Monday, February 6, 2017

V:tM - Bloodlines ! Noncombat

As this series of posts runs through the entire length of the classic computer role-playing game Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, assume spoilers.

Fat Larry needs ya hailp brutha!
(I think?)
Guy sounds crazier than a Malkavian to me, but maybe I'm just a jive turkey who don' no da sco' yo.
Despite Larry's insistence on katanas at high noon, the mission on which he sends you can actually be completed without ever shooting a fire. You are to infiltrate a parking garage where two street gangs are buying/selling a particularly valuable briefcase. Vampire stories being pulp fiction, you don't get to know what's inside it. You could of course do the bionic supersoldier schtick and grind your way through three levels of pistol-happy street trash or...
Sneak to the end of the hero's journey and grab the macguffin. As soon as it disappears the two gangs (presumably suspecting each other of the theft) riddle each other with bullets and you're free to ride into the sunset. If you're a Nos or Malk, just flip on your handy-dandy Obfuscate skill and run all the way to and from the bank.

In my last post I complained that Bloodlines' combat was repetitive, clunky and easily exploitable to boot. Only marginally enjoyable. Luckily, this ain't no MMO and you're allowed to be more than a slap-happy grunt hitting the first thing in front of you as you go. You can make full use of those eerie vampiric invisibility and mind control powers to bypass trash mobs and even complete some quests. For instance, one quest has you killing (or sneaking past) a floor full of Russian mobsters. The boss' door's guarded by his pet gorilla, whom my Malkavian character can dementate into escorting me into the room for the cost of a little blood.
Then for another blood point, inflict a fit of paranoia upon the mob boss himself, who shoots at his second in command and is easily dispatched by him.
Quest complete. You may now high-tail it out of the building having taken not a single swing at anything.

Note, this is a slightly different issue than simply creating single noncombat actions incorporating combat abilities. For noncombat options to truly be viable means of defeating entire quests, the quests themselves must be designed so as not to force combat. Clear all trash mobs once the quest's flagged as completed, or allow the player to escape. Above all, don't over-incentivize the combat option through either loot or experience points. Don't require the player to clear the boss room altogether in order to loot several redundant treasure chests. Award the pay-off for completing the task itself.

Bloodlines handled this very well thanks in part to its blood pool economy. As with most old-school games before the concept of resource management was trivialized for the idiotic mass-market, your "mana" in Bloodlines does not recover automatically. It must be replenished by feeding, and combat skills eat up a lot of it. Killing and looting all those street thugs might net me a few extra clips of ammunition, but if I end up having to down a single blood pack in the heat of pew-pew, its cost will still put me in the red... so to speak. Talk, on the other hand, is cheap.

The other and even more important aspect of incentivizing which made noncombat options work is of course Bloodlines' handling of experience gain, but that's a topic best discussed in relation to stealth.

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