RPG Club Plays Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines Part 2
Now that it’s October, the RPG Club finds themselves playing Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines because that’s as close as we’ll likely ever come to a “theme” for anything and colons are pretty great. The second week puts our intrepid heroes in Downtown L.A., with more politics, harder fights, and some pretty interesting details for character development. Also, we had our first sewer level, which was legit pretty gross.
Reidula the Vampire arrived in downtown L.A. ready for action. Santa Monica, Bloodlines’ introductory area, had been filled with a sense of discovery. Everything was new and I was kept occupied just keeping my head above water in the surprisingly complex world of vampire politics. After burning down a warehouse, encountering the mysterious Beckett, and taking off for L.A. I felt like I had found my footing and was ready for the overarching plot to start progressing.
Upon entering L.A., though, it felt like Bloodlines’ simply flicked a reset switch that brought the story back to square one. My vampire was, again, introduced to a large cast of complicated characters and provided with a laundry list of seemingly arbitrary missions to complete. All of it felt a bit like pointless busywork — like I was being led around by my nose. My character had the option to comment on this exact feeling many times in conversations with Anarch leader, Nines or the smug Prince LaCroix. Despite the game itself commenting on the aimlessness of the L.A. section it seemed to be doing little to actually address the problem. I wanted to learn more about the mysterious coffin, figure out if the bits of context regarding the ancient vampire Cain are going to pay off during the game’s runtime, and, basically, be given a reason to stay invested in the world.
It’s testament to the strength of Bloodlines’ writing and gameplay that I was still enjoying wandering around and completing missions without a clear sense of purpose. Still, I’m hoping that the game’s plot starts to come into focus a bit more going forward.
One thing that’s really amusing me with Bloodlines is the attention to detail. The patterened wallpapers, the detailed carpets, the tapestries on the freaking walls – it’s all trivial details that the developers put the time into for some polish.
Take, for example, the office of Prince Stick-Up-The-Butt LaCroix. Gilded wall panels (Rococo, perhaps?), hardwood/leather furniture, and art hanging on the walls. And the art? It’s thematic, of course. You see, in the bible story about Adam and Eve’s kids, Cain and Abel, Abel is good at stuff and Cain isn’t, so he gets pissed and kills his brother. God curses Cain to walk the earth forever, and there are hints in Vampires that God’s curse was in fact vampirism, making Cain the first vampire. Literary and historical! But in game, the interesting part is that the Camarilla (the pretentious group of which The Prince is in charge) don’t “recognize” Cain as the first vampire – so what’s with the paintings on The Prince’s wall?
On the left wall, we have Peter Paul Rubens’ “Cain Slaying Abel” circa 1609 and José Vergara’s “Cain and Abel” circa mid 1700s. The right wall gives us Pietro Novelli’s “Cain and Abel” circa mid 1600s, and Titian’s “Cain and Abel” circa 1544. The portraits I feel like I should recognize, but don’t, and can’t really look them up easily. I imagine that even though they aren’t obvious, they do hold some significance.
The paintings don’t affect your character or the game mechanic and aren’t necessary for the plot. They do, however, enrich the scenario. If Cain was (is?) the first vampire, does that mean that the Prince’s fascination is akin to worship? Or is he simply acknowledging his heritage, like keeping family portraits – even though it’s counter to his political stance? It makes the Prince more interesting (slightly), while reinforcing some depth in the plot. They’re a trivial texture on a wall in a room somewhere, but they are the perfect example of how a small detail can make a real difference in a game.
I have a growing suspicion I might be crap at this game. That’s what I’ve been telling myself at least. Surely it’s not the game’s fault.
I coasted through the first chapter of Bloodlines with little difficulty. Having read that my inherent gun-slinging prowess as a member of the Traumere clan wouldn’t surface until later; I was happy to use my fists and fangs if anyone tried to cause me any trouble.
Things changed when I hopped a cab to downtown L.A. Hand to hand combat no longer did the trick. Using a gun was even more dubious. Although I would say I have pretty good aim, it was hard to determine if I’d actually hit my target, even if the utmost care was taken to line up the crosshairs.
Not to be discouraged, I saved up some cash and bought a shiny fire axe from my new pal, Fat Larry. With renewed confidence I headed to the sewers to take out a vampiric menace spreading contagion among some of the less fortunate locals. Needless to say, I only got a few clumsy swings in before he disposed of me.
I took to the internet for advice. Surely someone out there sucked as much as I did. I found out if you’re not a brawler class, kiting while you regenerate health is the best strategy. I went in for round two and spent a very long, tiresome time leading my foe around in circles, as he occasionally whiffed at my back, whenever my health dropped too low.
I managed to beat him, but I didn’t feel victorious, or even satisfied. I only felt relief that it was finally finished some twenty minutes later — health renews itself about as fast as the blood moves through my undead veins. Would all boss fights from here on out be like this? My drive to continue began to wane.
For now, I’ll keep going. Maybe I just need to adjust to the new challenges presented to me as I come into my abilities. Perhaps I should put more thought into point assignment. But the thought still lingers —maybe the combat just isn’t all that great. Maybe this problem will continue to plague me, like a pesky sewer dwelling vampire plagued so many L.A. citizens, during my time with Bloodlines.