Thursday, March 10, 2016

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines - 15/20 hours

Fucking sewer levels! I should be inured to them by now. They're a long-time staple of the rpg genre. And I can understand why that is the case. A sewer is basically a realistic pretext for a dungeon. They're underground. They're gloomy. People don't really know or understand what goes on inside them. It seems almost plausible that there could be monsters lurking in this overlooked and mysterious network of tunnels.

But damn, trudging through video game sewers is almost always miserable. They are cramped, dark, and drab. The various, nearly-identical looking tunnels tend to blur together after awhile, and it's almost always a confusing maze of switches, valves, and backtracking.

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines' sewer level was no exception. By the end of it, I'd forgotten why I was even down there in the first place. Looking back at my notes, what happened was that when I broke into the museum to steal the Sarcophagus, some unknown party beat me to it. The Prince was furious, and gave me an open-ended mission to go find it. Our best lead was the information-brokers of vampire society, Clan Nosferatu. Clan Nosferatu are hideously cursed creatures who tend to live in the sewers . . .

I couldn't go directly there (of course), so first I had to stop by Hollywood and talk to the Anarch leader, Isaac, whose Nosferatu contacts recently disappeared. This turned out to be related to a supernatural snuff film, which I (of course) had to track down. The film turned out to be the product of a deviant Tzimisce vampire (an aristocratic vampire clan, allied with the Sabbat, who use blood magic to twist the flesh of their victims until they are tortured monstrosities) who I (of course) had to confront and slay.

Then, and only then, was I allowed to enter the sewers. Yay.

Anyway, a long, repetitive, and at times frustrating 3 hours later, and I've at last met with the head of the Nosferatu, who promises to tell me what I want to know . . . if I go to Chinatown and find his lost agent.

Of course.

Chinatown is interesting because apparently the main antagonists in this area are going to be the Kuei-jin. The Kuei-jin are one of those things from the old world of darkness that are, like 60% cool, 30% dorky, and 10% racist. They are mysterious, Asian vampires (the racist part), with a complex spirituality and relationship to the metaphysics of the afterlife (the cool part), with awesome martial arts- and chi-themed superpowers (the dorky part). So, right now, I don't know whether to fanboy-out or roll my eyes.

I really don't want to talk about them too much, because I know that if I do, I probably won't be able to stop. Let's just assume that they are a third type of special vampire, no more or less exotic than the Nosferatu or the Tzimisce, and leave at that.

Judging by the walkthroughs I've seen (I make no apologies - the game lacks both minimap and objective markers), I'm in the final stretch of the game, the last hub area. And going into this final area, I feel like the game's story is starting to fall apart. I, as a White Wolf fan, am thrilled to see cameos from more obscure parts of the game's lore, but I definitely get the feeling that if I were coming into this fresh, I'd be quickly overwhelmed by the rapid introduction of new fantastic conceits. I mean, the Tzimisce basically came out of nowhere and has a face like an alien. And while you can theoretically play as a Nosferatu (and I believe you meet at least one earlier in the game), running around their secret base makes them feel strange and unfamiliar in the way that the occasional deformed NPC does not. And why do the Kuei-jin have to be different (I know, well-meaning '90s racism, but still)? They look just the same as normal vampires, and you'd have no reason to think they were anything but another clan if it weren't for the info-dump their leader gives you at your first meeting.

From what I understand, the developer ran out of time and money while making the game, and if that's the case, then the last quarter is where it's really going to show. All these long sidequests I've been doing have distracted me from the main thread of the plot, but I don't think I've yet reached the point where the game's overall pacing is hopelessly shot. I've got my fingers crossed that the mystery of the Ankaran Sarcophagus will wrap up in a satisfying manner, but the recent sloppiness in connecting my mandatory quests to the game's main plot has got me worried.

Still, if I can spend most of the last few hours of the game above ground, I'll count it as a victory.

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