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Following the announcement of Paradox Interactive and Hardsuit Labs' sequel to Troika Games' legendary Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, a number of media outlets got a chance to check out a hands-off demo of the game currently slated for a March 2020 release. And before you read their impressions, you may be interested in this tweet from Chris Avellone that confirms his involvement with the project, and this announcement keynote video:
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.
"When we as Paradox acquired the IP, we saw Bloodlines as the crown jewel," says producer Christian Schlutter. "We wanted to do a new Bloodlines, but we also knew there were a lot of expectations connected to it, not just from the fans but also from us. We actually thought we'd hold off on doing Bloodlines 2, because we wanted to do it right - then these guys come along and have the perfect pitch, with the original writer on-board too. It all happened far faster than we expected."
Those guys, by the way, are developers Hardsuit Labs, previously of Blacklight: Retribution fame but also assisted by none other than Brian Mitsoda, formerly of original Bloodlines developer Troika Games and who's working alongside Cara Ellison (who, full disclosure alert, is a friend of Eurogamer) to pen the sequel.
"It's great to come back to it," says Mitsoda. "It's of course a bit daunting because of the fan expectation over the last 15 years - but the way it came together, we developed the story really quickly. We started working on it as soon as we heard that Paradox had bought the World of Darkness IP."
They wouldn’t confirm or deny if there’s still a late night radio talk show, but Mitsoda said that because they’re trying to keep that Bloodlines feeling, there “definitely might be something like that” So, I dunno, maybe a podcast. I also asked if we might see some familiar faces, because it took three seconds for me to convince myself that a blurry silhouette I glimpsed for half a moment was Nines Rodriguez. “All I can say is, this is still set in the same universe. So… could be?”
Combat looks orders of magnitude better than it was in the original, including throat-punching melee attacks, a backflip over the top of an enemy’s head, and grabbing guns on an ad-hoc basis. There was a very nice animation of the character finding out their shotgun was empty and tossing it aside. But I was assured that, beyond the tutorial level, there are opportunities to avoid combat by figuring a way around it in the environment. We are encouraged to look at the world as a vampire, i.e. 15 foot high walls are easily scaled, chairs can be mind-levitated away from doors, vents can be traversed as a cloud of smoke. You can also try to talk your way out of a tense situation, of course. But because I’m not an aforementioned lame nerd, I’ll be picking seduction to do that every time. Because, yes, obviously, that’s still in there too. Ellison described it as a pretty sexy game.
“The great thing about the World of Darkness IP,” according to Brian Mitsoda, Narrative Director for Hardsuit Labs (and story lead for the original Bloodlines), “is that you go to any city, and there are a thousand stories you can tell. For us, it’s looking at the struggle of our own city - of Seattle trying to look at its identity. The old, the classic idea of Seattle, and the new corporate tech side, with trillion-dollar companies. It’s changing the city right in front of our eyes, and so this came very easily to us.”
This notion of coming to terms with one’s identity is present throughout the game, but is especially prevalent when it comes to character creation and how you’ll progress through the story. At the onset, you'll be able to choose a background for your character, who they were in their pre-vampiric life. Depending on this choice, you'll experience different alterations in the world as you explore. For example, if you choose the "Cop" background and visit a police station, there's a good chance someone on duty will recognize you. Alternatively, you could select the "Barista" background, and no one will remember you or give you a second look. The world is reactive to your character and your choices, the team says - and the effects of those choices can be far-reaching story consequences or something as simple as what pronoun NPCs refer to you with.