Vampire: The Masquerade fans have had a tough time lately. The long-awaited sequel to Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines has been indefinitely postponed to 2021, meaning the gothic-horror open-world RPG saga has returned to its grave much sooner than we’d hoped. There’s a bright spot here, and that’s that the much more cerebral Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong has just enough blood and wit to satisfy the appetite of any RPG fan whose tastes are a little more nocturnal.
However, instead of running through an open world, you instead fall into the slippery oxfords of one of three different vampire tritagonists, each using their supernatural abilities to uncover mysteries and perform detective work in multiple scenarios that cross multiple paths depending on the case stretch as you want to play – no different than what you might be used to from Telltale’s The Walking Dead series. But if you’ve been put off by Telltale’s relatively shallow approach, don’t worry: after playing the second quest, which lasted around two hours, Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong seems as deep as any CRPG. It’s clear that each of the various stats, perks, and special vampire abilities all mesh in a way that adds weight to every decision you make, especially when you’re putting points into your character build.
Vampire: The Masquerade – Swan Song | March 2022 screenshots
It also draws heavily on lore established in the tabletop RPG World of Darkness, and as such you can see the longstanding politics between vampire families that weaves through Swansong’s much dialogue. For example, Galeb’s ability to spot other vampires allowed me to question a specific witness during the murder investigation, which focuses on the second quest, and I would have had without Galeb’s special power and being a member of the Ventrue family, he holds high in the vampire world social prestige. This allowed me to find an important clue that I might not have discovered in a traditional way.
Unlike Bloodlines, Swansong saunters along at a pace that’s comfortable for fans of CRPGs and detective games. As a fan of games like Disco Elysium, 13 Sentinels and The Forgotten City, I felt right at home here. That said, at least in the second quest, there’s no significant combat. Some dialogue options require you to test your focus against an NPC, which triggers a dice roll that determines whether you “succeed” in a Persuasion or Intimidation test, for example. But the shadowy corners of Boston’s seedy underworld are largely littered with clues in the form of notes and nondescript objects, and it’s up to you to reconstruct the crime scene using your own senses – and just enough help from your vampire powers to make things interesting . Note-takers beware, there’s far less hand-holding here than in other RPGs. I had unknowingly discovered a code for a locked vault, but instead of putting a marker in a quest log, Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong simply treated it as if it were part of the world, forcing me to later retrace my steps with it I could write down the code on a notepad. It seemed like whether or not a clue actually became useful or important depended on my own intuition and ability to piece information together.
Choices seem to be very important here, especially since you get a limited amount of energy, called willpower points, to use your abilities to unlock doors, hack smartphones, or basically anything that requires your non-supernatural abilities. There are “healing” items lying around, like these ancient coins, that you can use to periodically restore your willpower points and keep investigating. Of course, it wouldn’t be Vampire: The Masquerade game if you couldn’t also test your supernatural abilities or disciplines, but doing so increases your hunger meter. Of course, if your hunger meter gets too high, you’ll need to feed on human NPCs to remain hidden in your human form, lest you blow your cover and abandon the investigation. I didn’t choose to feed anyone during my own test run, but developer Big Bad Wolf Studio tells me it takes a certain amount of finesse – you’ll need to figure out how to lure NPCs into private areas before you can enjoy them can their blood and win back those sweet, sweet discipline points.
All in all, my experience was positive even while playing the latest Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong Build via a game streaming service presumably based somewhere in Bordeaux, France. One thing that might annoy fans of dialogue- or decision-based RPGs, and that might get fixed in time for Swansong’s May 19 release date, is that the facial and character animations in Swansong’s preview build look pretty stiff and unconvincing. At least the writing and voice acting are strong enough to sell these characters. Some may also conflict with Galeb’s internal monologue, which was a bit too short of breath for a detective game that has so much background in the works, and it did little to inform me what he was actually thinking; In fact, it seemed like a way to establish him as someone with a penchant for edginess, rather than someone with plenty of inner depth, which would otherwise have helped me connect him to the world I spent two hours exploring.
https://www.ign.com/articles/vampire-the-masquerade-swansong-first-hands-on-preview Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong – The first hands-on preview