Nighthawks Exposed #3 - Let's Talk Freedom
We've talked about the lore, so let's spend some time on the actual game. Nighthawks isn't a fixed story, and it's not a simple series of question marks with associated quests. Instead, it's a mix of life simulation and RPG... but what does that mean?
Put simply, it's about freedom. Each Act of the story is up to a month long (with the overall story taking place over about three years) and within a few boundaries, you get to do what you want with that time. Work on your friendships. Pursue side-quests. Explore. Work on your various stats. Wander around and have random encounters. It's up to you.
Should You Choose To Accept It...
Instead of a main quest chain, the majority of the game focuses on more general Objectives. In the first Act, that's a simple one. You have to pay your hotel bill, which means making money. Later, they get more complicated. To accomplish your Objectives, you go out in search of stories, from rumours collected by your bartender, Becca, to random encounters on the street, or direct requests from other characters. These stories and the decisions you make during them also help define your character, your place in vampire society, and how other people think of you. Get caught lying too often, for instance, and your Untrustworthy reputation will follow you around until you can shake it. Don't do favours for people, and they won't be there to do them for you when you come calling. It's essentially a life-simulation core that splinters off into modular stories, each exploring a different facet of the world.
(Incidentally, if you're thinking this structure sounds a little bit like the second chapter of Baldur's Gate 2, have a cookie. It's very much inspired by that...)
What makes things more complicated is that along with doing this, you have to feed - be it hunting for blood or making other arrangements - and the passing of time isn't just a counter. If you're caught out by the sun, you'll fry. If you go too long without eating, that'll cause its own problems. This isn't like survival games where you can't go five minutes without drinking your body-weight and similar - you don't need to be constantly hunting. Staying healthy is however a priority, one made harder not just by thirst, but by blood corrupted by drugs, alcohol and disease.
In addition, other characters in the world have their own lives that will usually take precedence over your problems. They're not a party in the sense that they're your minions, but characters who may - if it suits them - be willing to join you for the night. They won't always be available. Madame Lux, for instance, is employed as a stage magician, and can't go adventuring when she has a set to perform. That means that if you have a quest you want to bring her along for, you have to choose whether or not to wait until she's available, go alone, or maybe bring someone less suitable along. As well as make it worth her time.
On top of this, you'll also encounter more traditional quest-options as you explore, with regular characters having their backstories and current-day problems to unlock and get involved with, opportunistic work that's randomly generated if you're in urgent need of quick cash or favour, and critical path quests that advance the main storyline to its wildly divergent endings. Honing your skills will also swallow up time, as hours pass while you attend nightschools to learn languages, or practice hand-to-hand combat in the docklands fighting pits. Such things may cost you much of a night, but can pay dividends when you find yourself having to translate something... or punch someone through a wall.
Balancing The Scales
Don't worry if this sounds fiddly or overly complicated. In particular, the passing of time is intended to be meaningful, but not torturous. Most timed events are based on a day-by-day system rather than making you rush around the city to get somewhere at a specific hour. On a wider level, you'll get both plenty of time to accomplish what you need to in each Act, and clear advice on exactly what that is and how long you have.
The intended feel is that rather than feeling like you're racing against the clock all the time, that every click is a move in a chess game against the world, with the limits there to make those decisions more meaningful. And, of course, to encourage replay. If you only play Nighthawks once, you'll find it an incredibly responsive, satisfying adventure. If you come back, you'll find just how much more there is to discover if you try different powers, make different friends, and pick different choices. This is a city of stories. Write yours.