Vampire: The Masquerade — Bloodlines 2 releases later this year. Its predecessor, Bloodlines, didn’t achieve commercial success upon launch. It was riddled with bugs and competing with the popular Half-Life 2, which came out the same day. However, fans were taken by its cast of characters, story, and world and it became a cult classic despite its rough launch. While not as popular as games like Halo, Bloodlines is well known these days, which gives Bloodlines 2 a better chance for commercial success.
A Cult Classic
A cult classic is a film, or in this case game, that’s acquired a cult following. Its fanbase is a dedicated and passionate subculture. Bloodlines sold fewer than 80,000 copies upon release; critics condemned its various bugs, but praised its writing and freedom of choice. The game has had support from fans in the form of unofficial patches and addition of cut content. Today, it’s regarded as a flawed masterpiece.
In 2010, six years after its launch, The Escapist called Bloodlines a “flawed masterpiece which could have been a genuine masterpiece with more time, money and staff. Although great games may inspire awe, it instead created a devoted fan base which continued to develop the game.” Retrospective praise for the game continues. In 2017, PC Gamer named it one of the best role playing games of all time, and in 2020, Rock, Paper, Shotgun called it the 44th best RPG for PC.
With the help of fan made mods and fixes, Bloodlines’ core narrative made it unique and fun. Its writing was continually praised as an expertly crafted tale of underworld subterfuge, conspiracies, and intrigue. Its use of adult themes like sex and death was rare to see in games of the time. It was applauded for being neither gratuitous nor exploitative. After 16 years, the sequel has much to live up to in the eyes of fans.
Set in the World of Darkness where vampires, werewolves, and demons alter human history, Bloodlines 2 takes place in present day Seattle during christmas season. Players take the roll of a human killed during a rogue vampire attack, and resurrected as a thinblood (weaker vampires seen as lesser than full-bloods). Thinbloods can eat limited amounts of human food and are more resistant to sunlight. The vampires’ code: The Masquerade, forbidding magic around humans and unnecessary killing, has been broken after the public mass attack.
Bloodlines 2 begins with players creating a vampire and selecting a background such as a barista, criminal, coroner, and police officer, each offering different dialog options and interactions. As thinbloods, players must choose from three upgradable Disciplines: Chiropteran (the ability to glide and summon bats), Mentalism (the ability to levitate objects and people), and Nebulation (the ability to summon mist to attack, conceal the character, or transform into mist to move through small spaces).
Thinbloods eventually join one of five Full-blood clans, granting them access to more disciplines and upgrades. Although some powers overlap clans, no two clans share the same combination of Disciplines. Brujah enhance physical strength for higher damage (Potence), and speed (Celerity). Toreador also possess Celerity, and command adoration and devotion from others (Presence). Tremere use blood magic (Thaumaturgy) and enhance their senses (Auspex). Malkavians also have Auspex, and debilitate their victims’ minds (Dementation). Ventrue deflect or absorb attacks (Fortitude), and control others’ wills (Dominate). Further clans are planned for inclusion post-release.
The game is played in first-person, switching to third-person for specific contextual animations unlike Bloodlines 1, in which players could switch between first and third-person at will. Fans of the first enjoyed playing in third-person and seeing their character’s outfit, of which there were several for each vampire race. Being forced into first-person for the entirety of its sequel is a little worrying, especially if it means less outfits to use. Hopefully, the devs are making the right decision, because third-person gameplay will be missed.
Combat in Bloodlines 1 was criticized for being clumsy and unsatisfying. Bloodlines 2’s gameplay footage shows clunkiness as well, with punches connecting oddly and janky animations. Melee in the first was favored because guns were slow and weak, even when specializing in ranged combat. Hardsuit Labs must address the balance between melee and ranged combat in the sequel. It’s too big an issue to leave unresolved, but nothing has been confirmed yet. Bloodlines 1 wasn’t remembered for its combat, though, improvements are appreciated.
Bloodlines 1 was praised mainly for its deep narrative. GameSpot and GameSpy called the dialog sharply written, with many memorable lines. The characters’ use of vulgar language was well executed. Written realistically, the language fit the characters’ personas rather than feeling pigeonholed. The breadth of dialog options granted players more control of their character’s choices. Voice acting was lauded for its quality and the sheer amount, despite the many dialogue options. The Malkavians, a playable race of vampires cursed with insanity, had uniquely written dialogue trees leading to hilarious conversations.
With Bloodlines writer Brian Mitsoda as narrative lead, there are high hopes for the sequel. He mentions the entire script had to be finished before being rewritten for the Malkavians. The cursed clan’s insanity is represented less comically this time as research was conducted into medical journals and real-world sufferers to portray mental illness accurately. Mitsoda wanted to show the darker aspect of sharing a network of insight and paranoia in a more respectful light toward those with mental illnesses in real life.
The first game’s characters had developed personalities, making them memorable. Major characters had backstories and were portrayed as actual people. The world of Los Angeles was interesting and players were encouraged to explore every nook and cranny. Quests were well-tailored and the story was captivating, though, the ending had mixed responses. Some appreciated the option to choose between four endings while others found the entire thing anti-climatic.
The Cult of Bloodlines
Long-time fans of Bloodlines 1 await the sequel patiently and cautiously. They’ve been waiting 16 years for this moment and fear their dreams being crushed; it’s understandable. Bloodlines 2 will likely be more commercially successful because of the cult classic status of its less successful predecessor. However, commercial success doesn’t make something a cult classic. It has to have a dedicated and passionate user base. A user base that loves the game so much they take the time to fix and improve it post launch.
Bloodlines 2 will be a cult classic if it stays true to its roots. Combat still looks wonky, but not much has been revealed, and fans care more about rich story and dialogue. While putting up with awkward animations isn’t so challenging, fans may have a problem with the lack of a third-person mode. Mitsoda’s return as lead writer bodes well for the game, and the city of Seattle seems like an exciting place to explore the dark underworld of Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines 2.