Let me set the scene. The year is 2004 and Valve is set to release Half Life 2, the most hotly anticipated game for its time and one of the first games to use the revolutionary Source engine. Valve had revealed previously what the engine was capable of doing in both physics gameplay and animation. Half Life 2 was going to be the world’s first glimpse at that power when it came out. Except it wasn’t, because on that same day – November 16th 2004 – another game using the source engine was released. Plagued with development problems, overly ambitious, and a technical nightmare on release, it was swallowed whole by the beast that was Valve’s fantastic sequel. The developer “Troika Games” quickly shuttered its doors after its release and a sequel was never able to see the light of day.
However it managed to claw its way back, instead of disappearing into obscurity, it’s become one of the most loved cult classic roleplaying games. It gained a massive following the years after release, and saw a new life in the modding community. Hundreds of dedicated fans have worked and modded the game over the years to fix bugs and finish content. That game is Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines. There’s a reason for all that love and dedication – Bloodlines was a fantastic experience with brilliant writing and world building, a unique universe that people deeply enjoyed being immersed in.
Bloodlines was based on the tabletop world of Vampire: The Masquerade. Set in the present day in Los Angeles, in a world where vampires live under the cover of night in their own secret civilization. Humans are unaware of their presence but they walk among the crowds and go about their business essentially hiding in plain sight. Each vampire is part of a clan, each representing a different aspect of the vampire society and strengths. For example the Ventrue are the ruling nobility class, Toreador are the artists and socialites, Brujah are the warriors. The player begins as a newly turned vampire and can pick between one of the seven clans to be, which affect dialogue and actions the player can take. After that you are released into the world and have to navigate the complicated realm of vampire politics and intrigue.
The combat was not the strongest aspect of the game, but the draw was in the writing and role playing you could do as a vampire. There were many ways you could solve each quest and dialogue options were not just extensive but suited any kind of personality you wanted your character to have. It allowed approaching situations from multiple angles, very similar to games such as “Deus Ex” or “System Shock.” It was forward thinking in the way decisions you make throughout the game have a serious impact on what happens later on.
It was a setting and an idea that has been pretty much untouched since the original came out 15 years ago. Many believe that would be the only entry as well because despite the cult status it gained later on, when it was released it completely bombed commercially.
That all changed however when Paradox Interactive and Hardsuit Labs announced that they were developing a sequel to Bloodlines, coming out next year. This was a massive shock for the many fans like me, who thought that all hope was lost to ever seeing a sequel to one of their favorite games. It was honestly a hugely pleasant surprise. Showing off a cinematic teaser trailer they revealed that the game would be set in Seattle this time around and have the same gritty and dark feel of the original. They also promised that the sequel would feature the same choice based gameplay and that the multiple approach problem solving was still a major focus.
Since then they have shown a substantial amount of game footage and it looks like it’s shaping up to be excellent. The multiple dialogue options and branching paths that missions can take seem to be still present. Seattle looks gorgeous and the vampire characters that have been shown off so far look interesting and represent the different clans, which is still a major part of the world in the sequel. A welcome addition is the fact that it seems much more focus has been put into options in combat, improving what was probably the weakest aspect of the first one. Hardsuit Labs also promise that the technical problems that plagued the first game on its release will not be present in the sequel.
The original Vampire Masquerade: Bloodlines is an excellent showcase of choice and consequence in games and hopefully Bloodlines 2 will live up to its name when it releases in Q1 2020 on Xbox One, PS4 and PC. At time of writing, it looks like it’s taking everything that made the original great and making it better. There seems to be a deep respect for the source material and a love for the first game from the studio, and so I believe it will be triple an experience that this vampiric world deserves.