Review – Vampire The Masquerade: Swansong
I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of the Vampire: The Masquerade franchise. The idea that a secret society of vampires exists and hides themselves from normal humans is a superb fit for gaming. However, I never got into the tabletop game, nor the cult classic Bloodlines, which is getting a sequel one day, if it ever stops facing developmental issues, that is. Vampire The Masquerade: Swansong is my first dive into the franchise in the form of a detective-style adventure game from the developers of The Council.
The game is set in Boston, on the eve of a giant vampire party where the Camirla clan will meet up and undoubtedly get up to all kinds of vampire business… or would have, if things didn’t go horribly. A code red has been triggered due to a masacre at the party and everyone is on high alerts as they figure out who was the culprit behind it. You play as three different characters sent on varied missions to cover the tracks to keep the masquerade a secret from those who are not in the inner circle.
You play as three completely distinct vampires sent out on missions throughout the course of the game. We have Galeb, who has been in the Masquerade since the 1700s, and has the most experience with how things work within this society. There’s Emem, whose connections throughout Boston make her an extremely valuable ally. Finally, there is Laysha, who is the most unique of the three, with special abilities that allow her to see the future, or vague representations of it, at least. Each of these characters will be given missions by Prince Hazel to clear out evidence and bring a stop to the Second Inquisition.
The story of Swansong is actually quite compelling, with a great setup that immediately gets you invested. As you progress, you will delve deep into character motivations, with plenty of twists and turns and you aren’t quite sure of who to trust… or who to trust more. You can never be too sure of someone’s motivations. I was constantly propelled to push through, even if the writing fell flat at times. The characters are interesting enough, and there’s plenty of lore to dig into with some neat twists I wasn’t expecting. Though the really generic and underdeveloped villains take the place of something that could have been so much cooler.
Throughout the game’s story you will need to make a number of choices that will shape not only how characters interact with you, but also how the plot plays out. These are either smaller things that will clue you in to certain storypoints or larger choices that will completely change the course of the plot as a whole. Objectives typically have multiple paths to completion depending on your choice, some of which are not apparent until the end of the chapter, where the game teases you into what you might have missed.
As I said earlier Swansong is my first dive into the Vampire The Masquerade franchise, and the so-called World of Darkness as a whole, so I’m coming in with really fresh eyes. Getting into the franchise is initially daunting, with so many concepts that are just dropped on you. Thankfully, a fully detailed codex with prompts at key moments help out fill in the blanks. Whilst a standard feature, it is one I greatly appreciated here, being unversed in the World of Darkness lore. If you aren’t familiar at all with the franchise, don’t worry too much, as everything deemed important is explained either in-game or in the codex.
Much of Vampire The Masquerade: Swansong plays like a detective mystery game. You explore small self-contained maps to find clues to complete your objectives. You walk around and interact with items throughout the environment, reading tons of text logs. Dialogue can branch into different directions depending on what choices you make, and stats you have available to you. Occasionally you will come across puzzles that will have you scouring the room to look for close. For the most part, these are pretty well designed, however some come off as annoyingly vague.
Between each chapter, you will be able to spend experience point on a variety of skills. There are some standard stats such as security, lockpicking and knowledge, which will much more easily allow you to traverse through the world and interact with objects that would otherwise be inaccessible. Then you have dialogue-driven skills that you will need to choose depending on the situation and who you are talking to. For example, persuasion might be more effective against one character who’s immune to intimidation.
Finally, there are a few disciplines which are where your vampiric powers hide. These range from being able to see secrets in the world to other more powerful tools, such as being able to steal someone’s identity and wear their face or dominate which will force intel out of other people through dialogue. It’s up to you where your skill points go, but what we have here is a surprisingly deep RPG system.
In one of the first chapters in the game, you play as Leysha as she investigates the party massacre that kicked the whole plot in motion. To do this, you will need to use investigative abilities as well as vampiric ones. The catch is that the more you use your vampiric abilities, the more the beast inside of you takes control of your actions. Managing your beast meter (let’s go with that) is a crucial part of Swansong. In order to do this, you will need to find safe spaces around the maps to drain vessels. You can’t have multiple vessels in the same space so be aware, and if you need to drain the vessel again this will kill them, providing more suspicion on your character, making skill checks more difficult.
Some elements of Swansong fall a little too much on the basic side, especially when it comes to stealth. Being able to use many of your abilities without raising suspicion even things as going into stealth whilst a guard is looking at you doesn’t trigger any response. Changing disguises only works in safe rooms for some reason, when it should really be based on line of sight. These aren’t game-breaking but do ruin a bit of immersion, creating a bit of unnecessary backtracking. On a slightly more game-breaking side of things, I did encounter a number of bugs, with NPCs not moving to their locations or me just not being able to interact with them. I had to restart the entire chapter as a result. I have lost a couple of hours of progress in my roughly 15 hour playthrough.
If you’ve seen any of the footage for Swansong, you will notice that the trailers looked incredibly rough; this rings true in the full game as well. Let me start off with the positive: environments are appropriately detailed, with some solid lighting that gives some life to the world. There’s plenty of interesting locations throughout with tons of variety which really helps this games presentation a lot. However there is one fatal flaw in this game that really can have an impact on the rest of the game and that’s the quality of the character models.
Animations feel unfinished, often with a tons of clipping and dead expressions that just make the game feel rushed and glitched out, resulting in an immersion-breaking experience. Faces in Vampire The Masquerade: Swansong make Mass Effect: Andromeda‘s look almost lifelike by comparison. That’s not to mention the lip sync, which is pretty much non-existent. This gives Swansong an incredibly rough that falls behinds modern standards and can make it much more difficulty to recommend.
Much like the graphics, the sound design is a little bit of a mixed bag as well. Whilst the main voice cast is solid enough, doing a decent enough job to immerse me into the world (though nothing exceptional), a lot of the side characters can come off as annoying. Leysha’s daughter, Halsey, is the most annoying of the bunch, for instance. Elsewhere, we have a decent enough soundtrack, but not much else in the way of the environmental sound design. Everything just feels so static, not much happening in the background.
Vampire The Masquerade: Swansong is a flawed game for sure, with some rough visuals and a gameplay loop that certainly won’t be for everyone. However if you are looking for a compelling vampire mystery and don’t mind quite a few annoyances that are usually present in modern AA games, then there is a lot to like about this flawed, but certainly captivating detective adventure.
For a very dialogue and character-driven experience, the character models and animations are not up to scratch at all. Even if environments look solid enough.
Whilst very basic, the core gameplay of Swansong has you investigating a compelling mystery.
I am very conflicted on the sound department. For every good voice actor there’s another equally bad performance.
Vampire The Masquerade: Swansong‘s fascinating premise makes for a unique, if a bit flawed, detective game,rioritising dialogue and exploration over everything else.
Final Verdict: 6.5
Vampire The Masquerade: Swansong is available now on PC, Xbox and Playstation
Reviewed on PC with an RTX 2060, Ryzen 5 3600X and 16GB RAM. Installed on SSD.
A copy of Vampire The Masquerade: Swansong was provided by the publisher.