[Editor's note: Since reviewers were locked out of The Old Hunters' helpful co-op functionality until shortly before the Monday embargo, this piece was originally posted as a review-in-progress. If you've already read the first section and want to check out the second, click on this handy link.]
It should be clear at this point that From Software is no slouch when it comes to DLC.
The expansions for both Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2 brought about some of the best content found in each game—content that went beyond simply "more Dark Souls." If anything, From Software uses DLC as a way to address criticisms heaped upon the core game: Dark Souls 2 in particular benefited the most from this approach, with each chapter of the expansion trilogy giving players certain types of content the original release lacked.
Bloodborne's The Old Hunters isn't quite as ambitious as the DLC from their last release, but, as with Dark Souls 2, it certainly seems designed to address certain issues underlined in its mostly positive reviews. Keeping in mind I'm a little foggy about Bloodborne's official lore, The Old Hunters appears to take place before the events of the original game, and, as with Dark Souls' Artorias of The Abyss expansion, reuses old environments in a way that somehow escapes feeling like a cynical choice.
But it's this trip to the past that justifies some recycling, if only to subvert expectations—something From Software has always excelled at. Though you may recognize certain landmarks and buildings from the Cathedral Ward area of the original game, so much has been shifted and rearranged that you can't always rely on your prior knowledge. And this applies to the enemies as well, who've flipped roles in The Old Hunters. The pathetic, insane humans you used to cut through like butter are now nearly as powerful as the NPC Hunters from the core game, while the more beast-like foes cower and whimper until you end their lives. With the most common enemies being smarter, faster, and tougher this time around, progress is hard-won in The Old Hunters—at times, I had to employ NFL tactics and find the most efficient way to blitz past these obstacles in the direction of a new checkpoint or shortcut.
As you were probably expecting, yes, The Old Hunters is pretty tough. While you can access this new area after killing Vicar Amelia—Bloodborne's first "trial by fire" boss—what I've encountered so far has been pretty tough for a character much further along in the game than that. Thankfully, The Old Hunters offers a few safety nets for those who might find the overall challenge too intimidating. An item given to players before accessing the DLC allows them to summon NPC hunters to help with tricky encounters and bosses, and enemies seem to yield many more blood vials than usual—which meant I never needed to head back to an early area and farm for more. What tells me this is a deliberate decision from From is the fact that an incredibly easy enemy before the first boss' gate always gives up five vials when slain. Seeing as you usually dump a ton of resources into Bloodborne's boss fights, this bit of assistance definitely cut down on needless busywork.
As of this writing, I've only finished off the first boss—a two-form abomination that makes for one of Bloodborne's most creatively hideous monsters—and have definitely enjoyed dipping back into the terrible land of Yharnam once again. Bloodborne is one of those games that really gets to me, and the DLC is no different; when entering some new area, I always find myself instinctively leaning back into the couch and gripping the DualShock extra tight in anticipation of whatever new horrors are waiting to leap out at me. For me, the Bloodborne flame still burns, and unlocking a shortcut that makes navigation much more manageable feels just as rewarding now as it did in Dark Souls four years ago. Simply put, The Old Hunters is going to have to screw up pretty bad after these first 4-5 hours for me to think it's anything but great.