Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It's fun to be a vampire.
After several teases on online, Paradox Interactive and Hardsuit Labs have finally revealed Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 2, the sequel to the original 2004 RPG. With Bloodlines 2, releasing in 2020 for PC and consoles, several key members from the former studio Troika Games, along with some new blood at Hardsuit Labs, are looking to pick up where the bleak yet off-the-wall original left off. Just before its reveal, we had the chance to get an early look at GDC 2019, while also speaking with Bloodlines 2 lead narrative designer Brian Mitsoda and senior writer Cara Ellison about the making of the sequel.
As an adaptation of the table-top game series from White Wolf Publishing, the first Bloodlines focused on the shadowy underworld of Vampire society in modern-day Los Angeles. Starting out as a newly converted vampire, you were drawn into centuries-long quarrels amongst elite vampires, all the while coming to grips with your new and unusual circumstances. While much of the first game hasn't aged too well, its in-depth role-playing and social gameplay are enduring achievements. Showing shades of immersive-sims like Deus Ex and System Shock, it possessed an impressive amount of complexity with how you could use your vampiric abilities to navigate the complex web of conspiracies within the secret society.
The game's original developers, Troika Games, drafted up concepts for a follow-up, however, low sales and a lack of projects after Bloodlines' launch forced the closure of the studio. In the years since its release, a dedicated online community has kept the game active, slowly turning the obscure PC RPG into an underground hit.
Echoing the beginning of the original game, the new protagonist of Bloodlines 2 is suddenly thrust into their new life as a vampire. Taking place in the city of Seattle, the new fledgling faces a tribunal held by the Camarilla--the union of different vampire factions. Recalling their final moments alive, and subsequent rebirth at the hands of another vampire, the meeting comes under attack, forcing you to make a quick exit. From here, you'll slowly work your way up the Vampire hierarchy, dealing with returning factions like the Tremere, and embrace your newfound life as a creature of the night.
For the sequel, the developers expressed that they wanted to maintain the same level of agency and detail from the previous game, while also focusing more on the strange and lesser-known aspects of living a new life as a vampire. This on-boarding process, as seen in the opening of the game, also highlights the new abilities that come with being a Vampire. In addition to taking on different disciplines, you'll also have a suite of vampire skills to use, such as levitation, telekinesis, and even a mist-form--allowing you to pass through objects. Eventually, you'll be able to unlock access to higher-end abilities, like conjuring up sharp objects made of blood and slowing down time to easily evade enemies.
During the demo, Mitsoda--who served as the lead writer on the original game--talked about bringing the series back after 15 years, and how they wanted to make it accessible for fans and newcomers.
"There's something exciting about the player discovering this world that is right under our noses," said Mitsoda as he elaborated on the world building of the game. "A big part of what we wanted to do with Bloodlines 2 is to make sure that people who are fans of the first one will immediately feel like, "This is Bloodlines. This feels like Bloodlines." Then the people who are coming into it fresh are going to going to have the same feelings of what is this all about? I'm a vampire. What do I do now? So, we want people to go out there with the expectations of they don't know anything now, but they're going to be discovering everything that's going on in Seattle."
Just like in Bloodlines 1, you'll be able to freely explore various open hubs and far away locations while tackling missions with other key-characters. In addition to exploring locations like Pioneer Square, Pier 55, and other areas of downtown Seattle, you'll follow leads into the city's underground ruins. These sections are said to be inspired by the real-life locations that were paved over after intense fires during 1889, and the ruins house a number secrets pertaining to the lost history of Seattle, and how vampires played a part in it.
According to the developers, Bloodlines 2 will shed light on the various vampire cultures and their power structures. Just like in the original game, the sequel also leans heavy on socializing. You're often pushed into high-pressure situations with humans and vampires alike, where you'll need to make a choice that could compromise relationships. Siding with one faction can put you at odds with another. However, you're totally free to break away from a side at any time. These social situations can also highlight the mundanity of living life as a Vampire. Shortly after making it back to your apartment, you encounter a fellow vampire named Dale, who volunteers to be your information broker and to help with your transition. It was an oddly relaxed conversation--especially considering this came after surviving several attacks from humans and other undead.
While explaining their approach to balancing the absurdity of vampirism with the more grotesque aspects of being undead, senior writer Cara Ellison spoke about what it was like working on the game's tone, and how humor is a bit of a coping mechanism for the vampires in Bloodlines.
"I'm kind of in charge of looking at the game as almost like vampire puberty, like where it's a transition from leaving humanity behind," Ellison said. "I think you might be surprised at how funny it is to be a vampire, in a weird way. It's quite a dark game, but we manage to show it as an absurd existence, and you might encounter some people who were weathering their situation in an interesting or maybe in a slightly dark and humorous way. That really connects to me, because I'm British. Everything bad is funny to us, like Brexit is weirdly funny. [...]There's a lot of complexity in there to explore. It's pretty fun to write."
Since you're a vampire, handling your business and exploring the city--even in the evening--can be a challenge. This is where the series' signature Masquerade gameplay comes in. According to series lore, The Masquerade is a code of conduct that vampires must follow in order to prevent exposing their existence to humanity. Though you are a vampire, you still look normal enough to pass as human while in public. However, when you use your supernatural powers in front of unsuspecting humans, you'll break the Masquerade and draw attention to yourself and to the larger vampire society. Police and common criminals can still pose a threat, however, and causing too much havoc will alert elite vampires that will hunt you down.
Bloodlines 2 carries over the complexity of the original game, allowing you to overcome obstacles and events in different ways by using your vampiric skills or social charms--like seduction, for instance. However, there will come a time where you'll need to defend yourself, which includes several conventional weapons and supernatural abilities. In one section taking place in a back ally in Pioneer Square, there's an opportunity to break up an attempted mugging. While watching this bit of gameplay, we saw the main character use several of these skills one after another. First, they used their heightened senses to highlight the key targets, and took advantage of their heightened physicality to make high-jumps across the roofs to get into position and perform a series of takedowns on the unsuspecting muggers.
Though you'll have plenty of tools to use, melee combat will have a larger focus, which the developers stated is something they wanted to improve from the original. During combat, you'll be able to launch pre-emptive strikes against human enemies, and even counter their attack with instant-kills that will drain their blood. Blood is a resource that you'll constantly need to keep track of, powering your various abilities. While it's not possible to do a no-kill run through the game--you still have to feed after all--the developers stated that you can play as a "humane" vampire to avoid unnecessary bloodshed.
How you advance your character can set the tone for what's to come. This even comes into play by the type of human blood you feed on. If targets are angry, especially during a combat encounter, then you'll feed on blood filled with anger resonance. If they're frightened, then they'll be highlighted with the fear resonance. Feeding on a specific type of blood for too long will have you favor a particular type, opening up access to certain skills. But if you choose to forego your humanity, and kill indiscriminately for too long, your character will dip further into the vampiric-side. According to the developers, if this happens, your character's social skills will be affected, making certain situations--like socializing or going out in public--more difficult, but inversely, you can acquire more vampiric abilities as a result.
Some of my favorite moments from the previous game where seeing just how far you could push social or combat situations in your favor. Though often times they didn't work out in ways that I intended, I ended appreciating the events that occurred, most of which was very odd. From this early look, Bloodlines 2 looks to be a faithful restart for the series, keeping up the adaptive, and incredibly bizarre storytelling. It'll be interesting to see what passes for strange in the eyes of the developers, fifteen years after the original game's release.