SOME SPOILERS AHEAD! YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!
Bloodborne is not a game for the faint of heart. It exists to challenge you at every turn, forcing you to rethink your bravery before you charge into battle with even the simplest of enemies. The struggle to survive amps up even more once a player finally stumbles upon one of the game’s many, brutal bosses.
The hulking monstrosities of Bloodborne’s base game use intimidating force to wear even the most powerful of Hunters down, doing their damnedest to end the Nightmare plaguing Yharnam. They were scary, difficult, and engaging, but one thing they lacked was a level of finesse. It wasn’t until you faced some of the more optional enemies of the game, the other Hunters, and the ‘final’ boss that you got to experience the true art of combat.
These more advanced enemies had the same abilities and resources as you, using Trick Weapons and Firearms in ways you never could’ve imagined, showing you just how efficient your quick dodges and flanks could be. Making these encounters manageable was the fact that each of these Hunters kept to a specific school of sorts. The fight began the same as it ended.
Even the end-game boss, Gehrman, the First Hunter, kept his changes to a minimum as you battled it out. He had just two forms to deal with, and while the second one was insanely powerful, it didn’t alter the fight so much that it threw you for a complete loop.
Bloodborne: The Old Hunters changes these limitations with a single encounter. The expansion introduced several new bosses, but one stood head and shoulders above the rest in terms of challenge and class. That boss is Lady Maria of the Astral Clocktower. This is the Hunter who puts all others to shame, and her evolution throughout your encounter proved to be some of the best combat dynamics in not only The Old Hunters, but the entire game as well.
Lady Maria sits atop the Astral Clocktower, seemingly asleep yet exuding more poise than even Valtr. She startles you when you approach her and speaks of your impending doom so calmly that you can very easily tell that she is fully capable of making it a reality. This meeting begins what has to be one of the most difficult and most rewarding boss encounter in gaming this year.
On the surface, the fight with Lady Maria in The Old Hunters seems like nothing more than a simple Hunter fight, like when you fought Djura, Eileen, or Gehrman. Her speed and ability to dodge so fluidly will make you feel right at home. After all, this is something you’ve prepared for over the last 50+ hours of game time. But Maria has an edge; she is all about refinement, and she will teach you the power of this through each phase of her encounter.
As the fight progresses, she grows more fearsome and adopts a new style to her way of fighting. What starts as a simple battle of blades extends to a bloody encounter that eventually gets explosive fire thrown into the mix. Making matters worse is the fact that her speed seems to increase as she inches closer to death.
These factors make this woman, who may be small in stature but packs quite the punch, a threat more dangerous than any of the huge beasts you’ve come across. And yes, that’s including Ludwig, Ebrietas, and Darkbeast Paarl. It is frustrating in all the right ways and will make you rethink everything you knew about the deadly dance that is The Old Hunters’ combat.
It’s that frustration that makes the fight with Lady Maria so rewarding. You will die… a lot. There are no two ways about it. Just when you think you’ve gotten her pinned down she embarrasses you, sending you back to the start. She will allow you a moment of triumph only to dash your foolish hopes onto the ground as she sets your soul ablaze. You will dodge, you will shoot, you will stab, but you will hit nothing but air because she will do the same, only faster and better.
In the beginning you’ll celebrate the small victories, parrying her for the first time and subjecting Lady Maria to a bloody Visceral Attack is a particularly worthy one. You’ll note each new milestone along her healthbar. The real pain is knowing that with each 25% depleted, that’s how much more likely you are to fail. The feelings of accomplishment and progress that should inspire you through battle will become your greatest fear.
Learning each of her move sets is a challenge in and of itself that adds to the insanity that is this Bloodborne: The Old Hunters boss fight. The quick lunges and slashes of her first phase are dangerous but manageable to those who have spend a long time entrenched in the Nightmare that is Bloodborne. She’ll then use her very blood to lash out at you from afar, making no area safe. And, just when you think you’ve got her all figured out, a flame erupts from that very blood. Exploding and burning all around you. Each step up makes her deadlier without providing any new weaknesses.
Therein lies Lady Maria’s greatest quality. That challenge, the tension built with each step of progress. You must evolve as a Hunter in the same way that she evolves over the course of your meeting. Where she becomes faster you must become smarter, where she becomes stronger you must figure out how to become more resilient. You will not be able to find victory if you cannot do these things quickly. It will be a deadly lesson that you must learn.
The Old Hunters DLC does more than add a few more bosses. It makes players students of Bloodborne once more. Truly, you knew so little all along, and The Old Hunters opens its arms to accept you into a chilling embrace. You will not meet the elation of victory, you will receive a thorough thrashing and be born anew from the flames.
A fight with a Hunter that eclipses both in difficulty and style an entire game’s worth of battles is no small accomplishment. All that anyone wanted from a Bloodborne expansion was a challenge that didn’t exist in the base game. Although The Old Hunters had a slow start with Beasts as the first encounters (which were all to similar to the many you’ve already faced), it proved itself with Lady Maria. She is what you’ve been working towards overcoming, the harsh quiz that tests all that you’ve studied. Once you pass that exam you will know a joy brighter than anything else the nightmare has granted you.