Friday, March 11, 2016

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines - 20/20 hours

Chinatown turned out to be mostly filler. I had to rescue a bratty kidnapping victim, destroy a local gang, and get experimented upon by a mad scientist who somehow knew about the existence of vampires. Only after I tread water for a few hours was I rewarded with information that would put the main plot back on track - the sarcophagus was stolen by clan Giovanni, all I had to do to get it back was fight my way through their mansion . . .

. . . and the catacombs underneath.

Fucking catacombs.

However, once I got through yet another dismal underground level, the plot once again picked up. I returned the sarcophagus to the Prince and had a not at all suspicious conversation where he denied having a sinister hidden agenda in a totally plausible way. There was a brief tease as that Beckett guy showed up again, claiming that the sarcophagus was nothing more than a mundane relic. And yet . . . we couldn't get it open.

I guess sledgehammers were out of the question, because the Prince sent me to retrieve an expert on the Sarcophagus who had recently been "rescued" by the Society of Leopold (the Catholic church's secret order of vampire hunters) and was being held against his will at their seaside monastery . . .

. . . in the caves below the chapel.

Fucking caves.

I'm not entirely sure why a game with such a cool and evocative above-ground setting keeps sending me to these bland subterranean tubes, but I have to count this as a major flaw. There's just so much, thematically, that can be done with things like a church housing an elite order of fanatical militant priests or a mansion inhabited by a corrupt and incestuous family ruled by its own ancient dead, that it seems a real shame to reduce these encounter to "smack random enemies in a featureless, grey corridor."

From the sarcophagus expert, I learned that the thing probably held the body of Messerach, an ancient Assyrian king who only the credulous would believe is a vampire of legend (wink) just because he was the only recorded monarch for more than 200 years and tales told of his habit of drinking the blood of his enemies. Of course, knowing as I do the backstory of Vampire: the Masquerade, I can say with confidence that Messerach is not necessarily an ancient and insanely powerful vampire, but if I were in my character's place, I certainly wouldn't want to take any chances.

After that, I had to single-handedly slay the remaining Sabbat, just to tie up a loose end. Fighting my way through an abandoned hotel was a nice change of pace from the various tunnels I'd been through before, though I wasn't pleased to see that Tzimisce again, not after I thought I killed him (I still don't know his name or what his deal was, except that he seemed to have a very poor grasp of the dangers of pissing off a high-xp Brujah.)

I think what strikes me most about the last stretch of the game is the way that I'm helpless to go against the very obviously stupid decisions the plot forces me into. Like, once I recover the sarcophagus, why do I bother to return it to Lacroix? And once I talk to Lacroix and discover his manipulative behind-the-scenes scheming with the Kuei-jin, fueled by his unhealthy obsession to possess the secrets of the sarcophagus, regardless of the cost, why do I agree to try and help him find a way to open it? And once Ming Xao, the Kuei-jin leader, appears to me out of nowhere to reveal, unprompted, that she had the key and was canceling her alliance out of fear of Lacroix's treachery, why do I bother to volunteer this information that the Prince wasn't actively seeking and hadn't instructed me to find? And then, once Lacroix decides that he must go to war with the Kuei-jin and sends me as an emissary to negotiate a truce with the Anarchs, why on earth do I not say "this guy is clearly gearing up to backstab us all, don't trust him?"

It's all very mysterious. Perhaps the ending was, indeed, rushed.

My current status is that I've just survived Lacroix's ambush (though I lay partial blame on Nines Rodriguez for choosing to meet in werewolf country), having successfully evaded a badass werewolf with the aid of a timely glitch, and now I have to fight my way through Santa Monica as vampires from all across California pursue me in a Blood Hunt.

I expect I have around another hour or so of game left, so I think I'll stick it out. I'm curious about what's in the damned box and it would be nice to be able to punch Lacroix in his smug little face.

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