“Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” Review

Screenshot from in-game, by Tai Goodman.

It’s no question that being able to be a vampire in a video-game sounds awesome. Walking amongst the living as a cold-blooded, fanged bloodsucker that rests during the day, then rises as a creature of the night- who wouldn’t want something like that?

Unfortunately, every game that tries to capture this feeling fails, except for one: “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines,” a cult classic RPG that is awesome for its combination of monster culture blended with outstanding writing and player freedom.

After being bitten during a one-night stand with a vampire, you eventually become one. For vampire-kind, transformation without permission is illegal, and your sire- the one who bit you- is executed for breaking one of many laws of the Masquerade made for concealment among the living. Prince Sebastian LaCroix allows you to live in exchange for carrying out deeds for him and the Camarilla, who are the authority of vampire society. Whether you truly do or not is up to you once you’re free.

The world of “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” is expansive. There’s a story rich with lore about a monster-political war, and ancient vampires that descended from Caine. For individual people, it’s about clashing with humankind daily, struggling to keep one’s humanity after transformation, and blurred lines. This isn’t just vampires, though. “Bloodlines” includes different creatures, like zombies, werewolves, and ghosts.

The voice acting is top-notch, and it’s only complemented by the fact the facial expressions and animations have aged extremely well. Talking to Nines Rodriguez about making amends, then watching him whip out a pistol with an angry scowl is enough to make you flinch. On the other hand, “Gorgeous” Gary Golden’s hideous vampiristic appearance can be ignored due to his debonair fashion and smooth-talking. Everybody is unique in this dark, dark world.

It’s your characterization that will affect all interaction, though. Based on the tabletop role-playing game of the same name, it plays like a D&D game. You first must carefully pick a clan. Each clan is different, fits a certain playstyle, and affects your skill tree, interactions, and abilities. For example, the Gangrel clan does more damage with their paws than firearms, but someone in Toreador might be able to persuade, threaten, or seduce their way out of problems. Two standouts are the Malkavian clan, which speak absurdly and hear voices, and the Nosferatu, a deformed vampire clan that must sneak and traverse sewers to stay out of sight. After choosing a clan, you’ll fill in your skill tree. To increase a skill later on, you need a specific amount of acquired skill points.

“Bloodlines” has a high level of replayability. Depending on your skills and abilities, you might miss things. One example happens during a mission involving an art gallery next to a parking garage. A cop is patrolling the front of the premises, and with adequate persuasion or seduction, you could talk your way past him. You wouldn’t know that you could also sneak through a weak-point in the parking garage wall unless your investigation skill was high enough to highlight it.

The quests that these moments take place in are all equally interesting. You travel across four main areas of Los Angeles: Santa Monica, Downtown, Hollywood, and Chinatown. Each is hiding something amazing to take on or carry out, so all buildings are worth entering, and everybody is worth conversing with. You might get wrapped up in something like retrieving a locket from a haunted hotel, or stopping a gargoyle from terrorizing a theater. There are different outcomes based on your moral choices or your skills, and sometimes the best choice might be the worst on your character. Is it really right to talk a serial killer down, or kill them and prevent further disaster? Questions like those will populate your mind.

Whenever you can’t talk or sneak around things, that’s when action kicks in. The combat in the game is purely affected by your clan and skills. Firearm recoil and reload speed is affected by your ranged weapon stats. Have them too low, and you’ll spray and pray. Fill them high, and you’ll be a crack-shot. This doesn’t necessarily mean the shooting is top-notch, and the later parts of the game rely on it a little too much, but not to where it sours. On the other hand, melee combat is just a game of trading blows by clicking the mouse. What saves it from becoming tedious is the visible impact during combat, like sending people flying across the room. If you’re able to, your disciplines, which are like magic spells, consume an amount of blood to level the playing field. A Brujah could use “Potence” to increase their strength, but a Nosferatu could send a “Burrowing Beetle” to damage an enemy from long range.

Keep in mind, this is no average RPG. Unlike most open-world games like “Fallout” or “Elder Scrolls,” you can’t just run around and be absolutely violent. You have to adhere to the Masquerade. This means no exposure by sucking blood in public, allowing a human who has knowledge of vampire-kind to live thereafter, or use disciplines in plain view. Get five strikes, and you lose the game. Luckily, you can repair strikes by doing things that would conceal or protect vampire-kind.

Similarly, your humanity is represented by ten points, and increases or decreases based on extremely moral or immoral decisions. Humanity is important in order to prevent you from frenzying, and you don’t want to do that in public, as you’ll lose control, spontaneously breaking into combat with anyone nearby. In a game about monsters struggling to get along, it’s trying to remind you that you’re still human at heart, and that choices have consequences. 

The game is an extraordinary role-playing experience, but it should be known that it’s not exactly perfect in terms of performance. A singular fan had repaired the whole game with a patch he made in 2009, which only keeps getting updated today, but you’re required to download it in order to play the game without it crashing. Even then, there are a few bugs. Most commonly, it’s a person sliding out from somewhere and then disappearing. However, this RPG is so full of style that none of these issues will get in the way.

“Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” is one of the most interesting, complex, and entertaining worlds that most gamers have never experienced- but need to. While it might not shine bright as a technical masterpiece, it shines great as an open-ended story of vampires butting heads over control and power. This being said, it doesn’t suck to be a vampire- pun intended.

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