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Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines (PC) artwork

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines (PC) review

"Think Role-Playing in a Horror Game, Not Horror in a RPG"

There is only one befiting way to describe the quality of this game, “Where have you been all my life, and why did you not find me sooner?” Even if you have no interest in vampires or the World of Darkness setting, if you enjoy actively role-playing, not progression systems in RPGs, you owe it to yourself to experience this classic--with the Unofficial patch, naturally. That aspect alone is what damned this game to become a cult classic, and it is thanks to these devoted fans who saw through the mire for its inner beauty of an RPG that we may all enjoy it with few blemishes. As one Shakespearean sonnet about the nonsense of many men once said, “Love is not love Which alters when its alternation finds,” and that attitude is how one must accept the Masquerade even when the charade begins to falter.

What Is Role-Playing if Not Playing Once As the Fool?

In order to truly appreciate what artistry went behind the scenes, you must first ask yourself a very important question: What does the act of role-playing mean to you? Is it watching progression meters arbitrarily making games easier as you progress to harder foes? Is it making builds, min-maximizing them, and serving some predetermined role in a game? Is it an arbitrary metagame where you take the limits of a game’s mechanics and set limitations on yourself to create a character from that conflict? Or is it the simple act of playing a character role--the systematic process by which character stats influence the stories you create in the world by your many decisions?

If you answered yes to any one of these questions, then you may enjoy Bloodlines as a game, but only the last category of role-playing will you truly grasp its brilliance. Bloodlines is a game meant to be experienced with little foreknowledge as many side-quests are based around fleshing out the lore, which makes it an ideal starting point for any newcomer to the tabletop. This game goes beyond making a satisfying narrative experience as it ties the roleplaying with the exploration of its semi-open world a la Deus Ex (old and new). Everything I ever wanted out of Deus Ex, old and new, is what I found here in Bloodlines--and it works!--as it manages to compliment the role-playing mechanics (gameplay) with the role-playing elements (storytelling.)

For example, let’s look at one minor NPC character, Heather, and the choices/effects within the first act. Before entering the hospital, a fanboyish guy stops to pester you until you reveal yourself as a new vampire; you soon learn he is a Ghoul, a vampire servant with no powers but granted immortality. As soon as you find a means to get past the front-desk, you will open the door to find Heather bleeding out to death, and she needs you to go find a doctor. You will naturally be tempted to find help, but the doctor tells you he’s busy and he needs you to stabilize her; you will run back and slowly listen and watch her die--if you choose not to make her a Ghoul. If you do offer some of your blood, she will be confused and grateful, though she may be hostile if you tell her the news, and after some time she will find you. If you choose, she will share her backstory, change her life plans or attire, or you can tell her to go home and forget everything. These choices are coupled with the subtle writing that the first Ghoul’s personality is not unique to him; other Ghouls exhibit similar traits, and Heather will become your own fangirl as you realize you’ve accidently altered her personality.

This example is not the end of her questline, and many other tales are told in the hospital and elsewhere in the first area of Santa Monica. What is more compelling is this one minor character is the standard for the whole game, and it doesn’t end after the first playthrough as all seven clans have unique dialogue (and character histories with in-game effects) as well as in-game changes such as the Nosferatu being unable to be seen in public or the mentally unstable Malkavians. It is physically impossible to experience everything your first, second or third run, and that is what seems unbelievable.

Think Role-Playing in a Horror Game, Not Horror in a RPG

When it comes to Bloodlines’ share of issues, there are two major issues that can be made more tolerable with different frames of mind. This division can be broken up between the gameplay problems as well as the overall conflicting tone of the writing that can best be thought of as a tabletop campaign, serious enough to invest players but never serious enough to laugh at itself. However, if you accept that Bloodlines is a role-playing horror game and not an RPG focused on its horror elements, then you can learn to accept and love the game for all its remaining faults and its unique quirks.

Let’s first delve into the gameplay problems as it’s the weakest component, and yet once you grow accustom to its mechanics you’ll perhaps agree it neither favors melee, magic or range combat unless you make improper builds. All weapons have requirements to use them properly, so if you use the .38 revolver while lacking the requirements it will feel clunky--the firing rate will feel sluggish and the aiming reticle will take longer to line up. This also affects melee combat where if you are inept you will not be able to chain combos. However, even if you are proficient there is some unexplainable sluggishness with the controls, so you may have to tap directions to unstick them. At the beginning, this is a greater issue as you will have your points spread out, but once you reach the endgame the combat feels more fluid. Toreador and Tremere are good newcomer clans as they are well-rounded, and the blood magic of the Tremere will make the initial combat easier to deal with. If you can deal with Silent Hills or Resident Evil controls, then the third-person or first-person combat will be manageable.

Secondly, the tone often leaves people with a myriad of questions. Some take the more serious aspects of its narratives to heart as it displays social commentary about the degeneracy in California due to the amount of smut, drugs, violence, etc. by humans compared to how more moral are those spawned from Caine, the first murder in the Bible. Others take its carefree dismal and mockery of serious topics like sexual abuse and harassment too seriously as they’re satirical meant for mockery/introspection. Bloodlines is this weird, uncomfortable--in a good way--type of game that is meant for adults because it treats the adult world as blasé and meant for critique, and yet it’s never too full of itself to stop every now and then to laugh even at the most inappropriate times. Honestly, some dialogue makes me want to praise Troika’s brass balls for daring to make a game tackle such controversial topics so openly. The best way to describe this tone is imagine a tabletop game with adults and a DM who balances a lot of racy topics with absurd side-quests to make everyone entertained. The point is never to offend to be offensive but to make something entertainingly insightful when creating moral dilemmas as heinous as sexual violence with many characters as the butt of the joke.

They Truly Do Not Make Them Like They Used to Anymore

It’s this latter aspect that Bloodlines is known for that I believe is why we’ve never seen a sequel. Considering how different the times are from the late ‘90s ambivalence towards moral outrage and other people’s feelings, anything that would follow up Bloodlines would feel neutered. No matter how well-intentional it may be if the game didn’t feature the same disregard for being offensive as well as creating a truly adult world open to mockery it would not be the same. Like its late ‘90s aesthetic, Bloodlines feels like a byproduct of its time that cannot be recreated in the same fashion, and it is simply another reason why that makes it even more special and all the more reason to cherish its dark beauty.

Project Horror 2019

Bonus Content


Brian's avatar
Community review by Brian (October 03, 2019)

Current interests: Strategy/Turn-Based Games, CRPGs, Immersive Sims, Survival Solo Games, etc.

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