Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2 recently stepped out into the light, and like a newly turned vampire, it may have the same name, but it looks a little different. It also took a little heat from being out in the sun. The original version of the game, then in development at Hardsuit Labs, was planned as a hardcore RPG that looked to expand on the role-playing opportunities available in the cult classic 2004 original. The new version, picked up by The Chinese Room, looks like it will cut back on those options considerably.
In the original game, you created a character from one of seven different clans. In Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2, you will play a named and fully voiced character, Phyre, who hails from one of four clans (down from a planned six in the Hardsuit Labs version of the game). Overall, The Chinese Room’s take on VTMB2 seems less ambitious than the one Hardsuit Labs initially pitched to players back in 2019.
It’s also more in keeping with the kind of games the studio has made before. The Chinese Room previously developed Dear Esther, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Little Orpheus, and a VR game called So Let Us Melt. With the exception of Little Orpheus, those are all first-person narrative adventure games that place a heavy emphasis on building a sense of place, and significantly less emphasis on mechanical depth. I was surprised when The Chinese Room was announced as Hardsuit Labs’ replacement for that reason: it doesn’t make games like Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines.
So it makes sense that VTMB2 seems to be meeting its new stewards in the middle. The Chinese Room makes walking sims, VTMB is a hardcore RPG. The Chinese Room’s take on VTMB2 seems to be the logical result of that pairing, splitting the difference. That will, obviously, bother some fans, and I can’t say that I blame them. Devotees of the first game have waited a long time for a true follow-up, and the version that Hardsuit Labs was working on seemed to be closer to Troika’s original than The Chinese Room’s version will be.
Publisher Paradox Interactive never gave a clear reason for why Hardsuit Labs was removed from the project either, which makes this all the more puzzling. In 2021, the publisher simply said:
“We have now chosen to postpone the release of the game further, and we will not be launching the game in 2021. We have also decided that Hardsuit Labs will no longer be leading the development of Bloodlines 2, and we have started a collaboration with a new studio partner to finish work on the game. This has been a difficult decision, but we are convinced that it is the right way forward to do the game justice.”
Paradox hasn’t said much more about the change since then, which has left fans wondering what could possibly have gone so wrong with the original game that this move was necessary. This wasn’t steady hand Ron Howard coming in to right the ship on Solo: A Star Wars Story when the less experienced Lord and Miller made Disney nervous. Neither of these studios had made this kind of game before.
I can’t understand Paradox’s rationale and, barring a Noclip documentary a decade from now that shows off earlier builds of the game, I doubt I ever will. But I’m willing to give The Chinese Room the benefit of the doubt. Still, I don’t think that anything the team has shown off from the new game looks especially impressive. Phyre’s voice acting has a stilted quality, and the graphical presentation isn’t what you would expect from a big triple-A game, instead more on par with World of Darkness spin-off games like Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong. In most ways that matter, it seems like a big step down from the initial game Hardsuit Labs showed off.
But I’m not comparing it to that game anymore. After wondering for years if VTMB2 would ever come out, I’m comparing this game that exists to the prospect of the project being dead entirely. I know existing is a low bar to clear, but VTMB2 seemed to be in the direst development hell I can recall seeing for a few years. That the game has a new release window and we’re getting updates on its development is a major improvement — even if the game isn’t exactly what I expected or wanted.
NEXT: It’s The Perfect Time For A Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines Remaster