I will get on to my multiplayer exploits soon, but first I must relay a sudden turn for the worse in Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines. Last week I reported that I had reached Chinatown, and that despite the constant glitches, I was having a good time. That was the status quo up until a couple of days ago. I was being assigned some highly original quests (one involving me fetching an eye from the corpse of an enemy of a deranged chinese shop owner) and taking part in the usual engrossing dialogue—the highlight being a fascinating conversation with Beckett, a vampire scholar (and also my favourite character in the game), in which he divulges his private thoughts on Gehenna (vampire armageddon) and a little of his own history.
The tragedy occurred when I returned to the main plot quest (there’s always one), first infiltrating a family gathering of the Giovanni for Lacroix, the vampire prince of Los Angeles. The mission started very well, with a number of options available to the player as to how to gain entry to the Giovanni mansion, and thence to the inner sanctum in search of the mission objective (which I won’t describe here for fear of a spoiler overdose).
Naturally your clan (class) choice has a confining influence on those options, so for me (a Toreador) the straight-up assault approach was out of the question. I got in by tricking a drunk couple (well I say drunk couple—it was in fact just the wife who had had one too many vodkas) out of their tickets to the gathering. Once inside the mansion I once again went to work with my supernatural charm on the guests, currying favour, experience points, and, most importantly, access to the basement.
All superb RPG fare so far, but all good things must come to an end, and this good thing came to an end very quickly, at the mission’s conclusion. Having gained access to the mansion depths entirely through subterfuge, I was forced to fight through a limitless reserve of zombies, and then engage in a dull and repetitive boss battle of the kind you’d expect to find in an old genre progenitor like Duke Nukem. And that was only the beginning of my woes.
Next up was a mission impossible scenario—rescue an archaeologist from a fortress of the Society of Leopold (vampire hunters). My well honed skills were useless. Faced with a legion of trained killers aware of an impending assault my only option was to sneak my way in. Sadly the stealth system in Bloodlines is a shambles. The standard awareness meter, famously implemented in the Thief series, is what determines whether you’re spotted or not, but it works in such a retarded way that I could, with just one or two experience points spent in stealth, crawl past the hunters with them staring straight at me. You have to see it to believe it.
Being someone who sinks into boredom and despair rather easily, I surprised myself by striving through the mission, and the next one, and the next, hoping for a return to some more satisfying and involving gameplay, an injection of riveting dialogue—some relief from the monotony of endless combat. Grievously, nothing of the sort ever came.
Now I’m at another boss battle in the basement of the Sabbat headquarters, having gunned my way through three or four sprawling floors crammed with generic enemies. It turns out I simply don’t have the hit points and firepower I need to get through the confrontation, and so I’ve decided to stop playing. Having experienced the end-game twice before I know that things only go further downhill from now on anyway, so I won’t be missing much.
The fact that I will almost certainly return to Bloodlines at a later date despite all its low points is testimony to how unusual a case it really is. I’ve only ever played as two of the seven clans—Toreador and Tremere (vampire mages)—and I’ve heard amazing things about some of the others. Malkavians are supposed to be particularly interesting, having been driven mad by their vampirism to the extent that they hear voices emanating from inanimate objects and persons alike. I’ve no doubt there’s plenty of replay value to come.
Apart from its replayability though, I recommend Bloodlines to an RPG fan for its core brilliance. I won’t repeat what I’ve said in my previous post, suffice to say that it’s a game that scores highly where an RPG most needs to. It lets down its guard at times, with poor AI, frankly rubbish combat mechanics, and a platter full of bugs and unfinished content (neither of which taste very nice), but it’s still one of the best ‘serious’ games out there. What’s more, it’s now on a Steam for an incredibly low price. Give it a whirl.