The RPG Scrollbars: The Long Night Of Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines (With Clan Quests)

They say the definition of madness is repeatedly trying the same thing and expecting different results. But hey, the Malkavians of Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines have lucked into stranger things, so I figure there’s at least a chance that one day I’ll fire it up and find a whole new adventure waiting. Today was not that day. Tomorrow isn’t looking too likely. Yet still it feels like it’s our best chance, until someone else finally figures out that urban fantasy is a painfully untapped genre for RPG awesomeness. (Looking at you, Hairbrained Schemes. Still time to ditch that boring Battletech license!*)

Still, while waiting for Shadowrun: Hong Kong this week, I felt that urge to head back to Santa Monica and check out some old haunts. The timing seemed fitting, especially with the launch of a new version of the Clan Quest mod the other week – one of several projects attempting to keep Bloodlines healthy over ten years after launch.

(* Battletech license may or may not be boring. But does it have vampires? No!)

I’ve dabbled with most of the Bloodlines mods at some point, though none of them have ever caught my fancy. I know, that sounds very dismissive. I don’t mean it to be, promise. Modding is hard enough when not working on a game barely held together with sticky-tape, and fans have done a fine job of gluing it back together and bolting extra bits on around the side. Wesp’s unofficial patch especially is basically mandatory if you’re going to play the regular game. The Companion Mod offered a good taste of the vampire as puppet-master rather than murder machine. And of course, who could turn down the option to represent Clan Chocula, the bloodline you can Count on.

For the most part though, the mods are focused on polishing mechanics that were never going to be that great, adding a few features here and there, and otherwise primarily doing touch-up duty rather than creating whole new after-dark adventures in Bloodlines’ style. They’ve been promised, but rarely actually shown up. Antitribu for instance adds the ability to play as the Sabbat clans and adds a whole load of disciplines to that effect, but its new questline from their perspective is still nowhere to be seen. The whole mod changed hands at the start of last month, so I’m honestly not exactly holding my breath. Elsewhere, The Final Nights claims to be so different from the game as to not warrant keeping the Bloodlines name, but suffice it to say that’s… ah… stretching the truth a little. Specifically, think ‘orbital bungee cord’.

Clan Quest is the best of the content mods I’ve played. Now, to be sure, that actual content’s been around for years now, but the update is still worthwhile due to its dependencies on other mods. This new version means an update to the Unofficial Patch and Camarilla Edition that it builds on, and being a bit pickier about additions to the base game. You can’t beat up the werewolf any more for instance, again having to either escape or trap it, because that goes against the point of the encounter. Likewise, a fairly half-assed tweak that allows the player to work with the Sabbat at the end of the game has just been cut, leaving the ending as it was. The mod also doesn’t go crazy with alternate character skins and fan posters and swapping out music in the clubs and all of that stuff. The installer offers a few options to turn on and off as you want, but generally keeps things trim and as the original designers intended.

The meat of the mod is its new quests – one for each of the clans. In theory, it’s quite cool that they’re scattered throughout the game and appear at suitable points, though in practice I wouldn’t have minded them being accessible from very early on (say, arriving in Downtown) or having a quick skip option. Great as Bloodlines is, that’s a loooooooooot of replaying for the sake of a single new quest. The Tremere quest for instance isn’t available until after dealing with the Gargoyle in Hollywood, while the Ventrue quest comes after Grout’s hellish mansion. It’s possible to use the console, cheat and jump straight to the relevant maps, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the right triggers will fire or the appropriate flags will be set. (He said, having tried.)

Still, get to them and there’s a decent chunk of new content and voice-acting, including for existing characters like Jeanette/Therese. Of the bits I’ve seen, I like those the most. One of Bloodlines’ biggest missed opportunities was only giving most of its characters the one thing to actually do, and expanding this helps add a sense of life going on outside your specific hub. The mod also adds a few extra bits outside of its remit to discover while playing, like a robbery at the Hollywood Red Spot, and a quest for evil players where you can work with the CDC to spread poison in the water supply. Do have subtitles switched on before talking to the NPC though, just outside Venture Tower, because he’s absolutely incoherent without them. Also handy is that while you can find these things while playing, there’s a walkthrough that tells you where each of them kicks off and what point in the story you have to be to get started.

(As a general note here, I wish all mods would offer something similar and be so upfront. Outright walkthroughs are perhaps a bit much, and I’d rather have played Clan Quests new stuff with just a casual pointer, but it gets amazingly frustrating to know that something has been added somewhere in a huge game… probably…)

While most of the mod projects are still ticking on, it seems unlikely that Vampire: Bloodlines will ever get its all-changing Nameless Mod or similar that picks up where Troika left off and the rest of the industry remains frustratingly uninterested in following. It’s a testament to the the game though that the lack of that continuation is so frustrating, especially in the wake of firing it back up and being reminded that, oh yeah, while the characters and dialogue and mood are great, goddamn that combat and those sewers and the bits after Hollywood.

I remember being at Eve FanFest a couple of years ago when they showed off footage from the now-cancelled MMO version, and as much as World of Darkness looked nice, just about everyone I spoke to agreed that the best thing in its favour was its use of Bloodlines’ music and what that said about the experience and atmosphere that CCP had in mind. It might have been great, it might have been the worst game ever, but I’m still sorry that we never got to find out. And sorrier that the only thing CCP has done with the license on PC since then is shut down the attempted Bloodlines remake Project Vaulderie. Cue a sigh. So much time wasted on Dust 514 that could have been spent making something people wanted to play.

But, anyway. In a year where so many classic RPGs have taken another turn in the spotlight, it seems appropriate to use a brief moment of quiet to head back and remember why Bloodlines remains so beloved. Its tech is aged, its maps are simple, its combat is rancid and you would have to pay me to play the Warrens again – and not just a little money – but behind it all is a real gem of a game that still has much to teach. Even the most advanced mods may not build on it enough to make it a whole new experience now, but they’re at least a pretty good reason to go back to find a few new surprises or twists, and relive at least a few cool bits you probably forgot.

33 Comments

  1. TomxJ says:

    Alot of RPGs use have characters only do ‘one thing’. It seems like such a waste. I definately prefer a smaller cast of characters with more depth.

    oh and also…

  2. RQH says:

    Arright, people who have been paying more attention than I have, tell me someone’s kickstarted a “spiritual successor” to this. It would seem to tick all the marks, with the right people behind it. Cult classic due for an update, etc.

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      Lars Westergren says:

      There was one attempt that mentioned being a spiritual successor outright, but they had very little to show and failed. (Googling found it in the RPS forums)

      link to kickstarter.com

      Onyx Path Publishing which handle the original source books for the p&p have done a number of successful Kickstarters for new and expanded editions.

      Bian Mitsoda who was one of the lead designers and writers has been working for over a decade on Age of Decadence, which should hopefully be out towards the end of this year. More Arcanum/Fallout than Vampire:BL in style, but if you like lots of lore and choice&consequence it might be for you. I have high hopes for it.

      • carewolf says:

        Of course it failed. Why would anybody want another FPS? an RPG yes, but FPS.. No.. And that cannot possibly be a spiritual succesor to Bloodlines, because that is not a first person shooter.

      • plugav says:

        Aside from not having much to show, they claimed it to be based on Masquerade but didn’t have the license. Real dodgy from the start.

        There was also Dark, obviously Bloodlines-inspired, but that wasn’t too great from what I’ve seen and heard.

      • Harridan says:

        Psst. Mitsoda’s not on the Age of Decadence team – that’s Iron Tower Studios. He founded DoubleBear Productions, who worked WITH Iron Tower to make Dead State (on sale on Steam now btw). He’s been asked RE: sequel to Bloodlines on Twitch streams before and basically on top of whatever it cost to get the license a real sequel’d prolly cost like $10M these days.

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      Lars Westergren says:

      But yeah, agreed, this has to be really low hanging fruit now with the nostalgia/old-school/Kickstarter wave, and I’m also suprised no one has tried to pluck it.

      One problem is FPS/3D creates lots more expectations about graphics I expect.

      Still, one can hope Obsidian, inXile, Hairbrained, Larian or someone else eventually goes for it. Or hey, maybe the Deus Ex studio can do a AAA title of it? If the writing is good, I’m in.

      • Baines says:

        To really sell it, you need stuff that is part of the Vampire: The Masquerade license.

        Otherwise, you are just making a generic vampire-themed RPG. Maybe you can get away with classes and abilities that have had their serial numbers filed off, but then you reach the question of whether or not it is even worth the effort to make a decent-sized story-driven game with the appearance of lots of character choice and then limit it to vampires that almost but legally are not the vampires that people actually wanted.

        • RQH says:

          No, I don’t believe that for one second. VtM didn’t invent supernatural noir, vampire politics, or any of that.

          I understand the high cost and difficulty of doing an RPG well as a barrier, but I don’t for one second believe that the subject matter or lack of a license is what’s holding this back. (Except insofar as zombies, postapocalypses and dwarves’n’elves fantasy settings seem to be preferred by the people who would make this sort of thing at the moment.)

          • Mordaedil says:

            The funny thing is that I think it’d work just as well if they made their own setting or even if they based it on Blade or the Underworld movies.

          • Archonsod says:

            White Wolf didn’t invent the genre, but a lot of what makes the writing work is World of Darkness material. It’d be difficult to get anywhere near the same feel without encroaching close enough to get the lawyers sniffing around. They sued over Underworld (which settled out of court) and about the only thing that really had in common was the Vampire vs Werewolves thing.

        • RQH says:

          I mean, by that logic, Obsidian was wasting their time building Pillars of Eternity, or CDProjekt was wasting their time with the considerably less well known Witcher license, because they didn’t have the D&D license.

          • Baines says:

            The D&D license is different.

            If you aim for a D&D license, then you want either (or both) a specific D&D world or the D&D ruleset itself. D&D as a general idea is pretty much generic fantasy, and not a hook on its own.

            Even the worlds themselves are largely generic. Dragonlance used to be big, but has long been forgotten. Drizzt became a bigger character than the world that contained him, Forgotten Realms. Planescape may be more remembered because of the computer game Planescape: Torment. Spelljammers was D&D in space, while Ravenholm was supernatural D&D.

            As for the ruleset, D&D rules were never great to begin with. They were workable, but they were also fiddly, annoying, and exploitable. If you sell yourself on D&D rules, then you are locking yourself into certain behaviors. If you only want bits and pieces, then you can do better to fit your ideas by rolling your own rules. D&D rules have been borrowed, bent, and used as the basis of so many other rulesets that D&D rules themselves suffer from a kind of generic-ness, unless you keep all the fiddly and annoying bits that are likely limiting you more than helping you.

            So, no, doing pretty much anything other than license D&D is the right thing unless you are dying to have a licensed D&D game, because the D&D license offers so little.

            Vampire: the Masquerade is a pretty basic ruleset with fleshed out clans and setting. It isn’t the only choice for making a vampire RPG, but it is a stronger basis than D&D is for making a fantasy RPG. (And note that I did say that you could make a non-VtM spiritual successor to Bloodlines, but that by that point you might start to question whether you want to spend that effort on a VtM clone. Because to be a real spiritual successor to Bloodlines will take a lot of work, because you need the clans and the options and all the conversations and such or you are just a generic vampire RPG rather than the spiritual successor to *the* vampire RPG.)

    • zxcasdqwecat says:

      Project dogmat and a first person udk thing are everything I’m aware of.

  3. Baines says:

    Unfortunately, I think Vampire really needs a remake to shine again. As you said, it was already creaking at the seams at release, and basic parts of the game are just too clunky.

    But CCP isn’t going to allow attempts to do that.

  4. Skeletor68 says:

    That OST was gorgeous.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      I was in Santa Monica the other year. Couldn’t not spend some time wandering around the pier with Deb Of Night playing on iPhone.

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        heretic says:

        I have the soundtrack and it’s always a laugh when Deb Of Night starts playing on the random queue, it’s brilliant! :D

    • Turkey says:

      Moldy Old World might be my favorite piece of video game music.

      • Darth Gangrel says:

        I really like the track before that, called mission impossible, when you’re outside the Society of Leopold. That and the Bloodlines theme and the Downtown theme and and and…

        I have to say that I disagree with many things that are pointed out as bad in this game. I quite enjoy the combat, both melee with its simplistic, but brutally satisfying gameplay and the ranged combat. Disciplines are very fun to use as well. Chinatown is more fun to play through than Hollywood and while the last bit gets overly combat focused, some of my favorite moments are in that section. Also, there is now a Skip the Warrens option included in the unofficial patch.

  5. Muppetizer says:

    Oh man I’ve been totally having my annual Bloodlines cravings, but I’ve been too afraid to dive in and let it happen because I don’t want that week where I’m suddenly back into goth music to happen again. I just don’t need that in my life right now.

    This article was the perfect balm, thanks Richard!

  6. MikoSquiz says:

    The combat was meh in the context of an otherwise wonderful game, but it wasn’t spectacularly awful on the level of The (first) Witcher or Morrowind, and those don’t get this kind of stick for their disastrous ‘action’ components.

  7. Darth Gangrel says:

    For an almost 11-year-old game that didn’t sell well and was buggy as hell, this game about undead people sure has plenty of life left, what with all the coverage it gets here.

    The mod scene is amazing and very much quality over quantity, with basically every mod available at one place and based on the unofficial patches. I almost didn’t want to read this article, because I haven’t done all the clan quests or even started the Antitribu mod. 350 hours on Steam and a dozen playthroughs before my discs got corrupted left a big impact on my backlog-reducing efforts, so not gonna play more for a while. If I wait until I’ve finished some more games there will probably be even more mod content waiting for me, so that’s also a reason to hold up on playing it again.

    Really hoping *someone* would do something with the VtM or other World of Darkness IP’s or anything similar to Bloodlines/Redemption. The only thing coming close to that is Vampyr, set to be released 2017.

  8. malkav11 says:

    I’m sad that CCP has shown no inclination to do anything much with the license, but I’m not really that sad about the MMO sputtering out because I sincerely doubt it would have been particularly distant from “Eve with fangs”. I’m sure that’s something that would excite the vocal handful of people that really LOVE PvP-intensive sandbox MMOs and can’t fathom why the market isn’t ridden with Eve clones, but it’s about diametrically opposite the sort of thing -I- would want to play.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      The video I saw had a lot of potential for single-player/lower group size fun (whether it would have offered it or not is another story) with its fluid travelling mechanics and atmosphere and scope for col emergent stuff. I’d have liked to have seen it either way.

      • malkav11 says:

        Eve technically has PvE content but it’s hugely unmemorable and certainly not what anyone ever mentions when talking about the game. I just don’t trust those guys to do anything worthwhile in that vein. They do have a great grasp of atmosphere, though.

  9. Kalistri says:

    What about The Secret World? It has an urban fantasy setting, and there are vampires in it, though you don’t actually get to play them yourself. It kind of suffers from being an mmo, but many things about it set it apart from other mmos, for better or worse, depending on your tastes.

    For instance are really unique, not only to the mmo genre, but to gaming in general. There’s stuff where you have to figure out puzzles which may require you to say… go to a website outside the game or read a short story by Edgar Allen Poe for a clue… stuff like that. So you can see how it’s kind of aimed at a somewhat niche audience.

    If you’re into urban fantasy, I’d say it’s worth at least checking out a gameplay video to see if it appeals to you.

  10. oceanclub says:

    God yes, someone Kickstart a spiritual success that captures even the spirit of the game and I’d be all over it.

    P.

  11. MoonV says:

    Maybe, just maybe this new Vampyr game by Dontnod and Focus will be the successor we are looking for. link to youtube.com
    Quote for a comment by Focus:
    “We are pleased to officially announce, with a concept teaser, our partnership with acclaimed game-development studio DONTNOD, creators of Remember Me and Life Is Strange, for the development of Vampyr, a new role-playing game powered by Unreal Engine 4 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.

    This RPG set in early 20th century Britain promises to offer a unique, deeply immersive role-playing experience steeped in vampire mythology, with fresh mechanics, visceral combat and a compelling story.

    The game is expected to launch on PS4, Xbox One and PC with a retail and digital release in 2017.”