The much popular DLC structure in modern video-games is something I frown upon heavily. A game that already costs $60 shouldn’t force you to pay additional money for added content – that too when the added content changes/enhances the game in a way that makes it nearly impossible for users to enjoy the vanilla version.
It’s a successful, money-making business strategy, one in which video-game consumers are unfortunately trapped in.
I was honestly skeptical when I heard about The Old Hunters DLC for Bloodborne, mainly because the teasers only revealed minor details. You had your typical new boss, a new location, and a ton of new weapons. Big deal – I was completely happy with my super-buffed Blades of Mercy anyway.
The DLC had its official release in a crunch period when the likes of Fallout 4, Star Wars: Battlefront, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Call of Duty: Black Ops III were stealing headlines. It was a shy release.
As a devotee of the Souls-borne franchise, it was natural that I went through half-a-dozen reviews and feedback videos of The Older Hunters. That’s when I decided to acquire a copy for myself. The first hour or so was good, but pretty conventional. It certainly felt like another cheap tactic to acquire money without adding truly any depth and color to what was already a fantastic game.
Then, I fought Ludwig.
From that boss onwards, the DLC took a spun that was never really teased. The entire game seemed to have opened up – both in-terms of plot and added depth in gameplay. After what was a spectacular (and extremely difficult) boss fight, I was introduced to the heart of the DLC, The Research Building.
The Research Building made me shiver, it left me confused, it was dark, sinister, yet intoxicating in a strange way. Spiraling up the stairs, talking to and slaying creatures that made little to no sense. The game took a huge turn. It didn’t feel like the blood-splattered first half of Bloodborne, nor the Eldritch, alien second half.
It was something entirely new, fresh, and deeply intriguing. Instead of making the fine new weapons, costumes, and bosses the core of The Old Hunters, From Software managed to make this new-yet-familiar environment the real eye-catching, brain-melting core of the DLC.
Going through The Research Building’s complex structure led me to an aesthetically pleasing boss battle, followed by one of the coolest and most memorable bosses I will probably ever play in a video-game. Lady Maria was such a piece of art, that I almost did not want to kill her when I could only so that I could fight her again.
“This must be the apex of The Old Hunters,” I told myself. I was wrong, very wrong. A clock behind Lady Maria’s chair opened a passageway to an area that seemed to have no place in a game like Bloodborne. Whatever positive impression Lady Maria left on me, The Fishing Village and its final boss managed to top it.
The point is, at a cost of one-third of a full game, the amount of enjoyment, shock, and unique experience you get with The Older Hunters makes it feel like an insane bargain.
This is how you make DLCs.
I’ve played a large share of DLCs myself, some better than others, but many of them attempt to build on the vanilla. They’ll include new locations, new items, new NPCs, and even throw in an extended plot, but it will still largely base itself on what’s in the original game, be a one-time experience that you play, admire, then become fooled into thinking it was all part of the game itself.
It was not, because you played $60 for something that seemed to have belonged there in the first place.
The Older Hunters is nothing like that. It makes sure you understand that what you’re going through is an entirely new experience. From unconventional enemies to the strangest bosses, it’s a display of progressive development and freshness instead of simply building on what was already there.
You could have played Bloodborne 15 times, yet The Old Hunters would still succeed in challenging you – not just in-terms of difficulty, mind you, but also through experience, through environment, and through the NPCs you talk to.
It’ll force you to unlearn a lot of things you learned in the vanilla version to adjust to itself, a good example being the Ludwig battle, which punishes you heavily when you attempt the classic ‘get behind the boss’ tactic, or the Lawrence Cleric, who fools you into thinking he’s a mere reskin of a vanilla boss.
Those are just two examples out of many; the confusing stairwell that alters and opens new areas in The Research Building, the creepy NPC that requests for Brain Fluid, and the unforgiving Orphan of Kos who makes Gerhman seem like a cakewalk. The Old Hunters is filled with unexpected, unforeseen elements that will force you to play the DLC again just to you can get a better grasp of them.
This is what a DLC should be like.
If you, as a developer and publisher, are asking your fans to pay extra for an experience, it should feel like a new experience – a fulfilling one that shows how much you progressed in creating new ideas, instead of predominantly working on ones from the original game.
I would gladly pay for every DLC of every game I own if they could promise content like The Old Hunters. I don’t want simple new locations and a half-baked post-game plot – I want to be able to relearn the entire game, see the other side of the coin instead of simply observing the same coin in more detail.
The Older Hunter DLC overshadows even The Crown DLCs of Dark Souls 2 and the Oolacile DLC of Dark Souls, in my opinion, mainly because of how Insightful (pun, intended) it can be, both lore-wise and in-terms of gameplay.
I dearly hope that all future DLCs take inspiration from the commendable work and creativity put in by Hidetaka Miyazaki and From Software in The Old Hunters.