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Review by: Keith Durocher
Published: December 8, 2004
“Well, let’s put it this way, I fought for the South.”
- Jesse, Near Dark
Amongst pen and paper role-playing fans, the only title as ubiquitous as the venerable Dungeons & Dragons is White Wolf’s Vampire: The Masquerade. The gritty alternate reality referred to as the World of Darkness is one of vampires, werewolves, ghosts, mages, and deep suburban sprawls. Glistening with the sheen of PVC, leather, studs, spikes, expensive suits, and fast cars, there is a gothic punk aesthetic to the World of Darkness that is undeniably cool. Development house Troika turned their attention to this setting after their acclaimed, Temple of Elemental Evil; the end result of their efforts being Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines, a sprawling and dark tale that touches on the end of times for undead-kind.
The storyline begins with the “embrace,” the act of a vampire turning a mortal into another of the damned. That mortal turns out to be you, about to enter into a very different phase of existence indeed. This particular bite stands out because it was done without the permission of the Prince, the arbiter of laws within a given city. Vampiric laws are harsh and unforgiving, and the kindred (what the vampires call themselves) who was your sire is executed in an open display of power. The ensuing outcry creates a moment of public relations generosity, and your life is spared. In the space of hours, you go from a one-night stand, to becoming a bloodthirsty parasite and witnessing the merciless death of your sire, to being literally tossed out into an alley and left to your own devices. Welcome to unlife, fledgling.
After being shown the basics by an extremely charismatic vampire named Jack, you are sent to a run-down slum in Santa Monica to use as a haven. You’re also given a contact named Mercurio to meet up with who is to assist you in becoming a productive member of Camarilla society. (The Camarilla is a secret society that governs a large percentage of vampires worldwide.) From there, you begin to unravel a convoluted knot of love, hate, conspiracies, cover-ups, and vengeance. The night is as endless as the political machinations of the dead. Troika didn’t just bang together a singular A-to-Z plot though; Bloodlines is extremely open ended with oceans of sub-plots that will keep you circulating through the Los Angeles underground for hours and hours.
Bloodlines is an RPG through and through; however, it is also built using a fully 3D first-person perspective – a combination that isn’t necessarily unheard of, but not exactly standard operating procedure for role playing, either. It’s the second release to use Valve Software’s Source graphics engine, hinting at previously unheard of levels of immersion. Character creation is built directly on the Storyteller system used by White Wolf for their pen and paper version of Vampire: The Masquerade; all your statistics, attributes, and disciplines (vampire super-powers) are gauged in “dots.” As you complete quests, you generate experience points that can be spent on increasing your dots and thus your abilities. Troika has provided two ways you can generate your avatar: custom delegate your clan and points, or answer a series of questions that will automatically decide what clan you most closely fall in with.
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