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Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 2

Gaming's Defining Moments - Vampire: The Masquerade

Vampire: The Masquerade's video game adaptations took RPG fans by storm, albeit a little too late to satisfy release expectations. We dive deep into the World of Darkness ahead of Bloodlines 2's launch.

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Sometimes, franchises cross through multiple realms of entertainment (sure, there are plenty of sub-par "movie-to-game" releases to count since the dawn of the media variant, but developers getting their inspiration from other works of entertainment can meet major success) and sometimes your favourite video games are influenced by or even follow a franchise from a form of entertainment you, as a player, were previously unfamiliar with. This was the case for a lot of fans of the literature-inspired Witcher franchise throughout the video game trilogy, as is it the case with that same developer, CD Projekt Red's upcoming project, pen-and-paper RPG inspired Cyberpunk 2077.

It's clear that the Polish studio has found that taking already-existing lore and expanding upon it through a different form of entertainment can result in an extremely successful game or series. A studio that took that idea on way before CD Projekt Red, however, was Nihilistic Software and Troika Games back in 2000 and 2004 respectively. These studios, even though they had little to do with each other, created the video game franchise that would come to be a cult classic, Vampire: The Masquerade. Just like CD Projekt Red's upcoming Cyberpunk 2077, Vampire: The Masquerade as a series was inspired by the White Wolf Publishing tabletop RPG, with the same title set in the World of Darkness. Other than being the source of inspiration for video games for decades, it was (and still is) also big within the gothic, live-action roleplaying and pen & paper roleplaying scenes. Originally released in the early nineties, the tabletop RPG Vampire: The Masquerade had players manifest as a player-created "kindred"/"Cainite" (i.e. descendant of Caine), or vampire as they're commonly referred, in of one of 13 clans.

What set the narrative base and gameplay of Vampire apart from the rest of the, at the time of release, popular RPGs was its focus on personal intrigue, morality, tactical plots and a deep, evolving storyline. The kindred that ruled the World of Darkness also had some unique powers (or disciplines), obtained both through becoming a vampire in general and joining a class, such as blood magic, mind-controlling domination powers and vampiric senses, adding power to the already (almost) invincible undead beings. It also detailed "the masquerade", the law of which the kindred would abide by for the sole reason of staying hidden from humanity and keeping theirs, in a sense.

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 2

Obviously, this universe already had its building blocks and it stood steadily on them, so there's no surprise that both Nihilistic Software and Troika games tried their luck with bringing the deep vampire-infested universe to PC. The former studio, Nihilistic Software, started the phenomenon of a series off in 1998 with Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption. Many fans of the Vampire brand don't know it was part of a franchise at all and, instead, think the series started with Troika Games' Bloodlines in 2004, but there was a predecessor to the cult classic - although despite sharing a title, it wasn't very similar gameplay-wise. Created by a twelve-man (20-man if counting the contractors hired to provide the artwork and music for the game) team, Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption became the first video game adaptation of the popular tabletop RPG and followed French crusader Christof Romuald through life, to death and beyond, through the ages, post-vampire turn.

While linear, the game offered plenty of content and was rich enough gameplay-wise to not only lure the player in with its premise but also keep the player interested throughout. There was some action- and consequence-based gameplay woven into the roleplaying game that revolved around humanity and the masquerade as well as multiple endings and a vast amount of vampiric powers and traits to play around with (all aspects that would follow with the release of the sequel three years later). Using these vampiric abilities drained blood, so staying well-fed was as important as knowing how to use the abilities in combat. These powers could be upgraded with each level up and each playstyle was vastly different from the other. Players also saw the option to play the "storyteller" multiplayer mode, in which one player would assume the role of "game master", altering the world in which the other player was roaming or even the other player's stats.

The development wasn't a complete cakewalk though, with software changes late in the process and system-specific bugs and issues due to difficult planning and rough priorities. More content was originally planned as well, but with the project's budget of $1.8 million and the schedule forced Nihilistic Software to abandon its plans and release the game, which was published by Activision. Despite some features eventually being cut and money running out, the game was praised for its graphics and even won an award for Best RPG.

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 2

The quality gameplay didn't just win an award, it also spawned a sequel that would come to meet a slow release but that, after that start, would live on for decades as a true cult-classic game. Troika Games, a studio founded by Interplay and thus Fallout veterans Jason Anderson, Tim Cain and Leonard Boyarsky, took on the sequel that would later be titled Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines. It was to be the third release from a studio - and it would turn out to be a massive, ambitious project. Bloodlines was, even though its development encountered some major issues that we'll touch on more in a moment, one of the deepest, most graphically impressive, customisation-heavy games of its time when it released. The player created his or her own character, picking a clan, a gender and putting some points in the vampiric skill-tree before the story unveiled itself, and very quickly, fans of the previous title realised that Bloodlines was different from its predecessor.

Bloodlines had a deep narrative with a lot of different story arcs, a lot of customisation options, both cosmetic, behavioural, clan-wise and faction-wise, and this let the player choose, not only how they wanted the story to progress but also how they wanted to play the game. The clan the player chose to play would even alter standard traits. In regards to classes, seven were available to play as, each with different traits, powers, and skills to start with, and additional classes could be interacted with within the game world, which was set in a gloomy California (everything's gloomy when you can't linger in the sun for more than a millisecond).

Not only did the player's actions alter the views of outside Kindred looking in at the player within the game, but Bloodlines really did focus on player-choice throughout. The clans were Brujah (a vampire powerhouse), Ventrue (vampire royalty), Nosferatu (a monstrous being lurking through the sewers to stay hidden), Malkavian (a clan battling its inherent insanity), Toreador (a vampire clan of decadent artists), Gangrel (a clan in touch with its animalistic side), and Tremere (a blood magic-wielding clan). Some clans gave the player stat boosts to persuasion or threatening auras while others focused on brute force or intelligence - so while all clans could potentially have the same goal in mind, they'd go about achieving it in different ways. Some could hack into someone's computer to gather information without alerting anyone while others would look for a fight, run in guns blazing and intimidate the same information out of a poor soul laying bloodied and bruised on the ground.

As the player levelled up, however, he or she could change their preferred playstyle by adding experience points to unexplored traits. This tactical switch would, however, take time.

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 2

If the player chose to play as a kindred of the Nosferatu clan, roaming the streets of LA was not an impossibility, but definitely, a hassle as a Masquerade violation was imminent as soon as the player was seen by a human considering the Nosferatu didn't appear human but instead monstrous. Malkavians, on a different part of the spectrum, were a clan of unstable schizophrenic kindred (insensitive? Perhaps, but playing as a member of the Malkavian clan transformed the game completely) that could talk to inanimate objects and gather information (a lot of which teased the game's ending somewhat, but not directly) while having a very unique dialogue-tree when interacting with humans and vampires alike. It could be difficult to decipher what a dialogue option would end up meaning as the player read it and these two aspects of the clan had many fans label it a "second, third or fourth playthrough" clan choice.

The game was ambitious, had a fantastic narrative, a great soundtrack, equally great voice actors, an intriguing world that was fun to explore, a vast amount of customisation- and role-playing elements, great graphics and solid gameplay. However, the development process was riddled with problems. Troika Games used the then-early version of Valve's Source Engine to create Bloodlines and also pushed both its developers and the engine to a release the game within the scheduled launch which was close to the release of Valve's own project at the time, Half-Life 2. Troika wasn't able to release the game earlier than November 16, because of a contractual agreement between Activision and Valve, but ultimately, Bloodlines and Half-Life 2 released on the very same day in 2004, and Half-Life 2 was a tough game to compete with. As a result of this as well as the fact that pushing for the release had seen the Troika vampire title ridden with bugs, the title didn't perform as expected sales-wise. The original release sold a mere 72,000 units, even though its Metascore boasted an 80% rating, however, years later and after many fan-patches the game has soared, with hundreds of thousands of copies sold, but it was too slow of a burn for Troika to stay afloat on Bloodlines alone and they'd get few chances to move on to new things as a studio making niche games.

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 2

Post-launch, the studio was working on a second game within the World of Darkness universe, but it would never see the light of day, because, in 2005, Troika was shut down. Instead of waiting in the end, the studio heads decided that they'd go out with honour and with enough money in the bank to pay severance to the studio employees and when the studio ultimately closed down they'd never seen a monetary loss. It was a worthy end, but a tough loss for the fans of Bloodlines who thought that it was the end.

In fact, a lot of both original fans that had played and loved Bloodlines back in 2004 and fans that experienced the game a decade later thought they'd never see a Vampire: The Masquerade game ever again with five, ten and fourteen years going by without a peep from anyone, even after Paradox acquired White Wolf Publishing. That was until earlier this year when a teaser masquerading as a bloodline-focused dating application emerged. Many started getting their hopes up for a sequel to the beloved Troika title and, rightfully so, it turned out, because the dating app "Tender" was, indeed, a teaser for Bloodlines 2.

Releasing in March of 2020, Bloodlines will continue where Troika left off, with players being able to create their perfect Kindred and taking their own path, this time in a dark, vampire-infested Seattle. It'll be interesting to see how Hardsuit Labs will interpret the original vision and how the studio will build upon what's already there. One thing's certain, though, there's plenty of inspiration to draw from the World of Darkness.

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