November of 2004 was a monumental month for games. Half-Life 2, Halo 2, and Metal Gear Solid 3 were all released to critical acclaim and massive commercial success. And crushed in among those blockbusters was Troika's RPG Vampire: The Masquerade—Bloodlines. Due to a contract with Valve involving use of the Source Engine, Bloodlines couldn't be released ahead of Half-Life 2, and publisher Activision was unwilling to push the release date into 2005. And so, Bloodlines came out that same month, forced to compete with those three huge November releases.
While Bloodlines was mostly reviewed positively and gained cult hit status among fans of the deep and engrossing RPG, commercially it just didn't stand up, and technically the game wasn't even fully finished. Most of the staff who had labored over Bloodlines for years were quickly laid off, and the rest would follow a few months later. Troika closed in early 2005, and fans have waited for over a decade with fading hopes of a sequel.
But when it comes to both games and vampires, dead doesn't mean done. Bloodlines is returning, at last, 16 years later. Announced at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Vampire: The Masquerade—Bloodlines 2 will arrive in 2020, developed by Hardsuit Labs and published by Paradox Interactive. This week I met with members of Paradox and the development team as they showed me a demo that walked (and skulked, and climbed, and flew) through the opening minutes of Bloodlines 2.
In Seattle, Washington, a disturbing event has taken place. On a foggy night, a group of humans are attacked by vampires, bitten, and forced to drink the blood of the supernatural creatures. It's called a Mass Embrace: the creation of a horde of new vampires, and it's highly illegal in the vampire community (and, I'd imagine, frowned upon by local law enforcement).
The character you play in Bloodlines 2 is one of those newly-created vampires, called a Thin-Blood, and after an interrogation by several members of Seattle's vampire clans, you manage to escape your scheduled execution and slip into the night, forced to come to terms with your transformation into a member of the undead. You have some help: a mysterious phone call directs you to a willing (or at least unresisting) victim to have your first drink of human blood, another friendly vampire sets you up with an apartment and gives you a quick rundown of the vampire rulebook, and naturally you have some new abilities, such as clinging to walls and enhanced night vision.
Choices immediately present themselves in the form of which powers you want to begin your new undead life with, and in the demo they're shown both as ways to navigate the world and as tools for combat. Telekinesis lets you manipulate objects without touching them, useful for everything from moving an obstacle that's holding a door shut to yanking a weapon out of an enemy's hand. Turning to mist will allow you to pass through pipes and vents, and will also let you choke enemies by filling their lungs with fog. Another power lets you flutter through the air on wings while accompanied by a swarm of bats. You get to test out all these powers before having to choose which you'd like to acquire.
Another choice you'll have to make is which vampire clan to align with, though unlike the original Bloodlines this decision comes a bit later in the game, so you'll have a chance to familiarize yourself with the different groups and what they stand for. The developers didn't want to talk specifically about the clans during the demo, only saying they'd reveal more when the game is closer to release. Interestingly enough, more clans will be added to Bloodlines 2 after the game is released.
"The one thing we can say, we will have a good amount of clans in the main game that are really interesting, but we'll support it with more clans after launch," said Christian Schlütter, lead producer at Paradox. "And one thing that you need to write down is that every clan that we release later on will be free. We will never charge you for any clan." I wrote that down.
Along with clans, there are several factions vying for control of Seattle. "In Bloodlines 1, the main story was kind of a linear track," Schlütter said. "In this one the city is kind of divided by factions. You can work for different factions, it's going to color how you feel about certain things, it'll kind of inform the story from that faction's point of view. You can switch factions, and you can piss off factions to the point where they won't work with you anymore."
Also informing the story is your own character and background, explained Brian Mitsoda, designer and writer of the original Bloodlines and lead narrative designer of Bloodlines 2. "For example, in your character creation, you can choose what you were in life," he said. "You can say that you were a cop, or a coroner, and so when you go into a police station that's gonna have a different feel than if you were not a cop. We have lots of those little decisions that you make along the way that build upon and into your experience going through the story."
Apart from the main story, there are numerous side quests to discover and explore in Seattle. Remember all those other humans who were transformed in the Mass Embrace? Those Thin-Bloods are still out there in the city, somewhere, trying to cope with this situation just as you are. You'll be able to track many of them down.
"It was interesting for us to kind of try to explore how human problems encroach on becoming a vampire," says senior writer Cara Ellison, who created the side quests. "What if you had a family who is still alive, what if you had bonds and relationships with other people? Maybe some of your human problems would just follow you around. So you can encounter several different Thin-Bloods throughout the game who have not been as fortunate as you." (Disclosure: Cara Ellison used to write for PC Gamer.)
For fans wondering how long Bloodlines 2 has been in the works, it began to take shape from pretty much the earliest moment it possibly could have.
"We started basically the day that the news broke that Paradox had acquired the World of Darkness IP," said Andy Kipling, co-founder and CEO of Hardsuit Labs, which was founded in 2015. "When our creative director Ka'ai Clooney came running into my office and was like 'Andy, we need to pitch Paradox a game.'"
Fans will, however, have to wait just a bit longer to play the RPG they've wanted for so long. Vampire: The Masquerade—Bloodlines 2 comes out next year, in 2020.