“Strong cloud,” I mutter as our character prepares to drop into a fight with some local drug dealers. As a newly fledged vampire, and merely a thinblood at that, he doesn’t have the same prowess and mastery of a vampire’s many abilities, just yet. In fact, he’s barely got any abilities and, thanks to my persuasive arguing, the group of journalists watching the hands off demonstration of Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2 forsook the ability to turn into a bat or telekinetic powers in favour of being able to turn into fog.
At the time I thought it’d be a great idea. Sure, we couldn’t do our best Matt Berry impression and yell “BAT!” as we transformed or knock things over like invisible cats, but I thought becoming a bloodthirsty cloud would be a lot of fun. We could use it for stealth, seep under locked doors, that kind of thing. What I hadn’t quite counted on was just how pathetic a thinblood’s abilities would be. There’s no turning into a fog at will, but rather set moments where it would provide most use. Still, we could probably mist up someone’s glasses, if we wanted to.
Stepping into the seedier side of Seattle’s nightlife as a thinblood seems like a rather daunting task initially. Stepping out into parts of old town Seattle, and it’s a new dusk, a new night to explore, but you can go in so many directions. A few hours into the game and we’re finally starting to make some inroads with the various vampire clans that vie for power and influence in this setting. You see, you want to curry various favour in order to be inducted into their ranks, imbuing yourself with their particular abilities – for the purposes of the demo, though, our character was granted with a clan discipline in addition to a thinblood, with our choice of the Brujah leading to the aforementioned strength of our mild fog.
The events of the start of the game seem to have unsettled the various clans though, and you get a text message from a buddy alerting you that they’re now looking for some outside help to get a job done. All of them suddenly seem rather keen on another thinblood named Slugg, reaching him, and obtaining the information that he holds. And so we’re provided with a huge sprawl of possibilities, both in terms of how we want to advance the game’s story through the clan that we decide to do the job for, but also how we go about getting the job done.
Slugg, though just a thinblood, has already been afflicted by the curse of the Nosferatu. These are the information brokers of the vampire world, but even by vampire standards, they have to hide themselves away. There’s obviously no going out in the day time, but even at night, the disfigurement that they go through as they transform would immediately tug at the thin veil of the Masquerade.
While you’re already a powerful vampire, able to brush aside any regular human that gets in your way, this society lives and manipulates from the shadows. Too much overt vampiric action, too many kills in less than discrete situations and the masquerade could all come crashing down, the populace starting to stay home at night as word of disappearances and deaths spread. You’re actively encouraged to consider your actions in that regard, or find yourself being hounded and hunted by vampires sent to take you down.
Speaking to the Nosferatu helps get you the information you need to go and find Slugg – he’s living with the homeless in The Jungle below an overpass, in another nod to the real world of Seattle – but also sees them extend an olive branch to him, allowing him to be inducted into their clan when he’s been ostracised thus far. So there’s another angle to consider, potentially colouring your later actions.
Working across the city and we see it’s not just vampires out on the prowl in the darkness. Two foolish chaps try to mug our character and he quickly demonstrates that he might just be a thinblood, but this cloud is very strong by comparison, unleashing the Brujah’s Earth Shock that’s powerful enough to simply break their bones. Further, we then come across the aforementioned drug dealers, alongside their cooking lab and catatonic customers as we work through a string of otherwise abandoned buildings. It’s here that the earlier choice of thinblood discipline comes into play, as we need to get up to a particular vantage point. Chiroptian players will just turn into a bat and fly up to a gantry, Mentalists can manipulate some parts of the scenery, but us Nebulists had to go and find a vent to get sucked through.
Though humans are easy to deal with on their own or in small numbers, once they gather in a group, they can pose a threat – “Sneaky cloud?” I suggested when we were given another choice of approach to make. The Nebulist abilities mean we can mistily choke people to death, but that’s only really one person at a time, and you can potentially be overpowered by numbers. Hence the stealthier approach when working through the drug den.
As we catch up to Slugg, he plays a little too hard to get. The dialogue options in the game are broad, giving you plenty of scope to play a more diplomatic character, or simply allow you to impose yourself and threaten. Your background and growing reputation will inform those options, but interestingly just because you might have skilled up a particular side to your character and now have a particular dialogue option, that doesn’t mean that it will automatically succeed. So we decide to cut to the chase and beat down on Slugg.
That’s easier said than done as he’s suddenly supported by waves of gun-toting drug dealers. You can use the same weapons as they do, grabbing their assault rifles (because it’s America, remember?) and blasting away, or mix together your various vampiric abilities. That, however, requires blood, whether it’s snacking on a rat to top yourself up, or getting a more meaningful meal from a human neck.
A key side to the vampiric life is deciding just how much to embrace and enable the blood lust within you. Feeding regularly will make you more powerful in combat, but the brutality of this and other choices you make can cause you to gradually lose your humanity – this in and of itself will open up new story paths and dialogue options to explore. On the other side of things, you can avoid feeding the beast within, at the risk of losing control and slipping into a frenzy.
If the full game can live up to the promise of the demo, with its intimate depiction of a more historic Seattle, the messy sprawl of different clans and a world that adapts to your actions and meaningful choices, this will easily be one of the games of next year. I can’t wait to see more.
For Gamescom though, with a guided hands off demo, our actions meant nothing. With Slugg at our mercy, we convinced him that we’d let him live so long as he told us where his cache of information was kept, only to off him as soon as he told us.
I never said I was a nice cloud.