- Total Score: - 7.5/107.5/10
Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong has excellent source material and can definitely be a fun experience at times. It might just take too long to fully embrace you.
Developer – Big Bad Wolf Studio
Publisher – Nacon
Platforms – Xbox, PlayStation, PC (Reviewed)
Vampire: The Masquerade has had several video game entries over the years and every release seems to be completely different from the rest of the source material. Of course there are the tabletop, more traditional RPGs, visual novels, a battle royale, and now this. Swansong is a narrative RPG that reminds me of The Council and Call of Cthulhu, both of which released back in 2018. You investigate scenes and interact with characters, while increasing your powers and abilities to tilt the advantage your way in order to solve each scene. Imagine Bloodlines without the combat and explorable cities and you get an idea of what Swansong plays like.
You start in the thick of things, with barely any explanation of the world that you have been thrust into. Unlike Bloodlines where you are a newly embraced Vampire and everyone treats you as such, you play as three different characters that have been around the block more than a few times. As you come across important terms in conversations your glossary will update with their meaning. You can then read up on those terms to get a better understanding of the conversations. The issue with this is that if you are trying to attract new players to the franchise, there should have been one new vampire to act as a way to ease the player in. Going this route, I could easily see how new players just simply will get lost in the conversations and without having an attachment to the series could easily lose interest in the game itself. This leads me to believe this game was developed with the fans in mind and not much consideration to the newcomer. Luckily, I have played Bloodlines and Redemption in the past so I had a basic idea of what was going on.
Each character has different abilities and powers that you can harness during your playthrough and as you complete objectives you gain experience to help you level up these stats. Some abilities are very important in succeeding, while others seem quite trivial. Unfortunately, you don’t get much experience and you won’t be able to max out many of your character’s stats through your playthrough. This can lead to a lot of problems.
You will discover you have wasted points into a skill such as Security and should have distributed more points into better dialogue skills to give you a better ending and outcomes to your conversations. With no way to reallocate your points you just end up having to take the outcome on the chin and keep moving. The reason this is a major issue is that most of the locks and computer passwords can be found by other methods, such as through journals or solving minor puzzles. If there were more permanently locked devices and doors that absolutely required lock-picking and hacking this would have made the points feel more worthwhile.
The conversations you will have with characters in the world provide the chance to be able to use your skills to try and persuade them to your side, give you clues, or help you later in the game. Quite a few times you will find your abilities will fall just shy of obtaining the optimal outcome. To counter this, you have the choice to spend Willpower points which will tilt the chance to win in your favor. This is very helpful for the more important conversations, but I found myself worried about spending those points until the final conversation in each scene. This leads to a bulk of the interactions not turning out the way you wanted for the majority of the game if you haven’t built your characters in certain ways.
Another resource you have at your disposal outside of Willpower is Hunger. This is basically a character’s breaking point, when they unleash their inner beast due to being so hungry for blood. In a few situations this was quite hilarious as it turned the outcome into something mostly terrible for you. At one point in particular, I reached the very end of a scene and was using Hunger points left and right. Unfortunately, I lost track of how many points I had spent and the last choice made me lose control and I ended up killing a central character that was important to an objective for that scene. The bad aspect of this was that nobody really seemed to care very much immediately afterwards. I applaud the game for having these mechanics that permanently change the game, but also wish they were more impactful to the story itself.
The story for each character surrounds the same basic event and its aftermath. You get to experience the next few nights through each individual perspective and the gameplay has different focuses for each character. Galeb is basically a retainer for the Prince, the leader of the Camarilla in Boston. His gameplay focuses more on dominating his enemies and killing those that get in his way. The next character, Leysha, is more of a spy. She can become invisible and change her appearance to infiltrate enemy groups and trick them into giving her information. Lastly, we have Emem. She is the negotiator and a more diplomatic character. Her scenes revolve around getting assistance from other vampire clans and groups. Each character has a fairly interesting story line, but I found myself relating more to Galeb and Leysha over Emem.
Graphically, Swansong is hit or miss. Environments can be quite nice and detailed while character models range from fantastic to absolutely ugly. Also, during conversations, which is the main component of the game, the facial animations and mouth sync to the dialogue can be distractingly poor. Personally, this didn’t really bother me too much, but I can see how people could be turned off by this since you will spend 75% of your time talking with characters. The recorded dialogue will also shift from loud to super quiet with camera changes. It became almost necessary to just read all the subtitles to make sure you hear everything.
The overall runtime of Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong was around 15-17 hours, which felt just about right. I especially loved the last quarter of the game where the missions became more tense, the outcomes of your choices were more severe, and the three vampires were really coming into their powers. Unfortunately, by the time it got to this point, the game only had a few more hours left. By the time you were beginning to really see the cooler aspects of the world, you were at its end.
There are multiple endings that you can achieve based on your successes, so there is some sort of replayability. Unfortunately, for a lot of those endings you will probably need to replay the full game and remember the skills that are necessary to get through conversations to make sure you are able to succeed at everything. I was able to replay through the very last scene a few times and see different outcomes, but the final cinematic didn’t change that much outside of changes to a few seconds of dialogue.
Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong could be a great game for some players, and I am certain there will be those that will love to play it as they wait for Bloodlines 2. I personally enjoyed my time and I hope that some characters will make appearances in the future. At the same time, I realize this game won’t be for everyone. The gameplay style will likely limit the accessibility and appeal for others. The VTM series is worth knowing, and I think with a bit more focus on gameplay elements that were near the end of Swansong, we would have a much better overall game.