Preview: Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 2 looks like the ultimate vampire game

It isn’t common for a game to get a sequel 15-years later, but here we are. Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 2 is the long-awaited follow-up to the cult classic RPG that did more for character-driven choice-heavy RPGs over a decade ago than most other games have since. This new entry still retains the same World of Darkness setting but moves the locale from Los Angeles up north a bit to a modern version of Seattle.

At GDC this week in San Francisco, CA Paradox Interactive held behind-closed-doors hands-off demonstrations of the game that features a half hour chunk of gameplay followed by a half hour of discussion and questions. After the hour was over I came away more excited for something vampire related than I’ve ever been.

Chaos in the Streets

Things kick off in Bloodlines 2 rather oddly. You awake strapped into a chair completely helpless. After a brief interrogation you recall the events of a previous night in which, while walking down the street innocently, a group of shadowy figures appear and descend on the park you’re walking through late at night. After a brutal and bloody attack, you wake up captured. That’s about it.

After talking with the team they explain that this event is known as the “mass embrace” in which an unprecedented number of mortals were all passed the vampirism curse in a single night to cause sheer chaos. The ancient clans ruling over Seattle aren’t fans of this, naturally, which leads to a lot of political vampire tension.

In typical RPG sense Bloodlines 2 is very much full of rich stories. There’s the central narrative about trying to uncover what happened and why, but then there are a slew of side stories and subplots to explore between the various vampire clans and all of the newly turned vampires seeking guidance just like you.

More than anything though, the team stressed the desire to make Bloodlines 2 a game that lets you be whatever type of vampire you want to be. Whether that means attacking freely in open city streets to cause chaos and fuel your inner rage, or playing sneakily to avoid detection and indulge in drinking blood only when necessary, all playstyles are encouraged and possible.

Bloodthirsty Combat

Bloodlines 2 features a mixture of first-person and third-person perspectives. For the most part the game takes place in first-person while you’re exploring, talking to people, and even while you’re fighting, but every now and then it switches. During certain special move animations such as climbing, lunging through the air, or some acrobatic maneuvers it will switch perspectives.

I was really impressed with the immediacy and sheer intensity of the combat. Having seen a lot of vampire movies and TV shows I’m familiar with their speed and aggressive fighting style in most fiction, but seeing it all unfold within a game that sports such high production values is really special. Even though it’s about a year away from release it looks fantastic. Punches have real weight behind them, guns pack serious stopping power, and the ability to scamper up walls then glide back down or lunge across rooms seems exhilarating.

A big part of Bloodlines 2 will be in how you use both combat and out-of-combat experiences to shape your character subtly over the course of the game. For example, if I feed aggressively and kill my victims I’ll start to lose “humanity” which might result in some more powerful augmentations, but limit my ability to persuade, seduce, and manipulate people since I’m becoming more of a terrifying beast that can’t hide in plain sight any longer.

The entire concept of “the masquerade” in fact is tied back into this core theme of keeping vampires hidden as well. If you’re spotted as a vampire then it can contribute to society’s apprehension around you or even eventually up the hostility of the police force. Eventually, the old leaders of vampire Seattle will send their own agents into the field to take you out as well.

You Are What You Eat

Bloodlines 2 seems to be aiming to be the ultimate vampire game. A great example of this in action is how they’ve managed to make everything feel like a meaningful part of your adventure. Instead of just feeding and having it affect some morality system each individual person is different as well. Depending on an NPC’s emotions at the time that you feed, known as resonance (such as anger, happiness, or fear) it will contribute to your own addiction. If you overindulge in a specific type of emotion you can eventually get dependent and crave it as well as gain benefits (and debuffs) based on your feeding preference.

They showed me three distinct ability paths you can develop in Bloodlines 2. The first involved bat manipulation letting you glide across relatively far distances and even summon a swarm of bats to attack. The second let you transform into a misty plume of smoke that can get sucked up into vents for puzzle solving, and eventually much more. And finally there was the mentalism path that features telekinesis abilities.

The developers at Hardsuit Labs took heavy inspiration from not only modern vampire fiction (which was in turn inspired by the original Bloodlines game) but also Noir storytelling, crime narratives, and elements of horror that were appropriate for vampires. And yes, you can romance characters, but it was stressed that as a vampire you’d probably only romance someone if you needed easy access to a fresh supply of blood. It’s all about manipulation and seduction.

There haven’t been too many real, honest attempts at making a massive, detailed vampire game and it feels long overdue. All of the lore and detail that goes into what being a vampire even entails is so interesting, it’s great to finally see it getting the spotlight it deserves.

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Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 2 is slated for release in 2020 for both PC and consoles.