Thursday, February 2, 2017

V:tM - Bloodlines ! Combat

You'll hear Bloodlines fans praise any number of its features: its dialogues, voice acting, quest structure, music, humor, varied abilities and weaknesses, replay value, etc. - but not its combat. As I said before, the choice of licensing Source from Valve was a waste of resources. While it's true RPGs' immersion benefited greatly from adopting 3D, first-person worlds (as Morrowind demonstrated) it's no strict requirement (as Pillars of Eternity more recently demonstrated) and it's also clear that Bloodlines' programmers were not up to the task of squeezing the Source Engine for its considerable utility. While Half-Life 2's blatantly exhibitionist speedboat canal scene gloried in fast-paced, friction-enabled vehicular/ballistic physics, the best Bloodlines ever managed with the same tech was your character lurching a couple steps this way or that when using some abilities. More often than not it's just a pain catching debris on your toes and clattering it around the room as you walk. Combat in Bloodlines consists of repetitive left-clicking.

So it comes as both a curse and a blessing that so many off the combat encounters weren't just simplistic but so untested as to be exploitable. Of the four or five "boss fights" my Malkavian's encountered so far, I've already semi-intentionally glitched my way through two of them.
You ice dis mook in a box-filled warehouse. He slashes at you with a katana while bouncing around like Yoda and ducking in and out of sight among the four pillars of boxes (by the way, what the hell kind of company stores their product like THAT?) I'm sure it was meant to be a very exciting demonstration of vampiric abilities and also shove the game engine's vaunted three-dimensionality in your face, but for my melee characters it was just a chore repeatedly poking at the sucker whenever he got in range. For a ranged character... well, as you can see I'm just standing on top of a box where he can't land next to me and pegging him with cheap, disposable ammo. Fifty or so left-clicks later, done. Didn't even need to move my feet. How exciting is a fight you can win one-handed?

As for the other, there's a recurring problem with doors getting stuck on characters when opening or closing. It can force you to re-load in one of the shops and more frequently just annoys you by making you look for a specific angle where you can reach the door/grate/gate without getting sandwiched between it and a wall. So here's Jezebel Locke stuck in her doorway eating bullets:
Amusingly, I wasn't even trying. Opening the door forces you into dialogue, after which I backed away to ready my weapon, she tried to follow and got stuck in the closing door. Gotta love a game that just defeats itself.

Bloodlines is an amazing game... in most ways. It's also a classic example of how damaging early adoption of new technology can be, jumping on the latest bandwagon. Luckily it also provided the player with an unprecedented array of opportunities to get things done by unconventional means neither hacky nor slashy, so aside from a few boss fights the weak combat doesn't really hurt it as much as it could have. More on those means some other time.

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