‘Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong’ Misses the Jugular
Vampire: The Masquerade goes back a long way – all the way to its table-top RPG roots. The game’s history extends to 1991 and over that time, fans have deeply dug their fangs in this rich, tremendous vampire world. The latest game Swansong doesn’t take its time introducing newcomers to the world of The Masquerade either. Instead, they are pushed fang first into the politics and bureaucracy of this massive mythos. It’s a whole lot of what made the table-top famous, but is it too much all at once for folks jumping in to casually play a vampire RPG game?
Nacon’s Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong has you to take on the role of three vampires from the Camarilla. On this particular night you are called in to look into a larger conspiracy that could seriously affect the entire Camarilla and vampirekind as a whole.
From here, you are pushed into a deep pool of politics and vast weaving backstory. Even for someone that had a full background knowledge of this world from the tabletop games, it is still a lot to take in. The codex is something that you can take some time to read through, but it will take you a while to get through. I mean like the time it would take you to get through a novella amounts of time. To add to the vast amount of information that you want to catch up on, you have to also play as three different vampires. Each of them has their own stories and each with their unique places within the Camarilla. It is a lot to dig through. And if you decide to skip that and just play the game without reading through anything, then there is always this huge feeling that you are missing out on a ton of info. It almost feels like you walked into a movie that was halfway over and are scrambling to find what is going on.
The skill trees and abilities are just a esoteric as the games backstory. You will need to feed on humans in order to keep using your vampire powers of dialogue tree persuasion. From there, you can go further into the perks and there are ways to increase each perk and ability but this skill tree is even more cold around the edges that the entirety of trying to figure out the games entire mythos all at once. Added to that, even if you go through and become a master of the perks system, it isn’t something that ever feels rewarding or completely balanced. There are conversations I had in which I picked the right choices and still somehow failed.
The investigational RPG feels like much more of noir based detective story than it is vampire story. A strange choice for a game that is about vampires, right? Another big problem right from the get-go is how the game doesn’t initially know what sort of game it wants to be. It wasn’t until halfway through the game that I realized it is an investigational rpg. It’s tough to discover what the game wants to achieve and sometimes it goes back and forth on even that.
Swansong isn’t even close to being an action RPG by any means. Which is a bit strange for a game in which you would like to use your full vampire capabilities. Sadly, the only actions that you, yourself actually execute are in dialogue trees similar to those of TellTale Games types. In these dialogue tree selections, you can use your vampire powers of persuasion and the like in order to get to certain parts of conversations that can lead to branching events. However, sadly any actual vampire fighting, killing and the like is done in poorly executed and choppy cut scenes.
Swansong is made up out of dialogue trees and strangely complex puzzles. The balance between what the game offers you in its story, dialogue trees and everything else is strangely offset by its incredibly fucking hard puzzles. And once again even when puzzles are mastered there isn’t any real reward or sense of reward to it.
Vampire Masquerade – Swansong is very cold around the edges in that way. Even the system of feeding on humans, which should arguably be one of the most well-designed areas of the game is a single-click process that is plain boring.
I spent over three quarters of Swansong trying to figure out what kind of game it was and what I could be doing to having more fun. Sadly, by the time you actually start to enjoy the game and by the time the story speeds up to an enjoyable pace, it ends. As in you abruptly finish the entire game.
I played an early copy of the game and I really hope that some of the graphics and physics are worked on by the time the game is released, because ooof. The glitches are all over the place and the texture mapping is seriously refreshing each and every time the game edits into a new cutscene. One vampire early on – hilariously had her hair whipping around as though she was in a wind tunnel even though she was standing in a windowless and windless room. I mean, the graphics were a rough one to sit through alone.
I have to hand it to the last bits of story in the narrative. The finale of the game really does start to move with the conversations in the dialogue trees becoming more compelling. Not only does the story become more interesting in those final moments, the stakes to the game are finally revealed and playing the game on its turf finally becomes something that is enjoyable. Sadly, it doesn’t last long before the game comes to an end.
Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong is as cold as the undead that fill it. The amount of story and heavy politics that you are dropped into are too much to handle even those who are familiar with the table top. The lack of any real RPG combat and the boring dialogue trees leave a lot to be desired. There is barely any blood flowing through the games veins. Controls are stiff and most conversations are painful to sit through. Added to all this the puzzles in this game are obnoxiously and needlessly difficult. This isn’t the vampire experience that you wanted. And if you love vampires, than this experience is even more painful. Swansong doesn’t know exactly what kind of game it wants to be and by the time it even considers asking that question of itself the game ends on a flat note.
Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong is out now on PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S, Microsoft Windows.