Do you ever wonder how things would be if vampires roamed our streets at night? What if they have their own hierarchy, laws, lore, and way of living among us humans? Well, you can get a taste of what that would be like in Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong, a narrative RPG developed by Big Bad Wolf and published by Nacon. The game has been receiving mixed reviews. So, the big question is, is this game what you’re expecting? Or is it as bad as what others are saying? Let’s find out!
Let’s begin with the presentation which is beautiful for the most part. You get this mysterious atmosphere that is perfect for exploring but also gives you chills at times. From the music, attention to detail and even the sound effects, you feel like you’re in an interactive thriller movie waiting to see what will happen next. The music gave me goosebumps when I was in unpredictable situations. Additionally, the voice acting is well done but suffers from volume inconsistencies.
Regardless, the presentation makes you feel like you’re in touch with the vampires and mortals alike. To make things better, loading screens are quick (keep in mind I played on PS5). This lets the immersion-breaking aspect of loading screens absent. All in all, I feel like the entire bundle of this game is on point. Even when you look into the menu, it has this dark-ish vibe to it which all adds to the experience.
One of the shortcomings in my opinion is lip-syncing. It could’ve been much better. The characters seem to be saying something that is different from what you are hearing in the game. Not only that, but expressions are almost non-existent, especially when you look at the eyes of some of the vampires and humans. NPCs and your playable vampires look like they’re shocked the entire time, making the animations feel stiff and poorly done.
Spoiler-Free Story Introduction
Moving to the story, what you need to know is that you have three different playable vampires (we will talk about them more in a bit). One day, Prince Hazel calls upon these vampires due to a Code Red that was pulled on the night when a “deal” was supposed to take place. I will keep things spoiler-free. In short, you must understand that there is a law called the Masquerade. This is what protects vampires from being exposed to the public. Thus, any vampire breaking that law will be in trouble. So, when Prince Hazel pulls Code Red, it’s so she can send the three vampires to investigate what happened while making sure their secret of existing remains unknown to the public.
Now if you’re worried that you might need to play the older games, you don’t. The game facilitates the process for you by giving you access to a Codex and Boston tab in the menu. The Codex contains all information you might need about things like “sire”, “childe”, “embrace”, the different factions, etc. Whereas the Boston tab gives you the background story of all mentioned names, including the three playable vampires. This is why I highly encourage you to check these tabs to get the full experience.
Playable Characters and Profiles
Moving on to the most important element of this game, it’s the three characters you play as; Emem, Galeb, and Leysha. You can learn about them, as I mentioned, in the Boston tab. On top of that, additional pieces of their stories will be exposed through different scenarios you play.
Let’s meet our characters; Briefly speaking, Emem is a lady who loves the nightlife. As such, she built herself different clubs to rule the night with music and drinks. Leysha, on the other hand, is a mother who lost lots of memories but has the gift of seeing the future. This lets her help the Prince know if something bad might happen. Then we have Galeb. He comes from this royalty family back in the day. With that said, he is not fond of how humans act or think and find them weird. Our three characters will quickly be in the same room and receive orders from the Prince. This leads to the big question that each Vampire has to answer: “Who will I be loyal to? Is it the Price? Others? Or myself?”.
Once you begin your play session with the individual vampires, you must choose a profile. It can be an investigator, jack of all trades, veteran, or free. Each profile has a focus on different tactics to help guide your character. For example, an investigator lets you go undercover, extort, and steal information. A veteran uses the character’s aura in conversations. Free, on the other hand, has no pre-attributed points so you can customize your character’s abilities however you want them to be.
I wanted Emem to be a jack of all trades because I felt like this fit her background more but I wanted Galeb to be an investigator. Going hand in hand with this, in your character’s menu, there are two sheets, a character sheet and a disciplined one. This is where the RPG element shines. You have different attributes in these sheets that will help your character perform better in different situations.
The Gameplay Loop
The gameplay loop revolves around detective work and exploring the scene you’re at. You must do this to complete objectives, which we will discuss later. As such, your supernatural abilities, are used in dialogue to better understand what is happening. However, this all comes at a cost, hunger. In other words, when your vampire uses certain abilities, it will cost them hunger points. If you let them starve, they will kill the closest mortal they find. Remember, this is a terrible idea because your job is to make sure the secret of vampires should never be known. If that happens, suspicion levels rise, thus increasing the difficulty of the game. Moving forward, in dialogue, you have different skills that you need, to answer questions or ask them. So, your skill level will be compared to the opponents. Whoever has a higher level wins. This is similar to Kingdom Come Deliverance’s dialogue system. Apart from managing hunger, you also need to take care of your willpower. This is required to win confrontations and gather information. Here is an example of how some of these mechanics work.
Leysha can pull off the mask of 1000 faces to memorize the look of someone. Then she can wear their costume and go to places she couldn’t go to before. Whereas Emem can use blink which lets her transport to out of reach areas. However, both these abilities require hunger points. This is where decision-making rises. You are responsible for your vampires. You have to make sure they do not get into trouble or starve. Speaking of hunger, you keep this in check by feeding on mortals. To do so, you need to find a safe zone, lure a mortal to it, feed on them through a mini-game, and make sure you only feed once, otherwise, they are dead.
Objective and Story Progression (Replayability Value)
As previously mentioned, objectives are important for story progression. They are delivered when a new scene starts. You’ll receive a list of tasks to complete which adds to my love for this game. You can make sure all tasks are completed, or not. Consequently, you will have to deal with the repercussions of that. Thankfully, this is facilitated through an overview screen you can see at the end of each scene. This will review what you did right, what you missed, and what you did wrong. So, you have to make sure that you look into a scene properly, ask the right questions, gather information, and eliminate all evidence about the existence of vampires.
Even when you can skip some of the objectives, you cannot skip the puzzles. I must admit, some of the puzzles were not the best and made me want to rage quit many times. I am not a huge puzzle fan and hoped we can at least skip the ones that we are stuck at. But hey, a quick Google search will help you out.
Is Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong for You?
I usually go off a different style for ranking games. Instead of a score, I try to help you understand who a game can appeal to. So here we go:
Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong IS for You If:
- You’re into vampires and would like to see a new system of laws and a new way of storytelling in a beautifully made interactive narrative RPG.
- You love detective work, going into locations, and being observant.
- You love dialogue systems where your choice really matters.
- You love to be in a situation where you’re going to think: “Who am I going to be loyal to? The system? The Prince? Myself?”
- You love connecting with not just one character, but three of them and discovering their side of the story and how they view things differently.
- You embrace replayability value since each playthrough can yield a different ending.
- You loved the Tell-Tale games but want something deeper, or loved Detroit Become Human!
Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong is NOT for You If:
- You’re expecting this game to be open world. This is not Bloodlines 2.
- You do not tolerate puzzles whatsoever.
- You get anxiety playing games like this where you need to make choices. There are lots of decisions to make and you can’t stay stuck on each one, trying to analyze how things will turn out.
Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong is a solid game. It was exactly what I was expecting it to be. Despite my gripes with the stiff animations, disconnect between voice acting and lip-syncing, and tedious puzzle segments, I had a good time. I loved the intrigue through dialogue where it’s impossible to know the implications of what you say. Not only that but I was connected to the characters and felt like my morals and ethics were being questioned. In addition, I enjoyed my time with this mysterious vibe, atmosphere, music, and voice acting.
Stephanie Chreif (Miss Bubbles)