Vampire: the Masquerade – Swansong Review – Sunglasses at Night
Title: Vampire the Masquerade Swansong
Developer: Big Bad Wolf
Release Date: May 19, 2022
Reviewed On: PS5
Genre: Narrative RPG
Creatures of the night live among us, posing as normal humans. Vampires are no exception to this. In fact, they might be the best suited to hunt us as they move around our ranks. This picture is the world envisioned by Vampire the Masquerade.
It’s September 9, 2019, in Boston, and many are getting ready for a party, equal parts excited and anxious. Suddenly, an alert rings out amongst the party-goers. The message is terrifying yet straightforward. Red alert, return to the Prince.
Galeb, An elder vampire, Leysha, a seer whose power overwhelms her, and Emem, a rash nightclub owner, are summoned by Hazel Iverson, the Prince of the Camarilla. She sends each on a different job but with the same goal: to discover who attacked the party and what they know about the Kindred.
Swansong makes the bold move to separate the story into three distinct paths, each unaffected by the other but coming together in unexpected ways. I am usually apprehensive about fiction with a split narrative with separate characters. However, it works here.
The red alert is an excellent way to connect the stories with an end goal and give each character time to shine. Especially with the way the vampire powers work to help tell a cohesive story.
For example, Emem has some memory loss early on and is unsure of where she is or where to go. Her power allows her to teleport small distances at the cost of some hunger. However, paths that she has already traversed are much more manageable and no longer generate hunger. As players explore recovering pieces of her memory, they will start noticing routes that don’t cause hunger, meaning she had been there before. She just can’t remember it.
I regret to say that this is the most clever use of the powers within the story, as most others force others to do what you want. I would have appreciated the abilities being more intricate than what they are both narrative-wise and in gameplay.
In gameplay, your vampiric powers can force a solution for problems at the cost of your stomach growling. Frequently I have found that there was a different solution for a problem that didn’t include using my powers.
This problem turned the powers of each character into a trick, only used when no other solution presented itself. I found myself conserving my power use, which may have been the intention of developers, Big Bad Wolf Studio. As hunger can lead to you attacking the nearest mortal and breaking the masquerade, putting all Kindred in danger.
The quick solution is to feed off a mortal after finding a safe zone where your powers will go unnoticed. However, if you find that safe zones and mortals are in short supply, you can always search for rats. It’s not the prettiest, and others will look down on you, but it fills your stomach.
Your hunger is not the only resource you need to keep track of, as the focus can be just as important. Focus allows your character to do tasks such as hacking, persuading, or investigating objects. Without it, you can’t do much. There are methods to restore focus and items that can motivate your character that gives them additional focus to finish the task ahead. Coming out ahead in conversations is also an excellent way to regain focus.
These skills are shared among the three main characters, allowing players to choose the focus of each. There is nothing to stop you from building each character the same. Players that want the maximum amount of interactions will end up spreading their points among everything, this ensures that they won’t master anything. However, mastering a skill isn’t needed for most of the game.
This skill-sharing is unfortunate as this doesn’t allow the characters to feel unique outside of their powers, which are distinct enough from each other. Starting with Galeb, he can resist damage and see through to the true nature of things. In addition, these powers allow him to see if there are any other kindred and track specific people through their aura.
Leysha revolves around deception, capable of going invisible and projecting illusions upon herself. As a result, she can infiltrate enemy locations without having to draw attention to herself. While Emem can teleport, allowing players to find alternate routes to explore areas they wouldn’t be able to normally.
Their powers characterize the characters the most, which leads me to try and spend experience points to complement their abilities better. I did start noticing that this ended up working against me as well, as I would start getting into situations where I would need the skills that I didn’t dump into.
Another issue with the game is that there are times when the player is left wandering around, trying to figure out what the game wants them to do. This lack of direction extends to simply talking with certain characters, unable to find them with little more help than characters telling you they should be around somewhere.
This issue is where players will find that the bulk of their time in a playthrough will go, encouraging players to look around. It can be frustrating after searching around for a half-hour without getting closer to your objective. The solution for this would be for more eye-catching scenery around more critical sections or have more NPCs that will give valuable information.
Having the NPCs have more essential items to say or giving hints is important as conversation and investigation are crucial aspects of the game. So having most of the people you find say nothing of import is a missed opportunity to have the players try to coerce information from others.
Galeb, Emem, and Leysha have compelling enough stories to keep players invested despite these problems, even if it is difficult to find your next destination at times, or you find that you have built each of them in the same way. I know this game has the potential to rise above and give fans an exciting vampire narrative.
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