Battle royale is a strange genre. A couple of years ago, it felt like every franchise and series was getting an adaptation in the genre, then out of nowhere that seemed to stop. In 2021 new battle royales are quite rare, which makes one set in The World of Darkness universe all the more unusual.
A battle royale is exactly what Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodhunt is. It's a version of BR that sees you take a type of vampire into a locked down Prague, to slaughter your way to victory. It's typical battle royale rules, and there's not much else to report on there. But, to set this apart from its competitors, the map features NPCs, vampires can freely travel up and over buildings using advanced climbing techniques, and there are several archetypes of vampire to choose from that each feature unique abilities and skills.
These features play into and show the influence other World of Darkness games have had on this title. During the event when we got to go hands-on, we also had a chance to catch up with a bunch of the developers from Sharkmob, where we asked them how Bloodhunt is tied to the World of Darkness.
"We are in every sense of the word, true to the Vampire: The Masquerade universe," said Martin Hultberg, communications and IP director at Sharkmob. This has been done in collaboration with the brand team at Paradox, and actually developed at the same time as they closed the development of V5, version 5 of the core rule books that were released a couple of years ago. We're very much integrated with the entire lore and fabric of that game, and when it comes to archetypes, gameplay comes first."
Not only can you loot the map for weapons, gear, and consumables (each designed to make you a more competent combatant), but you can also feed off the NPCs. The majority of NPCs will simply grant health upon feeding on them, but some have rare blood types, and when you quench your thirst on them, you get handy new bonuses, such as a minor amount of passive health regeneration or lower cooldowns on your abilities. The catch is that you have to maintain the Masquerade, meaning if you're spotted feeding then you will be visibly marked on the mini-map for all other vampires to come and hunt you.
We asked game director Craig Hubbard about how this system changes the dynamic of battle royale, he said, "essentially, if you're seen feeding, if you kill a civilian, you become bloodhunted, so you are visible to enemies. Even if you do minor infractions, like if you use your abilities in front of a civilian, you'll show up on the mini-map. You'll have to make decisions about what you are willing to risk."
As for the traversal and movement mechanics, in Bloodhunt you can move around the map incredibly freely, whether that means wandering through the streets or by bounding up the side of a building like a feral Spider-Man. You may not be able to dip in and out of buildings, but you can climb anything using the movement in your kit. Hubbard explained the decision for this gameplay mechanic, stating, "it's really the traversal that I think is the most different from other games." He continued, "there's no obstacles, and I think that changes the dynamic about how you not only think about your targets, but how you think about threats."
All these aforementioned abilities are usable on all types of vampire, but where Bloodhunt once again sets itself apart from the rest is in the introduction of its archetypes. In the pre-alpha version of the game that I had access to, there were three vampire families, with each family having two variants. Each archetype has a different ideal playstyle, for example, the Brute and the Vandal prefer to get their hands dirty and excel at diving head first into combat, whereas the Muse and Siren would instead use agility and their supportive skills to sustain through engagements.
Each type of vampire archetype also comes with completely unique abilities and skills. My favourite was the Muse, who can cast a spectral projection to a location and can then choose to teleport to it, and also has a skill that can heal itself and allies if nearby. The Saboteur on the other hand can use an ability that makes them invisible, great for escaping bad fights. The abilities define characters and gameplay, but they aren't so intrusive that they take away from the core BR experience of running and gunning down opponents that step in your way.
With this being a battle royale, a free-to-play one at that, Sharkmob has created a vanity system that will be one of two ways Bloodhunt draws income. The second will be centralised around battle passes, and both ways will allow you to customise your vampire in a personal manner. Unlike Call of Duty: Warzone or Apex Legends, where you can change the appearance of specific characters, Bloodhunt allows you to make your character your own, by providing a diverse range of customisable options, including gender, hair style and colour, skin tone, and of course clothing. Hubbard touched on the matter, saying, "there's something about being able to create a custom character that expresses your taste and your style, and here you've got six characters you can each customise."
From my experience playing the game, it is much more hectic and fast-paced than I would've imagined. Games typically last around 15 minutes, and even if you have a slow start, you'll often find yourself constantly fighting for your life as the safe zone shrinks. The core gameplay itself also felt responsive and engaging, and even with the quite wild movement systems, combat maintained that essence of feeling competitive and enjoyable.
My main concern stems from the fact that this is a battle royale game. This genre is brutal and we often see games launch and struggle to stand up to the titans, which is a problem I think Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodhunt might face down the line. The gameplay was fun, and showed that it features a lot of depth in its core design, but can it move into the neighbourhood of Fortnite, Call of Duty: Warzone, Apex Legends, just to name a few, and thrive? That's a question that concerns me a little.