BloodLust Shadowhunter (PC) review
"Double, Double, Toil and Trouble; ‘Pyres Yearn, and Torchlight Struggle"
Of the strangest titles on Steam, Bloodlust Shadowhunter may be the jankiest, the most unpolished and the most confused idea of a game while also being the most addicting ARPG I’ve ever played. In spite of its visual, technical and gameplay issues, this game manages to create what is undoubtably a new cult-classic about vampires like Vampire the Masquerade, although if you are expecting the same quality of storytelling or pen-and-paper features then let me to douse that misconception. Bloodlust is nothing like the Masquerade; nor is it anything like Diablo whereas Torchlight 1 is more apt given its dungeon design and single-player focus--Bloodlust is some monstrous conglomeration mixed with some procedural generated dungeons to create some unholy trinity, and it’s absolutely wonderful.
At the risk of tarnishing any credibility towards my taste in games, Bloodlust scratches an itch that I never knew I wanted from this genre, namely incorporating more role-playing elements that work in tandem with these kleptomaniac adventures. Even describing what experience this game creates may be difficult without playing it for yourself, which there is a free demo if you are not convinced, but you must go with an open mind. Like the first time you try wine, Bloodlust may be revolting, yet over time the refinement comes further into play until you’re begging for another glass.
Double, Double, Toil and Trouble; ‘Pyres Yearn, and Torchlight Struggle
In order to understand what elements Bloodlust borrows, it’s best to understand it one element at a time and see how the game differentiates itself when mixed together. These elements include the following: the vampire elements as an RPG; the Diablo/Torchlight gameplay design; and the procedurally generated dungeons with the overworld as a modern Masquerade.
From the start, you’re given a character sheet structured like a hybrid of Torchlight and Masquerade where you can choose Warrior, Criminal and Witch archetypes with clan reputations as well as racial options with stat changes such as Vampire, Half-Breed, and an unlockable race after finishing the campaign. Unlike those games, these decisions are more tailored at the beginning than being permanent as clan reputation rewards and the skill system allows players to create their own builds. (Be careful not to invest all your stats into one, especially Persuasion, as many weapons and gear require two stats.) Some abilities like Bite, Vampire Gaze (a spirit projectile to scout and interact with objects) and Secret Vision are universal; in addition, every vampire can have a sire for every five levels invested into Bite. Sires are essentially Pets who cannot pawn off items, but they can scavenge and assist the player in combat. These sires share attribute points when you level up, so whether you invest in one or four there are no extra rewards. As you might expect with only one social stat, these systems are simplistic yet also robust that the game never feels too easy nor too strict with your decisions. Combat and kleptomania are the focus, but not exclusively to make choices meaningless.
This aspect leads into what Bloodlust does and does not incorporate expected from any ARPG. Quest designs, side-quests or main ones, are fetch-and-kill quests with very little, if any, narrative purpose save for some dialogue or cinematic rewards. This aspect is the most unfortunate because there are moments where persuasion or alternative skills can sequence-break the intended course for the player. Puzzles and alternative mechanics like lockpicking, disarming traps or safes, keep the gameplay from being completely mindless, although the Simon Says mini-game is tedious. Level-design, however, is vastly different from what you might expect; one half of the game is a sprawling cityscape and sewer system with secrets galore to earn 200 attribute points as well as introduce you to areas that the main-quest never steers you towards, and the other are the six completely randomized dungeons each with 200 floors. That number may sound unbelievable, but the achievement doesn’t lie--worse, once you leave or enter a treasure-room, you go back to the top. If you exit, the dungeon will be completely random once again. In the game’s defense, however, most quests ask you to plunder five to twenty floors, so the randomized nature keeps each trek from feeling the same.
The randomized nature is to the game’s benefit and to its utter detriment. As previously mentioned, floors never stay the same once you leave, and it can make one question why bother reaching the hundredth floor when you can repeat the first fifty twice. One reason is that the rewards get better the farther you go and you gain extra XP; another good reason is that certain floors are specifically made for bosses or a vendor-shop, which sells another component that may be given to you randomly in order to progress the narrative on the thirtieth floor. Certain items and quests require parts obtained from specific locations or a suggested floor, or they may be from random encounters like the Ogre’s eye. There are also other beneficial aspects randomly given to you like items for reputation bonuses, extra talent unlocks, repairing and alchemy stations, free maps, free coupons, etc. that make each journey more worth its time. In my experience, this aspect never grated me nor hindered my progression, although if you attempt to go all the way down for every single dungeon you’re bound to return for every side-quest as everyone loves to lose something down under the city.
To Strike True When All that is Fair, Foul and Foul, Fair
Although these dungeons and the overworld have been discussed at great length, it’s important to note that had Bloodlust better distributed its randomness with the tailored content it could have solved wearing out its welcome. Instead of every dungeon having 200 floors, it would have been better to scale them in difficulty along with 25 floor increments with new obstacles, puzzles, etc. from 50 floors at the start to the finale with 200. Each area would feel more distinct and not as homogenous given its limited assets, although it should be noted that there is an impressive variety of enemies to make up for the mundane areas. This result would still come out to around 875 floors, yet if they were better structured with the algorithm, then the lack of handmade environments like the Courtyard wouldn’t make the game dip in quality. Sadly, the same solution cannot be suggested to improve the narrative given its choice for quest designs.
Now it’s easy to see why the narrative is difficult given its quests. These quests perhaps sound weirder out of context, but they are like returning to town in Torchlight where someone asks you to find/kill something, then you go back into the suggested area to accomplish it. The difference is that everyone seems to lose whatever plot McGuffin in the twentieth floor of a dungeon rather than on the kitchen counter. Finding these areas are often the first obstacle as hints are elusive and some details may mislead you thinking they are within the city; the reality is every quest, except for one or two after the prologue, is accomplished within these randomized dungeons. As a result, there is a noticeable lack of lore like the Masquerade which shared the world with the player as these quests all bog down into “Find random loot on random floor.” Clans, rules of vampire society and the overall mythos are on the wayside. When the game does want to include its narrative, especially the conspiracy and its moral decision, it feels surprisingly effective given how the rest of the game fails to build up to that climax.
Community review by Brian (October 20, 2018)
Current interests: Strategy/Turn-Based Games, CRPGs, Immersive Sims, Survival Solo Games, etc.
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