Forget Baldur’s Gate 3’s Astarion, I’m playing the OG vampire RPG

Sorry to all the newly released RPGs, I'm playing Vampire The Masquerade Bloodlines, and - let me tell you - its troubled sequel has a lot to live up to.

A pretty woman with black hair tied back in a bun and golden hoop earrings grimaces into the cameras

There are a thousand and one vampire games out there, yet none have the allure of Vampire The Masquerade Bloodlines. Sure, by modern standards it’s pretty janky and looks its age (and then some), but the game has withstood the test of time and earned its place among the best RPGs. With a potential Vampire The Masquerade Bloodlines 2 release date on the horizon after an almost 20-year wait fraught with turbulent changes in developer, numerous lengthy delays, and rumors that the game had actually been canceled, I’ve asked myself again and again how it can continue VTM’s legacy and inject some new (eternal) life into a withering videogame franchise. The answer lies in Bloodlines’ roots, and if Bloodlines 2 draws upon them, it could be the best vampire adventure that we’ve seen in years.

I’m a stickler for fancy graphics and fluid combat, so diving into a game from 2004 following a brief adventure with Baldur’s Gate 3’s Astarion and friends was certainly a bit of a shock to the system. The stunning Toreador that I created in VTM Bloodhunt was very much gone, replaced with a pixelated Tremere with a deeply ugly matching skirt and crop top. Deep breaths, Lauren, deep breaths.

I had resigned myself to the fact that I’d probably end up playing an hour of the game before quitting, but as time rolls by and darkness ensues upon Seattle again, I find myself compelled to keep playing. Why? Bloodlines just has that je nais se quois that a lot of modern games don’t.

A group of pixel game characters dancing in a circle in a dark club illuminated by purple light with instruments on a stage

First off, the game’s clans are incredibly well-designed. The Toreador are obnoxious, the Tremere are straight-up weird, and – my personal favorites – the Malkavians are just ever so slightly disturbed.

Take the random street sign interactions, for example. If you’re a Malkavian, you can have a rather heated discussion with stop signs: “No, you stop,” you yell at the clearly inanimate object, which eventually defeats you in your mental battle for dominance. “You’ve made a powerful enemy today, sign,” you growl as you slink back into the darkness, spurned, angry, and vengeful.

It’s a stupid, tiny moment that’s easily overlooked, but it perfectly feeds into the clan’s lore. Malkavians are “lunatics” (at least, that’s what the other vampires say). They hear voices, see visions: Bloodlines finds ways to distinguish its characters and clans outside of their gameplay abilities alone. I hope that Bloodlines 2 continues that trend – the soul of the night is its vampires; the traits bestowed upon them by their clan’s blood lineage are integral to making a good VTM game.

This is where Bloodhunt, Sharkmob’s ill-fated battle royale game, went wrong. While you can chop and change which clan you’re playing as, it only really impacts how you look and the abilities you use. Sure, Mia greets a Nosferatu with distaste in Elysium and a fellow Toreador with open arms, but interesting interpersonal relationships are not its forte by design. Effective and engaging lore is, however, key to understanding the World of Darkness, and Bloodlines 2 needs to take this into account.

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But there’s something else I’d love to see newly announced developer The Chinese Room do with Bloodlines 2: lean into its atmospheric horror expertise. We haven’t seen a decent vampire horror game in a while. While Bloodlines 2 is primarily an RPG game, its predecessor scattered genre stereotypes to the winds with the Ocean House mission, again shaking things up in unexpected ways.

I’d heard rumors of Ocean House – which has been dubbed one of the best horror levels ever – so as soon as I received the mission from the irritable Therese Voerman (also Malkavian, by the way), I rushed through the sewers to take on the angry spirit haunting this once-proud seaside getaway. I was not disappointed.

A chandelier crashes to the floor before my very eyes, and the spectral figure of a fleeing woman screams as she passes through the corridor in front of me, leading me through a labyrinth of rotting basement tunnels. I turn a corner, and a ghost with an ax laughs menacingly before vanishing in an instant. There are no jump scares, no terrifying boss, just random objects being thrown at you and the sound of my own Psycho-esque screams and copious amounts of swearing.

I don’t want a copy and paste of Ocean House in Bloodlines 2, but what made White Wolf’s epic so special is that it’s so incredibly changeable. I’d play Ocean House again and again because I don’t know where the dangers lurk. I don’t know what’s behind each corner. Very few horror games make me feel that sense of foreboding – and none that center around vampires do.

The Chinese Room has what it takes to make a truly great vampire horror level and shake up the traditional RPG format all over again – it’s literally in the studio’s DNA. Look at Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs or Everybody’s Going to The Rapture, and the upcoming Still Wakes the Deep. A sense of ratcheting unease is what The Chinese Room does best. But Vampire The Masquerade Bloodlines is more than horror and lore – both of those elements alone don’t make for an amazing game. No, Bloodlines is just straight-up fun.

A dark dreary bedroom with furniture scattered all over the floor and 'get out' scratched into the wall above the bed

Yelling at TVs and other inanimate objects aside, the gameplay loop is really enjoyable. You run around, use your respective powers, drink blood from people peeing outside nightclubs (only high society types, of course, none of that cheap stuff), and just generally do vampire things.

It’s that feeling that Bloodlines 2 needs to hold onto. If it loses the essence of Vampire The Masquerade and turns its clans into soulless classes that exist in a humorless, inhuman world, it will fall on its face. What makes VTM so special is the coexistence of humans and vampires – sure, humans are food, but it’s their laws that govern the Camarilla; those at the bottom of the food chain here still hold power. VTM is a vampire story, but it’s a human one, too. Bloodlines perfectly treads that line, and I hope Bloodlines 2 does as well.

In a world of darkness, there’s always a little light – even if it’s just a really nasty stop sign. I hope Bloodlines 2 doesn’t snuff that humanity out.