There's been much secrecy regarding Vampire: The Masquerade — Bloodlines 2, the sequel to the 2004 cult favorite vampire RPG. First announced in 2019—with the original creatives returning for the sequel—work on that game hit a roadblock, and a creative and developer shakeup was announced in 2021.
Two years later, we've finally learned about the current state of Paradox Interactive's Bloodlines 2, now headed up by narrative adventure developer The Chinese Room, the studio behind Dear Esther and Everybody's Gone To The Rapture.
Aside from some returning characters and the setting of a supernatural Seattle, this revival of Bloodlines 2 features an entirely new story and a different approach to a vampire RPG than its earlier incarnation.
At PAX West 2023, I had the opportunity to speak with The Chinese Room studio design director Alex Skidmore and VP of the World of Darkness brand Sean Greaney about work on the new Bloodlines 2, why The Chinese Room was the right developer to bring this version to life, and why change needed to happen in the first place.
Like a vampire, Bloodlines 2 has risen from the dead
What made the original Vampire: The Masquerade — Bloodlines from Troika Games such an endearing role-playing game is how it leveraged the mystique and scope of the tabletop role-playing game within an open-ended video game, and the first sequel planned to follow up on that structure.
The original 2004 game is a dense action-RPG with a rich setting, so seeing developer The Chinese Room—known for smaller-scale atmospheric narrative-driven adventure games—take over is an interesting choice.
The shift to a new developer was part of a larger goal to refocus the game's vision and approach to a World of Darkness property, the larger franchise in which Vampire: The Masquerade operates. During our interview, Sean Greaney clarified what happened with the previous work from Hardsuit Labs. While specifics weren't shared, he explained why the change needed to happen.
"The work that Hardsuit Labs had done got us to a certain point in the project, and while the goals were reasonably aligned, we ultimately had a different vision for the project," said Greaney. "That is why we eventually moved the project to a new team—that's the best way to put it."
The new Bloodlines 2, while keeping some aspects of the original, is an entirely new game with a unique code base and gameplay systems inspired by the Fifth edition of the tabletop role-playing game.
Instead of the original conceit of a newly turned vampire immersing themselves in the Vampire underworld, the revised RPG now focuses on a reawakened Elder vampire that steps into present-day Seattle for the first time. This concept aims to be a different type of fish-out-of-water story for Vampire: The Masquerade, putting a seasoned-but-weary vampire through their paces as they navigate a more complicated world.
It's an interesting idea, which allows the developers to showcase a master Vampire becoming whole again. But what is really intriguing about the game is the choice of developer to bring this to the finish.
According to Greaney, developer The Chinese Room and their pedigree made the studio the best choice in building a game that focused on narrative, environmental storytelling, and the presentation of the vampire fantasy.
"We obviously spoke to several different studios when looking for a new partner, we needed a studio that really got narrative and could understand emotion, and know the importance of great dialogue and communicating that on a high level—these are all areas that The Chinese Room has been awarded for," said Greaney.
"The Chinese Room came to us with very high ambition and a plan to get there while also understanding the scale and growth it took to get there. The Chinese Room is also a part of the Sumo Digital group, and they have many other resources to pull from."
Playing as a vampire is a unique selling point in video games
Though vampire fiction dominates in the worlds of literature, film and television, it's still growing in the world of video games. Relatively recent commercial hits like Vampyr, Vampire Survivors, and V Rising might show audience interest in the genre is growing.
Frequently, vampires are enemies to battle, and what made the original Bloodlines so novel was its focus on showing life as a vampire as they navigate the secret vampire societies and how they keep the masquerade up when visiting the human world.
With Bloodlines 2, both Alex Skidmore and Sean Greaney see the game as adding a new layer to the vampire fantasy that the 2004 title and the long-running table-top experience have been fleshing out for several decades—focusing on the theme of the "new meeting the old, and the new eating the old," with players taking on the role of an Elder vampire.
"I think [the vampire setting] is a relatively fresh fantasy, still. There are games that have allowed you to do it, but Vampire: The Masquerade is offering you a whole range of vampire fantasies, and we've chosen to support different player approaches for that," said Skidmore about their plans. "So in the trailer we just released, we focused on showing the very physical actions of the vampire fantasy. We see the vampires as predators, but all in different ways. Thinking like a designer, what actions can you own? One of our pillars is about making players feel like vampires; that's a lens we use on everything in Bloodlines 2."
According to the developers, exploring the scope of the VTM setting was an important aspect of the game, which is why both Paradox Interactive and World of Darkness companies felt The Chinese Room's approach to active and environmental storytelling made them a good fit for Bloodlines 2.
The Chinese Room had humble beginnings, starting in the Half-Life 2 modding scene with Dear Esther. Eventually, they would move on to the horror sequel Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, followed by the high-concept narrative adventure Everybody's Gone To The Rapture.
However, the developer we have today is a far cry from The Chinese Room from 13 years ago. Skidmore's previous efforts include time on the Fable series at Lionhead Studios and Gears of War at The Coalition.
"Those values that you called out earlier about The Chinese Room; the atmosphere, the rich storytelling, they're all here [in Bloodlines 2] in a big way, and in fact, this game really allows us just to use all of our strengths and really push ourselves further than we have before," said Skidmore on working on the reboot.
"The action RPG as a genre allows you to tell stories at a deep level, even more so than something like Dear Esther, which is a story that's happened and you're exploring it in the aftermath. In Bloodlines 2, you're the heart of the story that you are influencing directly. To us, that's almost the peak of storytelling."
This revised vision for Bloodlines 2, along with the new developer, is an interesting turn for the upcoming sequel—which many felt had fallen into development hell following the sudden shake-up in 2021. There are so many unanswered questions about what occurred with Hardsuit Labs' original take on the game that I suspect will linger for a long time.
While we don't have a full view of the scope and gameplay features at work in the new take of Bloodlines 2, the refocused vision and new protagonist will conclude one of the stranger game development sagas in recent history, hopefully leading to a fully realized vampire RPG that the current developers are aiming the long-brewing sequel to be.