The original Bloodlines, released all the way back in 2004 on PC, was the kind of wonderful, ambitious mess that’s impossible to forget. Incomplete, buggy and a commercial flop, it nonetheless endures as a cult classic to this day thanks to its narrative depth and the sheer amount of agency and choice it granted players. Now, 15 years later, a new team is hoping to recreate its Gothic magic with a full-fledged sequel.
The series takes place in the setting of the Vampire: The Masquerade tabletop role-playing game, a world like our own save for its secret society of bloodsuckers acting in the shadows. This new entry sees you joining them after a ‘Mass Embrace’, a deliberate turning of a large number of ordinary people – a practice usually forbidden. As an unaligned ‘Thin Blood’ you’ll explore Seattle, developing your powers and ultimately deciding which of the ruling vampire clans you want to throw your lot in with.
As in the original, the core idea is freedom of choice. "Players should feel like a predator of the night, a powerful vampire," explains Paradox lead producer Christian Schlutter. "In which way they feel powerful though, if through brute force, seduction, political intrigue or deception, that is completely up to them. Playing into that is the story’s non-linear structure. Created by Brian Mitsoda, writer of the original game, the idea is that the narrative is based around your interaction with the city’s various factions. You’ll be able to move between groups, double-cross them, and more – and, of course, they’ll react to your actions.
Rush of blood
These factions move in a world of extremes, of haves and have-nots. While the elite sup from wine glasses of blood in penthouse apartments, fanged thugs fight brutal skirmishes in the dark corners of the city. It’s a culture primed for a new crop of vampires – including you – to disrupt. And perhaps not for the better. Bloodlines was revered for its dark and complex moral choices, and this sequel looks to be painting in similar shades of grey-to-black. Being the good guy isn’t necessarily going to be an option.
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"We give players the opportunity to play the game the way they like to play it. But let’s be real: vampires will never be knights in shining armour," says Schlutter. "At their core, they are parasitic. They feed on humanity. You are not a hero here. But you can choose your preferred flavour of evilness. And there are certain characters and situations in the game that will remind the player of their own humanity - or what is still left of it."
Being an evil parasite does have its perks, though. For one, you’ll get to choose an arsenal of supernatural powers to aid you, such as flight or summoning swarms of bats. Each has an offensive application in combat, but also affects how you traverse the world. Turning into mist, for example, allows you to flow into the lungs of your enemies and choke them from the inside out – gross! – but it also means you can travel through vents and ducts to reach otherwise inaccessible locations.
Relatively untested developer Hardsuit Labs will have its work cut out realising this grand vision, and all the player agency that comes with it. But, importantly, no one could say this project doesn’t embody that same boundless ambition that made the original Bloodlines such a memorable piece of gaming history.