There are many things that make 2004’s Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines a great game. The heritage of White Wolf’s classic pen-and-paper RPG, the sharp writing, the gritty and mature take on vampire lore. Werewolves. But 15 years later, the reason it still stands tall among role-playing games is the way your character’s race – or rather, their vampire clan – can affect the experience.
More than simply offering stat bonuses or dictating aesthetics, your choice of clan ripples through each playthrough in a number of far-reaching, inventive ways. While most of the game’s seven clans are pretty standard – the Brujah are your melee-friendly meatheads, while the Tremere are akin to mages or warlocks – two stand out as good examples of Bloodlines’ depth, and have thus emerged as clear fan favourites.
First, the Malkavians. Easily the most unique of all clans, these Kindred (vampires) hear voices, speak in hilarious and brilliantly-written nonsensical sentences, and often hear TV or radio broadcasts directly addressing them. They even allow the player to potentially predict major story beats through their ‘Gift of Insight’, which will occasionally blurt out cryptic clues relating to key characters.
They’re fun, bizarre, unpredictable, and a staple of Bloodlines lore, confirmed to return in the sequel. If you haven’t experienced Malkavian madness first-hand, boot up a copy of Bloodlines (or just go to YouTube) and you’ll get their appeal immediately.
Secondly, the Nosferatu, or ‘the damnedest of the damned’, as they’re also known. These poor souls have the worst luck: physically deformed and despised by humans and Kindred alike, the Nosferatu are too disfigured to live among human society. People quite literally run screaming upon seeing them, so they live as outcasts, scurrying through the darkness like rats.
Exposing the existence of vampires – or violating the titular ‘Masquerade’ – is strictly against Kindred law, and obviously, the Nosferatu run this risk merely by being seen. This imposes a wholly different approach to public spaces in the game and – cruelly – precludes you from seducing anyone to get what you want. But the Nosferatu have other means: as a consequence of their ostracism, they are experts in stealth and hacking. This makes them very good at obtaining information, and thus a reluctant yet valuable asset to their fellow Kindred.
Paradox has already outlined the clans that will be playable at launch in Bloodlines 2, those being: Brujah, Toreador, Tremere, Ventrue, and Malkavian. Launching with fewer clans is possibly a move to make the sequel more accessible; Bloodlines could be a little overwhelming in some ways, such as its many different spells and the complex ways in which they were or weren’t shared between clans. Bloodlines 2 will likely be a simpler, more easily digestible RPG.
Perhaps it makes sense, then, as disappointing as it may be, that the Nosferatu won’t be playable in the sequel at launch (Paradox has outlined a plan for post-launch DLC that will include new clans). Although they became beloved for their esoteric and restrictive approach, they arguably provided the greatest challenge in the original Bloodlines. The Nosferatu’s brutal limitations could be offputting, especially for newer players.
Thankfully, the off-kilter Malkavians will be there to supplement Bloodlines 2’s clans at launch. I’ll be very tempted to immediately jump into one of their misshapen minds before trying anything else, but the experience of doing so will have a lot to live up to.
That said, I’m sure the developers are taking care to ensure the Malkavians meet the expectations laid down by the original game and its tabletop predecessor, and there’s plenty of scope to take their ideas further. Even the biggest fan would agree there’s room for more nuance in the Malkavians’ exaggerated depiction of mental health conditions.
Hardsuit Labs have a tough job ahead of them. Rebooting a series is never easy, and rebooting a cult favourite is even harder. Pleasing everyone will be difficult, but the team has one of gaming’s most original and exciting worlds in their hands – one that’s ripe with potential.
The writing in the original Bloodlines was fantastically fresh and witty, but the bar for videogame writing has been raised significantly since then. I can only cross my fingers and hope that Bloodlines 2 can match its lofty legacy.