Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong
A Legendary Series That Didn't Always Feel As Such
The Vampire The Masquerade series originated from a successfully ongoing Tabletop RPG by the same name since the 90s. The TTRPG series, in turn, is part of a larger shared universe known as World of Darkness. Aside from the criminal, often hedonistic lifestyle of vampires, it has a shared universe with the gritty survival RPG, Werewolf: The Apocalypse. Yes, that Werewolf: The Apocalypse. Of the World of Darkness universe, Vampire: The Masquerade is arguably its most popular, with several games released in a two-year frame. Vampire The Masquerade Swansong being the latest in the series.
Most players familiar with Vampire: The Masquerade will refer to Bloodlines, the PC exclusive Action RPG that has risen to cult classic status over recent years. After playing Swansong I went back to Bloodlines for old time's sake and to see if I was giving Swansong a bit of a hard time. I've come to the conclusion that both games, including the most recent Battle Royale, Bloodhunt, all share the same predicament. While they are fun to play, they are also mechanically awkward and jarring almost. In the case of Swansong, despite its technical quirkiness, it lured me in much as a vampire would.
Swansong Shows The Diplomatic Side Of Being A Vampire
Vampire The Masquerade Swansong differs from Bloodlines as it is a narrative-driven adventure game, much in the same realm as The Quarry. Rather than resorting to combat, the player must resort to investigation tactics and battles of wit to sway each of the three protagonists' stories in the right direction. The story begins in Boston where a "Code Red" is initiated, forcing the three protagonists to the nearest shelter which happens to be the Prince's whereabouts. Each protagonist is unique with different origins and purposes in Swansong.
Emem, the woman who graces the cover of Swansong, is an established queen of the nightlife while Galeb is an established member of the Blue Bloods, the "upper echelon" of vampires. Lastly, Leysha is a vampire whose sole motivation is to ensure her daughter's safety in the midst of chaos. With three unique characters to play as it's up to the player to customize each protagonist as they see fit. Swansong has extensive customization where each character's traits and disciplines can be adjusted to the player's content.
Talking Is Not A Free Action, It Can Leave You Starved
In the prologue, the player is led to make certain choices against their will but this is to serve as Swansong's tutorial. As mentioned, combat is not the main focus of progression. Like another game we've looked at, Gamedec, dialogue choices go a long way and mean the difference between a favorable reaction and a difficult one. Each dialogue choice is governed by a character's trait. One character who has a silver tongue may breach a character's psychology to influence their decision. Likewise, someone who is well versed in tech may be able to decipher clues that are otherwise hidden.
Regardless, there are two main resources regardless of which vampire the player controls, Willpower and Hunger. The former is used to identify important clues as well as tech and speech skills. The latter influences each character's vampiric tendencies as well as their influence on other characters in the game. The Hunger stat is most important as without proper management, the protagonist can become feral and feed haphazardly. To keep a vampire's hunger in check, they often have to engage in a minigame where they feed on a vessel in a safe room. Doing so will keep the vampire's hunger low at the risk of killing the human. Killing humans and eating rats will raise suspicion levels, which will make certain dialogue checks harder to overcome.
An Incredible Premise Is Marred By Some Interesting Aspects
Like Bloodlines, there are many aspects to Swansong that are unique to the Vampire series and World of Darkness as a whole. Each of the protagonists, especially Emem, are very unique in its personalities and backstories. The one off-putting thing about Swansong is its presentation. For some reason, each character whether it's an NPC or a protagonist feels stiff. The voice acting is fine if not hammy at times, but facial animations and body functions appear doll-like. It's jarring at times when there are scenes that call for a more serious tone.
Another slight on Swansong is that it throws a bit too much at the player all at once. There are three default profiles for each character coupled with the chance to assign stat points freely if possible. Unless the player spends some time with the game, it's impossible to know what character benefits from which stat investment. By the time I finished the first scene in the game involving Emem, I realized that I would have been more effective in picking the Investigator profile over the "veteran" one. What would have been a better fix would be to assign unique default profiles for each character, or have the player have their time with each character before deciding on a profile.
The Price Of Entry Is Steep But There Is A Good Game Underneath
Despite it being slightly rough around its edges, there's a sort of charm to be had in Swansong, specifically exploring the underbelly of an already underground group of individuals. Vampires and humans only co-exist in secrecy and the general populace is unaware of the former's existence. The balancing act between trying to blend with society and giving in to your superior vampiric tendencies is an intriguing one.
Unfortunately, as far as first impressions go, Vampire: The Masquerade - Swansong is a bitter pill to swallow. I'm willing to give the game a chance in the future perhaps, as something to sate the appetite until Bloodlines 2. Vampires are always a cool archetype to explore, especially the modern aristocratic vampire driven by story rather than carnal bloodlust. Players who are used to the World of Darkness setting and want to try something new wouldn't hurt to give Swansong a shot. It may be a better palate for the player than myself.
Vampire: The Masquerade - Swansong is available on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.