Have You Played Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodines?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

I’ve checked the RPS master Have You Played document seven times now, convinced that I’ve made an error. How could we not have written one about Vampire Bloodlines yet? In many respects, the modern gothic RPG is the ur-RPS game, a game of promise and ambition way before its time – and way beyond its own capabilities – and one with Things To Say in addition to darkness and choice and strangeness and cities and consequences.

There is so much wrong with Bloodlines, and it isn’t ageing as well as one might hope. It doesn’t matter. None of it matters. Because there is so much right, so much that seems somehow more startling now. This was a game from Activision. Activision! And it’s about sex and abuse and power and sadism and humanity and loss and regret and, yes, also a lot of fighting things in tunnels. Its heart is dark, its mind inquiring and it haunts my memory still.

It wasn’t really finished, famously. This seemed a tragedy at the time, but these days it somehow bolsters Bloodlines’ legend. A game that was not meant for this world, but which somehow squeezed the best part of it in through some portal to some other, better dimension. One where games like this were the standard, rather than a darkly beautiful exception.

I know it is difficult to fit a large game into one’s life when that game is several years old and large new games are arriving all the time. But, if you haven’t before, do yourself a favour and go play Bloodlines’ first zone, then leave. It opens so strongly and sets itself a precedent it cannot realistically meet, but those first two or three hours will reveal all you need to know about why Bloodlines is so revered, and so treasured.

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  1. INCSlayer says:

    Loved the idea with this game and i have always enjoyed it when i try to play through it but sooner or later everyone of my playtroughs end due to bugs :( so i have never finished it

    • Aerothorn says:

      Make sure you play with the fan patches! It should be more or less bug-free with those.

  2. aepervius says:

    I have played it through and through, even the modded version with the new clans. I probably played it to the end 5 or 6 times, but then again I probably now avoid major bug by reflex :P.

  3. JakeOfRavenclaw says:

    It’s a cult classic for a reason: there’s never been anything quite like it since. Certainly never anything like the Malkavian playthrough, anyway.

    This game felt like a world, not just a collection of levels. Which is odd, because it’s not like the levels were particularly big, or even particularly packed with detail by modern standards. But it had so much personality, so much character, that I felt as immersed in it as I ever have with any game. For some reason it’s the clubs (with their wonderfully dated mid-aughts goth-rock) that stick in my memory the most. More games should have scenes set in clubs.

    Of course it falls apart completely at certain points (I went through the last few levels in god-mode, after things just got too frustrating), but still. Until we get this franchise’s equivalent of Human Revolution, Bloodlines remains a really singular experience.

    • Emeraude says:

      Until we get this franchise’s equivalent of Human Revolution

      Monkey paw wish if there ever was one.

      Though I will grant you HR has maybe more Bloodlines that DX in its DNA when you’re down to it.

    • gabrielonuris says:

      Exaclty this, it has personality. It doesn’t rely on collectibles, or in a certain number of quests/levels structure like it was a to-do list to develop, and to play. It doesn’t waste our time with boring activities or useless backtracking, it just… exists, like a real world.

      When I first entered my apartment in this game, I’ve felt like it was actually my home, my haven (specially when Heather came to live with me).

      I’ve finished it a dozen times already, and still play it (with or without mods). For me this game has reached a point in the video game history where it wasn’t a planned accomplishment, but a development accident. It won’t ever happen again, even if Activision resurrect Troika with every and each team member from that time.

      • melancholicthug says:

        That is EXACTLY how I felt! The very first time I got to the Pier, on that seedy LA street, all those years ago. In fact, just to be sure, are you me?

        • gabrielonuris says:

          Lol, I don’t think so… maybe we’re replying to ourselves! =p

          This game is full of memorable moments and places, I could talk about it for ages… Other places that I feel as they’re real: Club Asylum, Confession, Asp Hole, Vesuvius… Damn, that Velvet Velour… VV, for friends, lol!

    • Werthead says:

      It’s possible. Some of the Troika guys are at Obsidian, Paradox just bought the VTM rights and Obsidian and Paradox are tight with each other at the moment. It feels like something *should* happen there.

      • Fadaz says:

        I’m Icelandic and with ties to CCP and still think it truly was a good day when they sold the rights to World of Darkness and all subsidiaries. Paradox and/or Obsidian really could do something with that license. Unfortunately, my old mates really never knew what they had in their hands.

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      Few games are able to immerse me so fast and to such an extent as Bloodlines. No other game has as good and varied voice acting, dialogue or facial expressions.

      I’m as surprised as RPS that isn’t hasn’t come up sooner in their HYP segment. With the number of articles about it, they’re almost as into it as I am. It’s only my most played Steam game and that’s after I had played it a dozen times, when my discs got corrupted, so I had to buy it again. I would play it more, but have sworned to let go of the past and embrace the future (aka, reduce my backlog).

  4. calcifer says:

    Here we are, 12 years later, and there is still nothing quite like Bloodlines. I still do the occasional playthrough every few years. The unofficial patch fixes pretty much everything and if you are looking for more, there are tons of mods with new factions, quests and more.

  5. Danarchist says:

    I hate vampires in general, but I loved this game soooo many times it counts as a common law marriage. Just so well written (er…not well coded…) that it could eat a whole weekend without batting an eye. Whenever I see someone shouting that Witcher 3 is the best RPG eva I want to sit them down with my laptop for a play through of this one. I love Witcher 3 don’t get me wrong, but after a couple hours you figure out that there are X different question actions (witcher sense the clues, hunt the werewolf in the cave, dive to the ship, etc). Bloodlines was continually different and exciting.
    Maybe one of these days a studio will take a break from creating new +MOBA! games and actually create something similar

  6. Lintire says:

    It’s not a game from Activision, it’s a game from Troika.

    Rest their souls.

    The day some trumped up publisher gets credit for developing a game they deliberately sabotaged is today, I guess.

    • zbeeblebrox says:

      “The day some trumped up publisher gets credit for developing a game they deliberately sabotaged is today”

      – is every day, constantly.
      It’s at the point where unless the dev is an indie self-publishing, there’s a 4/5 chance they’ll never get credit for their work.

  7. arctic.vampire says:

    How can you mention this game but not the community ?
    The base game has loads of problems, but those are fixed by Wesp5. The latest Unofficial Patch was made March of this year.
    The dedication to this game is fantastic.

  8. Premium User Badge

    Jekadu says:

    I’ve tried. Last year or so I installed the game on Steam and downloaded version 9.whatever of the fan patch.

    The game crashed within five minutes each time I fired it up. I didn’t even get past the character creation screen.

    Even ten-plus years of constant fan patches can’t seem to fix this mess.

    • Danda says:

      Steam is famously terrible with old games. Luckily, it’s now on GOG. And it happens to be on sale now!

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      My partner’s version stopped working suddenly late last year and even the fan patches haven’t yet fixed it. Some windows or driver update breaking compatibility is the most likely culprit, but neither of us have yet figured out exactly what or why.

      • Emeraude says:

        If it’s a retail version, it might be because Microsoft removed in a security update some components used by the DRM that had become a liability.

        The latest versions of the fan patch should address the issue though.

        Another two good reasons against DRM.

    • MisterFurious says:

      Thousands of people have played it with little to no problems at all but it’s still a hot mess because you couldn’t get it to work.

      • Premium User Badge

        Jekadu says:

        I started playing a few weeks after a major patch milestone was hit. As I recall, the devs were proud that they had managed to get rid of all known crash bugs. When the game crashed within five minutes in a way that seemed unique to me, I decided that I would probably need to wait a few more years.

        Calling the game a mess is not some kind of attack on it, its fans or its modding community. It’s simply an observation.

    • cromagnumpi says:

      Try launching in offline mode. Then the display will break but if you tab out and tab back then press esc it should skip to the menu and from then on plays fine.
      This fixed it for me…somehow

  9. Colby Anger says:

    Yeah, it’s still pretty incredible that there’s almost no other RPGs like Bloodlines. I knew almost nothing about the VtM universe when I played it for the first time (I bought a boxed copy in a store the week of release, prior to Steam or the fan patch), and decided to play as a Malkavian due to the personality quiz you can take at the start of the game. WOW, WAS THAT THE CORRECT CHOICE.

    I ended up actually finishing the game with my first character, but in hindsight I have no idea how I managed to avoid all of the game-ending bugs. Maybe the Malkavian powers saved me?

    I tried playing it again once the fan patches started, and at this point I’ve played through most of the game using almost every family. There’s just something about the whole experience that hasn’t been replicated elsewhere. That almost every vampire bloodline has its own unique experiences and interactions that you only get to see once, and only if you play into each bloodlines’ quirks and character. Going back now, the VtM version of early 2000s L.A. is almost quaint, and it still feels “real and lived in” despite the claustrophobic level design and total lack of AI civilians going about their nightly lives that more recent games (like Witcher 3, Watch_Dogs, Fallout 3, NV, 4, etc.) have since made a standardized feature. I mean, there are still civilians wandering around, but they don’t really do anything other than stand around waiting for you to snack on them.

    Still, Bloodlines is full of great moments, from the Haunted House to the Werewolf Park and everything in between. It’s great, despite the janky combat, bugs, and unfinished parts. I’m really hoping that teams like CD Projekt Red can put some of the lessons taught by this game into use for their future projects like Cyberpunk, as it would be a shame for such great design to be lost to time.

  10. GewaltSam says:

    Because no one else seems to have noticed so far: It should be Bloodlines, not Bloodines, shouldn’t it? :) Or maybe blondines…

  11. Kefren says:

    I’ve played through it multiple times. Different clans and choices make it replayable and different each time. Some quests I didn’t even find again on later playthroughs. It was all a rare case of feeling like I lived in the world, rather than just playing a game. (Same with System Shock 1 and 2, Deus Ex 1 and 2).

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    gritz says:

    You say there’s nothing like it, but I see its fingerprints on all sorts of modern games.

    It was “Guns and Conversation” before Mass Effect took that ball and ran with it. It was “Choice and Consequence” before TellTale distilled those into their purest form. It was the lone “Immersive Sim” candle keeping the flame going in the dark days of the early 2000’s. It had an entire level without combat or stealth or NPC’s, just exploration and the story of an empty house, long before Gone Home. It was body horror and jumpscares before Amnesia. It was puppetmaster plot-twist as metacommentary on player agency before “Would You Kindly” was a twinkle in Bioshock’s eye.

    Plus it had a killer soundtrack.

    • GameCat says:

      This comment makes me consider to going back to it, but then again it totally underwhelmed me on my first and only try. :|
      This game really throw too much options at you at the very beginning.

    • Emeraude says:

      It was “Choice and Consequence” before TellTale distilled those into their purest form.

      I feel like making a joke on that, but I can’t find a way to do it without sounding meaner than I actually want.

      Oh, well…

      Emeraude will remember this.

    • Premium User Badge

      gritz says:

      Also, as far as I know, it remains the only game to this day that has a power that makes everyone in your immediate vicinity begin involuntarily vomiting insane amounts of blood.

  13. coogee78 says:

    I would have played it through somewhere around 8-10 times modded to varying degrees. It would be about four years since my last play through. I should probably mention that I am very much an RPG player perspective. I could not recommend it to a shooter/combat fan in 2004.

    On finishing the game for the first time, I think I had more luck with bugs than most (or maybe the Fallout games and Arcanum had me going in with a very forgiving/resigned attitude to non-game killing bugs). I decided to play it as a Malkavian, which is a unique experience to say the least.Especially because he was a greedy bastard and opted to take the McGuffen for himself at the end. That said, I liked most of the endings and thought they were appropriate.

    I also loved the radio. The call made by the writer while you are in Hollywood, but there is a lot of funny stuff across all the hubs.

    In many ways it is the mirror opposite of the Bethesda Fallout games, so much depth and content got loaded into giving the game personality and the role playing aspect that the rest of the game suffered.

  14. Rolento says:

    I lurve the game. Lots of interesting stuff going on and some lovely twists. The character selection gives some real variation to the game (Malkavian for iNsAnITy).

  15. Distec says:

    I had significant difficulty getting back into this game on my last attempt. Which is a shame, since it really had some friggin’ good chicken.

  16. xsikal says:

    Still my favorite first half of a game ever. Just wish the game had shipped in a more polished state with as much care put into later locations as there was in Santa Monica.

  17. a very affectionate parrot says:

    A better question would be can I even recall how many times have I’ve replayed VTM: Bloodlines.
    Bought it around release because the boxart looked cool and happily struggled through the bugs and I’ve played the patched version countless times. The Santa Monica hub will always be one of my favorite videogame locations.

  18. Amstrad says:

    I absolutely agree that the first area/act of this game is worth a play through. Maybe even two if you want to get the normal experience AND the Malkavian (for those unfamiliar, think Fallout 1&2’s low intelligence dialogues, but for an insane person). The first act twist is great and the haunted mansion was one of the first genuinely scary levels I’ve ever played in a game.

  19. preshrunk_cyberpunk says:

    Ahhhh Jeanette, still as batshit crazy as the first time I encountered her.

  20. larpsidekick says:

    So much is great about this game. It’s worth a couple of playthroughs, possibly three (Malkavian, Nosferatu and a ‘normal’ clan), just because of the different ways they interact with the world. Some of the twists are brilliant – because they’re all foreshadowed, unlike so many modern twists (across all media…) and when you play again you can pick up the clues. The incidental bits – the late night radio, the news, all are high quality. It maybe suffers from trying to squeeze in everything from the V:TM world, but only a little.

    And the house. The house. The most scared I’ve been playing a game, ever.

    • Premium User Badge

      heretic says:

      The late night radio… Deb of Night! I still listen to it in my mp3 collection every now and again.

    • preshrunk_cyberpunk says:

      100% agreed.

  21. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    Couple times, yeah. Played as Tremere, Malkavian and Gangrel, in that order. Also started a Ventrue playthrough once but didn’t go beyond early Santa Monica. Great game.

  22. Premium User Badge

    AutonomyLost says:

    I never have, though am strongly considering doing so following reading all of these gushing comments.

  23. satan says:

    Early and mid game were great but I didn’t think it finished well.

    Doubt I’d replay it. Ripe for a reboot though.

  24. Dekion says:

    Best game I’ve played this year. Gripped from start to finish. Anyone makes something else that feels this real yet so phantasmagorical I’ll buy it straight away. Simple as that.

  25. Premium User Badge

    Admiral Snackbar says:

    Bloodlines is my favorite RPG I’ve ever played. Every time someone talks about it I’m forced to find a couple hours to dedicate to it again.

    It’s definitely flawed, but I can’t find a game I like more than Bloodlines. It’s everything a modern RPG should be.

  26. Cederic says:

    Take the plot, the conversations, the locations, the music.
    Build it all in a new engine, updated graphics, maybe tweaked action.

    It’d sell. It’d become the biggest game of the decade.

    I’d buy three copies instantly, just for the friends that wouldn’t be able to patch the old version even if they had it.

    • Daemoroth says:

      This! Over and over! I’ll happily take an ‘enhanced/remaster edition’ that incorporates some (Lots) of the fan-created mods along with a technical overhaul.

  27. Premium User Badge

    Andy_Panthro says:

    I enjoyed the very early parts, loved the haunted house bit, then got into some fights I couldn’t win. Was the combat awful for everyone, or do I just suck at it? Either way, I stopped dead (ha!) at that point and never returned. (I think it was at a train yard?) No idea how far I was through the game.

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      There are basically stealth/non-combat choices for the whole game except for the bosses, you just have to explore a bit. I think it’s easier to start off with melee weapons no matter what you’re focusing on, because you need like 5 points in firearms to hit something. Depending on your clan, you can use your vampiric powers to kill others, buff/debuff or cloak yourself.

  28. malkav11 says:

    It’s too bad Troika’s games were so buggy. (Actually properly and consistently so, unlike when people make the same complaint about Obsidian.) If they hadn’t been, I like to think they’d be in full flourish nowadays instead of a fading memory. Their games weren’t perfect in any sense, but they do so many things so very, very well and Bloodlines was the best of the lot. So many variable approaches, so much atmosphere. And a far better stab at the Vampire: The Masquerade license than Redemption, the previous weirdly Diablo-like approach from a completely different developer. (Though that game does have its own weird charm.)

  29. April March says:

    I haven’t, but now that it’s on GOG, I will.

  30. TheAngriestHobo says:

    Played, loved it, etc etc

    Still waiting for an article to be written about this game that doesn’t use one of the Voerman sisters as its header image. Maybe in another 12 years.

  31. kud13 says:

    One of my “Big 4 RPG/Shooter hybrids focused on player choice”, along with System Shock 2, Deus Ex and Alpha Protocol.

    played it for the first time as a Malk, fell in love with it.

    Replay it fairly regularly, once there’s a new cool mod out. May do so again soon (probably right after I do a run using the GMDX mod)

  32. The Petulant Platypus says:

    This game is screaming for an update (If I’m not mistaken it was the first game released on the HL2 engine?) They’ve updated System Shock etc.. I would love a professional clean up of Bloodlines or even better Obsidian to release a new Bloodlines RPG.

    Troika games were beautiful games I adored all of them especially Arcanum and Bloodlines which were buggy masterpieces – and they were masterpieces, possibly because of the bugs. Bloodlines offered differing play throughs depending on what Clan you chose to go with – I played Gangrel first, then Tremere, Nosferatu and then I played Malkavian and it was flipping glorious in all it’s plays – Malkavian was by far the most unique and highly enjoyable to a degree that is not felt in the sterile RPG’s of today. To be fair the Witcher feels “gritty” as well and doesn’t play as a “sterile” game.

    The setting was dark but not total bleakness, it was humourous, horrific and eye opening all in one experience – it as also one hell of a ride.

  33. KastaRules says:

    I’ll always regret never finishing it and it’s too late now.

  34. ErikMalkavian says:

    This Game HAS NOT aged badly. Use the Official Patch and Unofficial patch link to moddb.com
    link to moddb.com
    and the game is AWESOME.

    Also, Paradox is believe to putting in place a team to work on a SEQUEL. Here is a survey they conducting which includes questions about bloodlines:
    link to reddit.com