Paradox Interactive has unusual codenames for its projects. The publisher names their upcoming projects after TV shows.
When the company bought White Wolf publishing and the rights to the World of Darkness universe, the publisher began assembling a team to work on the cult classic “Vampire: The Masquerade — Bloodlines.” Initially, the developers wanted to call it Project Buffy for obvious reasons, but Paradox Interactive wanted something more obtuse and settled on Project Frasier.
The codename is reference to Seattle, which is the location of “Vampire: The Masquerade — Bloodlines 2.” The game begins at Pioneer Square. Players are called to the area when vampires begin attacking bystanders. A vampire is siring the victims and the player becomes a fledgling nosferatu albeit an illegal one.
That’s the set up. Players find themselves being interrogated by vampire society and facing certain death when both factions are firebombed. That enables players to escape amid the flames and chaos. After fleeing into the sewers, they have to choose among three abilities: Chiropteran (batlike abilities), Mentalism (telekinesis) and Nebulation (turning into mist).
These are the first powers — other than players superhuman strength and senses — that players have. They’re used for traversal, and players have the opportunity to test them out early on. Players have to get a keycard to open the door. The problem has solutions geared toward the abilities. As a bat, players can fly short distances and reach pipes that lead players to a hole in the room’s ceiling. If they have mentalism, they can open locked doors by removing the chairs blocking them. As mist, they can go through the vents and into a room.
The different solutions for one problem is reminiscent of immersive simulations such as “Dishonored” or “Deus Ex.” Although that’s a good starting point to describe the game, the ambition behind “Bloodlines 2” is broad than those two titles. It expands that concept to a world governed by vampire clan politics and societal rules.
The Masquerade is the concept of keeping the existence of bloodsuckers secret from the greater public. If players break that basic law and say murder people outside a club, it angers vampire society, and they can go after the protagonist.
What’s more interesting is how the developer, Hardsuit Labs, incorporates player choice from the beginning and how that is reflected in the world. It starts from the beginning as players choose the background of their avatar. The fledgling vampire could be a barista, cop or someone else in their previous life. Depending on that background, characters will treat the protagonist differently.
As players go further in the campaign and choose a clan, their other actions such as indiscriminately killing others or carefully doing it in the shadows impacts the environment. If players tap into the Beast within them, and go in a berserk rage leaving evidence of their rampages, it could scare off Seattle residents.
Fewer people would be out in the streets and that would make the hunt for blood more difficult. Players need that blood to function nominally.
Players are notified how their actions impact the world by updates that appear after each interaction. For example, if the protagonist sucks a person dry, the vampire loses humanity. Gamers can get by feeding on humans but sucking them enough so that they stay alive. They can also tap into the power of the Beast, and violently kill enemies, but that again has repercussions. The struggle for players and their avatar is balancing the use of the vampiric power to achieve their goals.
Aside from using their bare hands and abilities to kill, players in combat also can defeat enemies with shotguns and other firearms. They can also solve problems nonviolently, but don’t think that “Bloodlines 2” offers a choice between good and bad. The developers say vampires are evil creatures and it’s up to players to figure out the scope and manner of that ruthlessness.
“Bloodlines 2” sounds like a game in which player choice matters, but it’s done in a way that’s subtle. Players will have few blatant and binary decisions. Even the way side quests are discovered takes work and asks players to immerse themselves into the World of Darkness. The developers said there won’t be many icons showing players a person has a mission for them. Instead, they’ll have to listen for tips on the radio and investigate or they can explore the clues of another vampire that was sired on the same night as the protagonist was.
The central mystery behind “Bloodlines 2” appears to be discovering who sired the protagonist and the reason behind it. That will take players around hubs based on neighborhoods in Seattle, and players operate out of there.
When the original “Bloodlines” was released in 2004, it was a game that also had a lot of ambition. In some ways, it was ahead of its time but unfortunately didn’t have the systems or technology to translate the World of Darkness universe in a convincing way. The sequel has similar aspirations, but 15 years of game development and hardware evolution has made the ideas behind the original more of reality.
It’s up to Hardsuit to see if the studio can see that vision through when the game comes out as scheduled in the first quarter of 2020 on PC and consoles
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