Brian Mitsoda never thought he’d ever get a chance to return to the dark fantasy world he helped bring to life in “Vampire: The Masquerade — Bloodlines.” But more than a decade after working as the lead writer on the cult-classic PC game, he’s back as the lead narrative designer for the surprising sequel.
“I think if fans can will a project into being, this is it. Their enthusiasm for [the first] game is nonstop. … It’s been a really surreal experience,” Mitsoda told Variety. “A lot of times throughout the whole process, we’ve just been like, are we really doing this, are we really making ‘Bloodlines 2’?”
Announced Thursday during the 2019 Game Developers Conference, “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2” is a first-person role-playing game coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC in early 2020. It takes place in Seattle 15 years after the events of the first game. You play as a new member of the undead, a victim of a rogue vampire attack known as the Mass Embrace. Though no fault of your own, the secret vampire council that governs the city puts you on trial, and plans to execute you once they find out what happened that fateful night.
But before they can get any real answers, flames engulf the courthouse, killing nearly everyone inside. After escaping the crumbling building and emerging into the rain-soaked city, you’ll have to find ways to feed your insatiable appetite for blood while also trying to uncover a sinister conspiracy.
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These events cover just the first few minutes of the game, setting the tone for what developer Hardsuit Labs and publisher Paradox Interactive hope to be an entertaining yet complex tale that explores the internal strife within Seattle’s supernatural underworld.
“From the narrative side, I knew I was on a good track when I’d send stuff to Paradox, and all the major [“Bloodlines”] fans would come back and start geeking out over the story,” said Mitsoda. “And I was like, ‘All right, I think we’re in good shape.’”
Once you’re free to explore the city, you’re given the option of choosing one of three abilities: chiropteran (brief flight as a bat), nebulation (transforms you into mist), and mentalism (taking control of objects with your mind). These skills are useful in a variety of situations. For example, you can use nebulation to pass through air vents to access hidden areas, or you can use it to choke your enemies to death. As you progress through the game, you’ll also gain additional powers to add to your deadly repertoire.
The melee-based fighting system is fast and brutal, with special context-sensitive moves — like running up a wall and jumping off with a flying punch, or deftly dodging an attack at the last second — that add some extra cinematic flair. The first “Bloodlines” wasn’t known for having good combat, so it was important for the developers to make sure that the sequel had fighting that was both fun and impactful.
But killing doesn’t have to always be the answer. Giving players that sense of freedom, of letting them solve problems through other means aside from violence, is another crucial aspect of the series that carries over into “Bloodlines 2.”
“You can use your social skills like seduction or negotiation, or you can just be smart about [navigating] the environment, to go around combat,” said Paradox lead producer Christian Schlutter. “You may not always be able to [avoid] combat, but if you’d rather play as a social vampire, you can absolutely do that.”
Between the powers, social skills, and the fighting system, the developers wanted players to truly think and feel like a vampire. And part of that involves hiding in plain sight, and feeding only when it’s safe (like in a dark alleyway where no one is watching). The Masquerade in the game’s title refers to a crucial law in the lore, one which states that vampires aren’t allowed to alert humans of their existence. Doing so could incite a war with the mortals, and that’s why the brazen Mass Embrace incident upended vampire society at the start of the game.
Bringing the series back
For Paradox, “Bloodlines 2” has been something it wanted to work on since acquiring White Wolf, the company behind the tabletop RPG “World of Darkness” (of which the “Bloodlines” series is a part of), in 2015. It was just a matter of finding the right development partner.
“We knew that if we did make ‘Bloodlines 2,’ we’d have to do it right. We’d need to deliver what people wanted,” said Schlutter. “Then [Hardsuit Labs] comes along with the perfect pitch and the writer of the first game, and on top of that, are incredibly nice people. So we started [working together]. It was a confluence of good things.”
Upon hearing about Paradox’s acquisition, the team at Hardsuit Labs (which previously made the free-to-play shooter “Blacklight: Retribution”) began brainstorming ideas for a theoretical “Bloodlines 2.” Their creative director contacted Mitsoda to see if the writer wanted to work on the game, and after a little back-and-forth between the two parties, they were able to nail down the basic premise of the story and the gameplay features it’d have.
Hardsuit Labs pitched Paradox in February 2016, impressing the publisher so much that by August of that year, the studio began ramping up production for “Bloodlines 2,” eventually expanding its small team of triple-A veterans to 50 people.
“Obviously, the fan expectations [for the sequel] are high, so we’ve gone in from the ground up, [thinking] what do fans want? What makes a ‘Bloodlines’ game? How do we make a great sequel to the first one? How do we improve on the first one? What didn’t work in the first one?” said Mitsoda. “These are all things we worked on.”