Considering that I tend to be a very linear person, it is interesting that in terms of role-playing games pre-2004 I tended to play them all ‘out of order’. For example, after enjoying Neverwinter Nights and Knights of the Old Republic, I asked around and was recommended to seek out Gothic 2 and Baldur’s Gate 2. I played and loved both of those and then sought out the original games in the series.
The same was true with games based on White Wolf’s Vampire the Masquerade tabletop RPG – I played the 2004 Troika game Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines through before even really knowing that there was an earlier game. As soon as I knew, I grabbed the Mac version for cheap on eBay (it was long out of print) and played it through in early 2005. I later bought the PC version in an eBay bundle and installed it a couple of times but never finished. Recently the PC version was re-released on Good Old Games, so I quickly grabbed that and replayed it again!
Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption (from here on out I’ll just refer to it as VtM: Redemption) was the first attempt to capture White Wolf’s PnP RPG. Released in 2000, it attempts to meld first person action with role playing and party management. So how does it fare?
The game starts with your character – Christof – in the 12th century as a living human paladin separated from your legion due to a grave wound and left in the care of nuns in the convent in Prague. The game uses character interactions and dialogue choices to lay out the premise of the entire game very well, and is quite engaging.
Once you become a vampire (c’mon, you knew it was coming!) the plot – while still very good – becomes very linear. You basically move from main-quest item to main-quest item, with no extraneous interactions or side-quests. If this sounds somewhat unsatisfying for an RPG, that’s because it is! It is a decent story thread that would be immensely satisfying for an action game or FPS, but not so much for a RPG.
I want to expand upon that, since re-reading it sound rather like some typical elitist RPG-fan comment. I am not suggesting that every RPG should offer unimpeded freedom in all areas. In many role-playing games you either have a predetermined character who gets loads of flexibility and freedom in terms of story and development (e.g. the Gothic series), or get to create your own character but have a fairly narrow set of choices leading to subtle flavors on the same basic game (e.g. the Mass Effect games).
But VtM: Redemption forces you into a tightly defined role (Paladin turned Vampire with Nun for a love interest), and then railroads you into a story-centric mission structure that take you straight through until the end of the game. As you proceed you gain party members who will fight alongside you as you make your way through the story, each with specific skills that will aid in advancing through combat.
Notice that with regard to the story I said ‘unsatisfying’ – I didn’t say ‘not good’, and for a reason. The story is excellent – it is a wonderful look at the fall of a hero and his search for love and redemption that spans the world and crosses nearly a millennium.
I just have to chime in on one thing that left me incredulous after I first completed the game, and was starkly obvious to me this time: there are no side-quests. That is right: every task you are set to perform is mandatory and critical in some way to advancing the plot. There are optional discussions, but none of them lead anywhere. It is truly staggering and virtually unprecedented to have a commercial RPG with absolutely no side quests.
In terms of the graphical presentation, it seems like many games from a given time period share a ‘flavor’ in how they look. That is not to say they copy each other, but the technology is similar. Such is the case with VtM: Redemption – it looks much like Rune or Blade of Darkness, all of which were released within several months of each other, and each of which uses a melee engine. I found the graphics not as detailed as Blade of Darkness, more in line with Rune, and quite serviceable.
After enjoying the music in VtM: Bloodlines so much, I found Redemption’s music very good, but not up to the same level – even taking the age of the game into account. It all makes sense, is adapted to the location and mood the game is trying to create, and provides good atmosphere, but little else. The voice acting is another story; here is an example: Christof is a 12th century Frenchman speaking in English but with an Eastern European accent. In general, the dialogue is quite good and the voice acting is tolerable. Fortunately there are subtitles if you have a low tolerance for lousy voice acting.
VtM: Redemption offers similar character development options as Bloodlines – you gain experience points through completing quests and other special events, and can spend them on either attributes or ‘feats’. But unlike Bloodlines you also get experience for killing enemies. The method in Redemption is fairly convoluted, where you gain thousands of experience points and each attribute you wish to raise takes hundreds or even thousands of points to raise. But in the end the result is the same – you get to select the development of your heroes much in the same way as in Bloodlines. Each hero you recruit will have their own focus and set of disciplines specific to their clan, which will be critical to how they perform in battle.
In terms of controls and interface, the game follows modern standards in terms of RPG implementation. You click to move, and have context sensitive clicks to talk or attack. You can bring up different dialogs such as the map or character screen or inventory. There are some quirks such as how you need to click the same button to open and close these sheets (as opposed to the more standard escape key), but in general once you get used to movement and camera rotation, everything else falls into place. Also, I had no issues playing the game on the netbook without an external mouse, which is nice for such a seemingly ‘click-centric’ game.
Your inventory is limited, and you cannot stack potions. Uggh! Even in the very first dungeon you are likely to be doing the ‘inventory shuffle’ where you need to decide which items to keep and which to dump. This is the choice that typically happens much later in games, and given that there is some pretty cool stuff for sale early on, the inability to maximize your ‘loot sale’ at this point is frustrating.
While the story is solid, the characters nicely drawn, the graphics and controls and other systems all pretty well done, I found the gameplay was pretty mediocre. It is the feeling of trying to control the action of four characters simultaneously in an action game like Rune (or Oblivion for that matter). Sound hard? Well it is. Combat is in real time with 360 degrees of possible combat from all four characters simultaneously, and frequently you encounter high-level mobs that outnumber you by a considerable margin. The enemy AI is not very good – everyone just mob-rushes your party with a non-strategic death wish.
Combat would be easier if the NPC AI of your party was better – but it isn’t. My best strategy ended up being to equip the team well, control Christof, hope for the best and carry plenty of resurrect scrolls, and then take it as a discipline as soon as I could. Every other strategy I tried ended up in pure frustration. I do have to say that during the early sections, and in the middle of the game, you are left to fight alone, and it is actually quite fun – it is unfortunate the game could not sustain that combat enjoyment.
It is interesting that my first playthrough was on a Mac in early 2005 (in other words, on Mac OS X but using a PowerPC based system). The game itself played wonderfully but the CGI cutscenes refused to trigger in-game. I had to figure out which scenes should play when and manually play the files offline (thanks to a couple of Mac gaming forums for help with that stuff!). Since then I have read that some PC gamers have had similar issues recently. In contrast, GoodOldGames has wonderfully wrapped up everything from the original, so all of the cutscenes trigger and play perfectly well without a problem – yet another reason I love those guys and support them as much as I can!
Classic RPG’s are typically some of the most replayable games out there, due to the ability to play different character types and make different choices. Vtm: Redemption actually offers some degree of replayability based on how your choices throughout the game have impacted your humanity. If your humanity is very high, you have maintained yourself true to the Christof as old and your choice is clear, but if you have made less noble choices throughout the game you will either be forced into an evil ending or allowed to choose between the Evil, Bad, or Good endings. I have only played the Good ending through, but since the difference only comes in the closing few major battles of the game, I had no issue watching the videos for the other two endings. Interestingly only the Good ending truly brings full closure to the story, whereas the other two feel much more nebulous.
Action RPGs tend to suffer as they are more about combat and less about plot and development. Yet most action RPGs offer either tons of sidequests (as in Divine Divinity or Sacred) or unique characters to play. Vtm: Redemption offers neither. There are no sidequests, no party choices, and there is only so much you can get out of the character development options due to the need to play ‘team cleric’ as mentioned above.
VtM: Redemption is overall a very good game held back by some flaws that will be minor for some but critical for others. The game has very good story, with a nice setting and loads of environment; the graphics are nicely done and have actually aged pretty well over the last decade; and solo combat sections are actually quite fun.
However, I remain stunned that there are no sidequests; the party combat system ends up feeling more like a chore than a joy partly due to the mechanics and party because of the constant need to micromanage NPC’s in battle; and combining the lack of sidequests with the linear plot really limits replayability. That said, taken for what it offers, VtM: Redemption is a solid game that is definitely worth playing – especially for the bargain price at GoodOldGames!
RetroGamer Perspective: VtM: Redemption is part of the link from the ‘modern origins’ games such as Baldur’s Gate and Fallout and truly modern games like Dragon Age. It is from a time when loads of great PC RPG games were released, so is one of many that was lost in the shuffle. I tend to think of this as a ‘fill in the gaps’ game – not a major milestone in gaming, but definitely worth playing!
Netbook Gamer Perspective:
- Digital Download / CD version? – the only currently commercially available version is from GoodOldGames. You can get the CD version used on eBay or through a trading site such as Goozex.
- Installation Notes: The game is on two CDs but installs fairly quickly. There are no registration codes to enter, no online authentication or other requirements to get going with the game.
- Disk Space Requirements: full-install of either CD or Digital version takes ~800MB.
- CD Required to Play? Yes – for the CD version you will need to have the CD in the drive or a virtual drive. Obviously not required for the digital version.
- Control Considerations? The game is very mouse-centric, yet is quite playable on a cramped netbook trackpad.
- Will it run on a VIA C7? The original 2-CD installed and ran fine on my HP Mini-Note in Vista with 1GB RAM.
- Will it run with 1GB RAM? Yes!
- Special Considerations for running in Windows XP / Vista / Win 7? The original game actually still runs fine in all modern operating systems, and the GoG version takes care of some potential issues a few folks have had on Vista and Win7.
- Compatible versions for other OS such as Linux or Mac OS? Yes, a native Mac port was released in November of 2001, requiring OS 8.6 or higher. That release was never patched beyond the initial 1.01 version, and is completely incompatible with Intel systems as it isn’t even an OS X game. I had no success running it in the SheepShaver ‘Classic OS 9 Emulator’.
- Notes on the Digital Version: Some of GoodOldGames recent releases have had issues, but with VtM: Redemption they really got it right!
Conclusion: I did enjoy this game, some times more than others, but it is neither ‘great’ nor a ‘classic’. It suffers combat flaws, is fairly short, and fails to deliver on the promise it shows early on in terms of story and development. But the great story, fun (at times) combat and nice use of vampiric disciplines – not to mention the budget price – make it easily accessible and definitely worth playing for any RPG fan.