance, you could summon and be summoned almost instantly thanks to the sheer amount of people playing at once. That isn't the case for Bloodborne, though I'm not sure if it's due to first-week server jitters or behind-the-curtain math making summoning more restrictive than it appears—and the community hasn't yet figured out the math behind this mechanic. For a game as big as Bloodborne—and one where you can play with the worldwide community—I really expected to be able to jump right into multiplayer at any moment, but the waiting time has been pretty drastic. It's regularly taken at least 10-20 minutes to be summoned or to find a partner, but sometimes, it doesn't happen at all. Granted, it's great that you don't have to re-ring the Bell if your co-op partner dies, but that hasn't helped me much: The one time this happened, Bloodborne searched the world for players until I grew tired of waiting and decided to fight the boss myself.
Still, the times I've been able to do co-op have definitely been worthwhile, which makes me hope the current state of things is only temporary. Unfortunately, your partner doesn't always materialize within your sight when they arrive, which can lead to a bit of initial confusion, but that's only an issue in some of the larger, outdoor areas. As with Souls, if you get someone who knows what they're doing (presuming you do as well), it's possible to absolutely steamroll everything in your path. Most enemies can only target one player at a time, so getting one of them between the two or three of you usually spells instant victory—though it's still possible to get overwhelmed.
Co-op also adds a new wrinkle that isn't always present in single-player: Ringing the bell attracts an enemy known as "the bell ringing woman," who increases your chances of being invaded unless you track her down and kill her. Again, a good idea in theory, but not something that's affected my game to date; I haven't been invaded in all my many, many hours with Bloodborne, and any attempts to use the Sinister Resonant Bell—which allows you to invade other worlds—have been fruitless. That may be ideal if you'd like to cruise through Bloodborne without being hampered by other players, but I'd at least like to know this mechanic works.
This analysis of Bloodborne's multiplayer isn't quite as comprehensive as I'd like it to be, but my hands are more than a little tied right now—I planned on going into how multiplayer works out in the co-op-focused Chalice Dungeons, but I haven't had much luck summoning other players when I tried. With any luck, these issues will be temporary—we've already heard word that an incoming patch will soon fix more than a few outstanding issues—including the load times—so hopefully, whatever's keeping multiplayer from reaching its full potential will soon be fixed. And hopefully, these vague promises of "optimization" will include Bloodborne's framerate; while it's perfectly fine in single player, it can take some pretty severe dips with co-op, especially in larger areas. With any luck, this review will soon be a time capsule documenting Bloodborne's rocky—but quickly improved—launch.