There’s been little to quench the thirst of Vampire the Masquerade fans of late. The hotly anticipated Bloodlines 2 is on the horizon, but otherwise there’s been nothing to sink our teeth into, that is until now. Vampire the Masquerade: Swansong is here to take advantage of the appetite of those waiting for Bloodlines 2, and while there are a few missteps and niggling issues with Swansong, for the most part it’s a pretty good reintroduction into the World of Darkness.
Vampire the Masquerade: Swansong is a narrative-focused, RPG, which puts you in the shoes of three vampires. Gameplay switches between these characters, each of which have their own abilities, personality, extensive lore, and current object. It’s your task to investigate areas, people and other vampires to initially find out about a breach of security and massacre at a vampire party, and to meet the expectations of the Camarilla prince of Boston, Hazel Iverse, who has tasked you with solving the debacle.
There’s a lot of lore to get your head around when it comes to the World of Darkness and the masquerade that hides the existence of vampires and other supernatural forces from humanity. Learning it all greatly informs you on how you should conduct yourself in the world and what burdens of history are relevant, as well as what other creatures and vampire sub-species you should be aware of. Fortunately, you don’t need to know anything going in. Swansong gradually reveals things to you either directly through conversations and tutorials, or through an encyclopedia that collects information that you can peruse at your leisure. The universe is intuitive enough for you to immediately feel familiar with it but has hidden depth that vastly improves the enjoyment if you have the inclination to learn more. It’s a balancing act that Swansong pulls off effectively, giving you enough to navigate by and build intrigue without hitting you over the head with too much information.
Exploration, collecting information, puzzle solving, and conversations are the primary components that makes up the experience of Vampire the Masquerade: Swansong. Thanks to the three different characters you play as, you manage to see a pleasant variety of locations and interact with many different individuals. There’s a huge amount of dialogue and voice acting on offer that, for the most part, carries the story and characters along nicely enough, but does stumble occasionally. Conversations aren’t always the most engaging, with a lack of emotion making them dull and lifeless. When conversation is such a big part of the experience, it’s a letdown when those conversations are less engaging and enjoyable. It’s partly due to tone. There just isn’t a character with a sense of humour to help alleviate and add contrast to the serious parts of the narrative. Meanwhile, as varied as the locations are, there’s very few that offer anything interesting or unique. There’s no sense of you being in Boston at all, it could easily be any American city.
The narrative has an intriguing premise and some nice twists and turns, but its delivery isn’t great. The conversations and dialogue are certainly the biggest issue with it, but even still it’s not the grandest of tales. What it does well is give you the opportunity to play vampire-detective; exploring areas and talking to people to uncover information is enjoyable. Moreover, your decisions affect the story in big ways, giving you strong agency across the ten to fifteen hour experience. However, you’d be forgiven if you forget this is a game about vampires. You can occasionally feed on people to boost your abilities, and your abilities play a part in manipulating conversations and maneuvering around the environment, but a lot of the puzzles require nothing supernatural, and even the abilities used in conversation can feel a bit speechcraft more than mind control. You also don’t always have the best abilities going into a situation. Upgrades are handled at the end of each scene for each character, and the points you can spend on them are determined by how well you’ve done in the scene. A bad scene can really limit your character’s potential.
Vampire the Masquerade: Swansong suffers a little from an identity crisis. It’s a talking-simulator, stealth game, detective game, Hitman-lite, puzzle game, adventure game all rolled into one, with no particular mastery of either. A lot of the stealth sections are forced and frustrating, the puzzles are uninspired, and there some odd adventure game style sections that feel incongruous with the vampiric natural and powers of the characters. It feels a little half-baked, like a mishmash of ideas not fully formed. This sense of unpolished carries over to the visuals, were characters look lifeless and lack facial details, have terrible mouth flapping animations, and the occasional wild physics with hair. Meanwhile, plenty of texture pop in leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Environments on the other hand, look fantastic, with smooth frame rate throughout.
Vampire the Masquerade: Swansong suffers from lackluster dialogue and some scatterbrain gameplay but makes good use of the already existing lore to present an intriguing story with some really enjoyable sections. It feels unpolished but there’s certainly a lot of potential here, and for fans of the World of Darkness, Swansong is absolutely recommended. For new comers, the issues with Swansong are more of an obstacle, but playing vampire-detective is still an enjoyable experience if you can manage to look past them.
Vampire the Masquerade: Swansong is a long way from perfect but has a scattering of good ideas that makes it enjoyable, and the lore behind it all is great, making this well worth your time if the World of Darkness intrigues you.