Bloodborne has an optional section that I’ve been ignoring during my first playthrough — the Chalice Dungeons. They always sounded complicated and missing a lot of what I loved about the main game. These are procedurally generated dungeons you can delve into by using certain special items and completing rituals.
The discussion around them was rather confusing to me — they seemed to be an online-only thing randomised with glyphs you needed to look up online. Online play requires a monthly PlayStation Plus subscription and I play sporadically enough for it to just not be worth it.
I set out to try them out a few weeks back and I’ve just finished that exploration.
Throughout the game, you will collect a few rather strange chalices and a lot of weird materials with puzzling descriptions.
You can use these to construct dungeons with new monsters, items and bosses.
There’s very little about how they work in the game itself and the online discussion focuses on the PS Plus-only features.
There are two kinds of dungeons: fixed and randomised. The fixed dungeons never change and they’re the same for everyone. They have the same layout, item location and bosses. You can think of them as another location in the main game.
The other kind is basically a randomly shuffled version of the corresponding fixed chalice. It will have the same theme and general feel, but the level layout will be different, the items and enemies will be in different places and the bosses will be different too. If you want, you can "re-roll the dice" and generate a new layout of the same dungeon.
You need a different item for each dungeon and also for each kind. For example, the Pthumeru Chalice will create the first level of the fixed Pthumeru dungeon whereas the Pthumeru Root Chalice will do the corresponding randomised dungeon. Root chalices are the "random" kind.
To create a chalice dungeon, you go to one of the "chalice" gravestones (doesn’t matter which one) and perform the ritual. You select a chalice you want to use (they won’t be consumed, you can repeat this process) and the necessary blood echoes and ritual materials.
All of this you can do offline.
The only thing you need to be online for is: exploring "root" dungeons generated by other people. Everyone’s got the same fixed ones, but let’s say someone found a dungeon that’s perfect for farming Blood Stone Chunks. Each dungeon is identified by a glyph (its "random seed") and if they share it with you, you can explore the same dungeon and get enough chunks to upgrade every weapon you’ve got.
This is the portion the online discussion revolves around, but there’s this whole other area where you just go through the fixed dungeons and explore the remaining bits of lore.
The rest of this post will focus on the fixed dungeons.
There are four different areas that the dungeons cover: Pthumeru, Izs, Loran and Hintertomb. Each corresponds to a different location and time in the game’s past (I think). They have their own feel, enemies and traps.
But the main structure is always the same. Every chalice has a set of layers (dungeon levels) — there are usually three layers per chalice.
Each dungeon has a main section and a boos room. The gate to the boss room is locked by a lever you need to find and pull in the main section of the level.
Most of the time, there will also be an optional preceding area before the main section and a similar one between the main section and the boss (available after you’ve unlocked the boss gate). These are generally shorter and often contain a treasure room. If you get in and defeat its guardian, you’ll be treated to exceedingly more precious ritual materials.
After you’ve defeated the boss, you’ll get to an elevator which will take you to the next level.
So for every chalice you get in, explore the pre-area, pull the lever in the main area, go through the boss gate, explore the post-area, fight the boss, descend and repeat.
Each layer gets progressively harder in terms of enemies, traps and bosses. And the chalices themselves have an associated difficulty (called "depth") to them, too. You should start with chalices of depth 1 and end with the depth 5.
This will also generally provide you with enough ritual materials to explore the next chalice.
In addition, you can put in "modifiers" on the root chalices to make them harder, but with greater pay-offs.
The difficulty does not scale with New Game Plus so if you go in later, so you don’t need to explore them before completing the game. Indeed the depths four and five are probably best left for NG+.
That’s exactly what I did. What it meant was this: the first few chalices were quite easy to go through. This is Bloodborne so you’re never completely sailing through, but by being a little careful, I was able to get through without much trouble. I haven’t died to the first several bosses even once — an experience pretty much unheard of in the main game.
Things started to get interesting around the final layer of the Depth Three chalices and then really picked up in Four and Five.
Suddenly, most bosses took me over ten attempts and some of them I struggled with for a much longer.
The Amygdala boss in the final layer of the Defiled chalice took me over 80 attempts:
Overall, I didn’t really know what to expect. I don’t tend to like dungeons in games and the exploration of the absolutely wonderfully hand-crafted world is one of my favourite things in Bloodborne.
I’m not a huge fan of combat in any game with Dark Souls and Bloodborne being huge exceptions. So this was a big test: is the game’s combat actually good on its own?
It is indeed! I’ve had lots of fun going through the dungeons. Especially once I stopped being obviously over-leveled and found the areas actually challenging.
They definitely miss hugely important chunks of what makes Bloodborne so amazing, but the atmosphere is still there, the core loop as solid as always and the bosses follow the classic "how can I survive more than five seconds" to "ooh I get it, done" progression.
I’ve had fun.
This is clearly not universal, though. I’ve seen people who found them boring or just an endless grind. For me, they were about the right size individually as well as together as a whole.
If there were more chalices, I’d probably become tired of them. And FromSoft could have reduced their numbers. Some of the "bosses" are just slightly more buffed versions of common enemies in the game. That just never felt right and I’d appreciate if those areas were just cut instead.
The final boss fight (won’t spoil the name because it’s rather significant if you’re playing the game blind) was really good. Quite different from all that came before and it took me longer than it should have. But good!
It was also of actual significance to some of the visuals and events from the main game. In fact, the Chalice dungeons do fill in some of the lore, too. Just not as much as exploring a new area in the main game normally would.