Extended Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2 reveal is illuminating but disorientating

 Willem screaming.
Willem screaming.

After last year's brief snippets of vampiric shenanigans, Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2 developer The Chinese Room is giving us a longer peek at Seattle's nightlife in a dev walkthrough with creative director Alex Skidmore and community manager Joshua Matthews.

It's significantly more illuminating than the faction reveals, showing off a mission where Phyre, the player character, is rooting around in a warehouse in search of clues about why there's a weird mark on their hand which is inhibiting their powers. The mark is also connected to the voice in their head, called Fabien, accompanying them everywhere.

In this playthrough, Phyre is a Brujah vamp, which encourages more of a rough and tumble approach—though the demo shows off more than just fisticuffs as Phyre tangos with ghouls and enchanted mannequins. As a Kindred, Phyre can feed to empower their abilities; use powers like telekinesis to move objects around, distract enemies or even manipulate them, like bringing them closer before taking them out in melee; and use their supernatural senses to see and hear things that humans would miss.

One note on Phyre's supernatural senses: you'll use this not just to help you infiltrate locations and avoid being spotted, but to solve puzzles and more esoteric challenges as well. Skidmore likens the ability to using CSI tools as you get more details about the scenes you're witnessing.

How you approach missions like this warehouse infiltration won't just change the moment-to-moment action—it will also have an impact on how the other denizens of Seattle's nightlife perceive you as they develop opinions based on how you interact with the world and its residents.

The gameplay and action of Bloodlines 2 is sort of a dance.

"The gameplay and action of Bloodlines 2 is sort of a dance," says Skidmore. "As players explore the world, soak in the atmosphere and make strategic choices, they affect their relationships with the characters around them. Players can choose their legend, but the world is dynamic, and characters will remember how you treat them."

One notable difference between Bloodlines 2 and the first game is your position in vampire society. In Troika's game, you were a newborn vampire who had been created illegally, with no real authority or standing. Phyre, on the other hand, is an elder vampire with a specific role in vampire society: they're a sheriff. This means they're more firmly embedded in Seattle's undead politics, doling out vampire justice and uncovering secrets.

How the game approaches Phyre's backstory is pretty cool. Phyre's famous, so a lot of the vamps they meet will have heard some legends about them. You can then develop Phyre's background by refuting these legends or leaning into them, allowing you to tweak your origins as you play through the game. I'm less impressed by what we've seen in terms of dialogue options, however, which in their conversation with traitor Nosferatu Willem are quite limited, not really capturing the flexibility of the tabletop RPG.

Elsewhere there are some interesting moments, like when Phyre is trapped in a surreal, dream-like memory, but I'm still worried about the combat. It looks a little nauseating. First-person melee brawling is hard to pull off, and I'm not digging what I'm seeing here. The supernaturally fast punches, constant changes in speed and occasional switches to a third-person perspective just makes it all disorientating

Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2 doesn't have a release date yet, though it's expected to appear late this year. In the meantime, at least we have a clearer picture of what we can expect when it finally launches.