When Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines first launched in 2004, it was lauded for the quality of writing found in both the main story and character dialogue. Critics called it a flawed masterpiece with one of the main flaws being how stiff, unresponsive, and nonsensical the combat was throughout the game.
Ranged weapons felt frustrating since accuracy was based on skill points instead of the player’s actual aim, knockback felt unfair and happened often, and combat scenarios with multiple targets often ended in death for the player. Truncated development timelines, which also led to a hefty amount of bugs, didn’t help the situation.
“They tried to do many things at the same time. Thanks to the Source engine, there was a rather competent shooter laid on top of this third-person type of perspective, which I think they had a hard time getting right,” Florian Schwarzer, senior producer at Paradox Interactive tells Gamasutra. “That was on top of what this essentially a short distance wrestling system with the feeding mechanic on top of a fully articulate stealth game. I think if you do something like this today, you’re going to have a hard time. I think back then it was almost impossible.”
Now, more than 15 years later, a sequel to Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines is coming in 2020. While the writing is still the primary focus for a big part of the fandom, the teams at developer Hardsuit Labs and publisher Paradox Interactive are trying to rework the combat into something better while still keeping in line with the essence of the original game.
Feeling a bloodlust
“The combat system in the sequel is primarily focused on the idea that you are the weapon,” Schwarzer said, adding that the feeling of being a vampire is the whole point of the game. “You are not a counter-terrorism specialist that needs to strap on a lot of gear, you are the badass.”
Schwarzer said that that mindset led to a focus on forward motion, speed of movement, and the power imbalance between humans and vampires. Playing a vampire, even a weak one when you first begin your adventure, should make fighting humans somewhat trivial. Coupling your characters strength with quick movements based on forward motion, helped instill a feeling of power in the player.
Vampires are more durable and much stronger than humans, and the combat design reflects that. You’ll deal more damage with melee weapons, like a crowbar, than humans and ranged weapons deal less damage to you due to an inherent capability called soak. Vampires absorb a set amount of damage before they start to get hurt. Dealing with humans, who often come in numbers, will be different than fighting another vampire.
“So attacking a vampire enemy with a ranged weapon is good for slowing them down,” Schwarzer said. “But it isn’t immediately as effective as going into close range, for example, and cutting them.”
Schwarzer mentioned having different strategies and some approaches wouldn’t be as effective to certain enemy types, like using ranged weapons against other vampires, but the player could always default to some of their vampire abilities, including the ability to drain an enemy’s blood.
While Hardsuit Labs is trying to have a more focused approach to combat, by keeping it limited to a first-person perspective, they still want to offer the variety the original game had. The original game’s enemies were simple, as they combat scenarios with them had to work for players who valued stealth, others who preferred melee combat, those who wanted to get in gunfights, and other types of gameplay.
“You got into that place where melee combat encounters would almost always feel very similar to the last encounter,” Schwarzer said. “That’s because your enemy behaviors couldn’t be that complex because they also had to work in shooter scenarios,” Schwarzer added that the team is still going for a similar variety, but is working from a base where you can always play the fall back on your vampire abilities if something else isn’t working against an enemy.