Few games have as wild of a development journey as Vampire: The Masquerade — Bloodlines 2.
A sequel to a cult-classic vampire RPG from the mid-2000s, Bloodlines 2 began its life as a 2016 pitch from developer Hardsuit Labs and Brian Mitsoda, writer of the original game, to IP owner and game publisher Paradox Interactive. Initially slated for release in early 2020, it was delayed multiple times before Paradox fired Mitsoda and took Hardsuit Labs off the project by mid-2021. Paradox chose not to cancel the game, though, instead finding a new studio to take it over the finish line.
During its PAX West 2023 keynote, Paradox announced the new studio working on Bloodlines 2 is The Chinese Room, best-known for games like Dear Esther and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. Ahead of this announcement, Digital Trends had the chance to speak to Sean Greaney, Paradox Interactive’s World of Darkness vice president, and The Chinese Room studio design director Alex Skidmore to learn more about what the vision for Bloodlines 2 that caused Paradox to shift developers, as well as what the vampire RPG now looks like under a new developer.
It’s rare for a game as seemingly far along in development and publicly shown off as Bloodlines 2 to lose its developer. While former Hardsuit Labs developers and Mitsoda have voiced that they were “disappointed and frustrated” at the deterioration of that partnership, Greaney defended Paradox’s decision during our discussion.
“Hardsuit Labs is a great studio, and they did a lot of good work on this project. We just had a very different vision for the final product, and we couldn’t align on that vision,” Greaney tells Digital Trends. “And so the right thing to do was to end the collaboration and find a studio that shared that vision.”
Because that clash in vision was big enough to cause Paradox Interactive to change development partners and delay the game’s release by several years, it begs the question of what Paradox’s overarching vision is for Bloodlines 2. According to Greaney, it’s a Bloodlines 2 that “nails the player fantasy [of] being a vampire in a video game and also brought Vampire the Masquerade V5 [a role-playing game] to a video game and showed us what that feels like.”
Greaney was adamant that Bloodlines 2 faithfully represents Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition during our conversation, and it seemed he wanted a studio that felt the same way. Paradox Interactive looked for a new studio and signed The Chinese Room on as the new developer by the end of 2021. Hardsuit Labs suffered layoffs after losing Bloodlines 2, shifted to mostly doing support work, and was acquired by Keywords Studio in May.
“The Chinese Room has this history and portfolio of amazing narrative games. That is what they were known for, and that’s what we knew we were going to need with this project,” Greaney says of why he chose The Chinese Room. “But they also had this ambition to move into an action RPG direction and were already creating the kind of studio and staff they needed to get there. The fact that they had that narrative background and their vision for this project aligned with ours made it a kind of hole-in-one decision.”
Surprisingly, work on the project was only partially reset when the game moved to The Chinese Room. “The work that had been done on the game was very important for getting us to a certain point, so the themes, Seattle as the setting, and a significant degree of the art and character art has been carried over,” Greaney explains. “It isn’t from the ground up, but it isn’t a straight continuation either.” skidmore went more in-depth, explaining that some aspects of the game differ somewhat from what Hardsuit Labs promised.
For example, instead of being a newly formed Thinblood vampire finding their place in Seattle’s vampiric politics, the protagonist is a more experienced elder vampire new to Seattle. The developer change also came alongside an upgrade from Unreal Engine 4 to Unreal Engine 5. Regarding gameplay and combat, Bloodlines 2 is still a first-person game and gives players various combat options and abilities adapted from Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition. Plus, players will need to keep up the titular Masquerade by not exposing themselves as a vampire in public; there will be narrative consequences if they do.
“We want to tell a story where the player feels like they’re the star of it,” Skidmore says. “You should always feel like you’re the star of the story. And then, we focus on having a cast of great characters, great voice acting, and making the world itself a character. Our Seattle is a bit different from the real Seattle; it’s taller, brighter, darker, and seen through the eyes of a vampire. We’re trying to make that world as rich as possible and give emotional experiences to players. And potentially the odd jump scare.”
As someone who saw Hardsuit Labs’ version of the game in action at E3 2019 and has now spoken to The Chinese Room about its vision for the game, it’s clear that Bloodlines 2 isn’t a completely different game FROM what was first promised by Paradox; a new developer has just reinterpreted that initial concept. Expect Bloodlines 2 to be a vampire RPG with bloody combat, and even expect some characters from the game’s original trailers to show up. The Chinese Room has taken that base and tried to add its studio’s and Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition’s flair to the narrative and vampiric fantasy.
Paradox will turn heads by pulling Hardsuit Labs off the project, causing layoffs, and then still using some of their work on this new version of the game. But The Chinese Room is a proven studio, although we’ll ultimately have to wait for the result to affirm that this was the right move. We won’t actually have to wait too long to find out, though, as Paradox Interactive promises to release Bloodlines 2 sometime next fall.
Of course, that’s far from the first release window promised for Bloodlines 2. When I brought that up, Greaney revealed that The Chinese Room’s version of the game has cleared the alpha phases of development and that Paradox Interactive is adamant about delivering on a game first announced in 2019 as soon as possible.
“If we weren’t confident in the new release window, we wouldn’t be starting the new marketing campaign,” Greaney told me. “There’s a reason we haven’t been out there communicating and marketing this title for a while. We wanted The Chinese Room to have the opportunity to get this baby, grow it with some uninterrupted development time, and clear alpha. Now that we’re through alpha, it’s the time to start talking to our fans.”