If you’re not familiar with the 2004 original, Bloodlines is a choice-driven RPG about vampires and their sexy politics, set in the tabletop-based World of Darkness (basically the tabletop equivalent of Universal’s Monster-verse, but… y’know… grim/dark… and sexy, because it was the 90s). The first Bloodlines launched with a slew of issues and bugs, largely because it was released somewhat unfinished due to some serious hiccups throughout development, but eventually got patched and repaired enough that it garnered a cultish following around its deep character choices and branching narratives.
Those choices and the effects they could have on your story were the main focus of my demo at E3. As with most game demos, the premise was simple: you have a mission to complete, go do that. In our case, our Thinblood character (a recently turned vampire without a particularly strong bloodline to draw power from) was hired by an operative of a powerful group of vampires to recover some information from a member of another vampiric clan.
That’s the thing about vampires, though: there’s all this competition between them. They aren’t like Werewolves in the World of Darkness, who just manage to work together, no – there are centuries of politics and power struggles constantly at play with one another. So it came as no surprise when an informant helping us find our target – a fellow Thinblood descended from the Nosferatu clan (a group of vampires cursed with hideous deformations, like their namesake, which prevent them from traveling through human-occupied areas) offered us a fine reward to betray our original quest-giver and help recruit our target, Slugg, to their cause instead.
I never got the specifics about exactly what the two factions’ beef with each other was, or why they both seemed to want whatever intel Sugg possessed, but there were plenty of options (and then some) for how I could resolve the situation once we found him.
Like any RPG worth its salt, Bloodlines 2 leans into the idea of letting you create a distinct personality for your character based on the dialogue options you select and the choices you make. While we could have easily negotiated with the informant and coaxed Slugg into giving us the information that we wanted, our demoist made the mistake of allowing me to choose our responses, which resulted in a myriad of insults and threats peppered into every conversation, at one point even straight-up blowing our Masquerade cover trying trash-talk our way past some street thugs by just saying, “Look man I’m a f&%king vampire so let me through.” Thankfully we were in a part of town where the locals are used to crazy street folk, so while they didn’t necessarily believe us they recognized we were wild enough not to mess with.
Ultimately the mission played out that we decided not to betray our original employer, but we allowed Slugg to escape with his life after turning over the data (and all the money in his wallet, because why wouldn’t you rob someone who tried to kill you?). This meant that while we didn’t earn any extra favor from our informant’s faction, we became a valuable resource to our more powerful new ally, and thus more likely to receive work or favors from them in the future.
“We want you to feel good about the choices you’re making,” says Brian Mitsoda, the Lead Narrative Designer on Bloodlines 2 told us. “We don’t want you to restrict you, like, ‘Did you do the good choice or bad choice?’ You make a choice, and there’s gonna be a possible reaction to that.”
One of the things that will have the greatest impact on how you are able to make these decisions and forge these relationships is which vampiric clan you choose to ally yourself with over the course of the campaign. Bloodlines 2 will, at launch, feature 5 possible clans to join (with at least two more coming as free DLC after launch). There’s the warrior clan, the Brujah, who are primarily combat-focused, a group of blood mages called the Tremere, the hedonistic Toreador, the politically savvy and aristocratic Ventrue clan, and the slightly-mad Malkavians, who will feature entirely unique dialogue options for players who choose to align with them.
Much like filling a role in a tabletop party, members of each clan are more suited to certain skills or playstyles. A Brujah character, for example, technically could choose to focus on social skills and improving their charisma, but the majority of their abilities is focused on being able to physically incapacitate their opponents. Likewise, a Toreador vampire is best skilled in the arts of persuasion and seduction, convincing others to do their bidding for them.
“I can probably throw out a number at you,” Mitsoda says of the myriad combinations of dialogue options and story outcomes. “But really what it comes down to is what you want to do.”
In this demo, we had the option to choose between a Brujah character or a Tremere sorcerer. I opted to see what the Tremere had to offer, and I’m glad I did – though I was also slightly horrified. The Tremere’s unique discipline focuses on using dark magic to manipulate the blood of their enemies, and this translated into our character straight-up exploding hostile characters into clouds and puddles of viscous red goo. While I think that combat is the part of Bloodlines 2 I’m most apprehensive about – some of the AI’s decisions are… questionable… and without actually being able to feel how it controls myself, it’s hard to say whether or not melee and armed skirmishes will be “satisfying” or not, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t cackle with malicious glee every time our demoist turned an enemy into a thick red mist.
Combat concerns aside, the big takeaway from my experience was finally getting a taste of just how different each player’s story in Bloodlines 2 can be. Between all of the narrative paths offered by the different factions, clans and various other relationships you can forge within its world – not to mention the plethora of dialogue options you have to navigate each conversation (I think I regularly counted four to six different responses for just one line of dialogue) – I’m eager to see just how far down so many different rabbit holes I can go.
JR is IGN’s Senior Editor of Features, and knows “F%&K YOU I’M A VAMPIRE” isnt’ a good defense against getting mugged, but might give it a shot someday anyways. Please tell him this is a bad idea on Twitter.