vampire the masquerade swansong review

Review

Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong Review

May 18, 2022

By: Tyler Chancey

 
 
More Info About This Game
Developer
Big Bad Wolf
Publisher
Nacon
Release Date
May 19,2022 (Calendar)
Genre
RPG
Purchase (Some links may be affiliated)

Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong is a deeply uneven game. It is full of solid mechanics and creative setpieces, with some ambitious storytelling on display. But a lot of that complexity can feel truncated or even undone by the restraints and rough edges of a mid-tier production. When everything comes together, it is a genuinely compelling horror mystery RPG. But when something inevitably goes wrong, a lot of that effort unravels fast. The result is an experience I want to recommend on the strength of its story beats and gameplay systems, but that comes with some reservations due to subpar level and puzzle design.

vampire the masquerade swansong review Leysha
Hats off to the art direction here.

Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong's Story

The game takes place in the city of Boston and deals with the secret vampire society, The Camarilla. An attack has happened at one of their meetings and the Prince has called her most trusted servants to investigate the attack. As information comes to light, it is clear that the attacks were strategic. It is up to you to figure out who is behind the attack, who to trust, and how you decide to protect the secrets of the creatures of the night.

 

You control three different vampires throughout the story of Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong. Emem Louis is a Toreador with a silver tongue, a stellar fashion sense, and some desire for forward momentum. Galeb Bazory is a centuries-old Ventrue that has been the Prince's go-to agent for getting rid of unwanted enemies to her rule. Finally, there is Leysha, a Malkavian that has been getting potentially prophetic hallucinations with a personal stake in recent events.

Overall, it's a novel spin on the entire RPG formula. In many ways it's a refinement of Big Bad Wolf Studio's last project: the quasi-historical episodic mystery, The Council, just with the Vampire: The Masquerade license.

If any of those terms went over your head, the game does provide a codex. Since the story is set in World of Darkness, there are a lot of terms and proper nouns that you will become familiar with, which the game does provide at a steady pace. In addition, the codex only updates when terms, locations, and characters become relevant to the story at hand.

 
 

What helps keep the story from becoming esoteric or confusing is the main cast of characters. A few of them do play into some vampire cliches -- Galeb being over 300 years old and balking at modern music springs to mind -- but each one of them has an interior life outside of the story's events. It helps give the protagonists a lived history, something important when you need to sympathize (or at least understand) the motivations of undead monsters.

vampire the masquerade swansong review emem dominate
Do I dare increase my hunger to push through this encounter? I gotta think long-term.

Swansong's Gameplay is a Fresh Take on RPG Staples

As for how Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong handles gameplay, it's an interesting mix of RPG elements and environmental puzzle solving.

 
 

In each chapter, you are given a handful of objectives. These can range from getting into a restricted area, picking up a key item, or convincing a character to help you. It is up to you to explore the level, speak with various characters, and figure out how to complete these story objectives.

This is where the game's RPG elements come into play. Much like the Vampire: The Masquerade TTRPG, each character in Swansong is represented by three core stats: Physical, Mental, and Social, with a handful of skills like Rhetoric, Intimidation, Psychology, Technology, or Deduction. Dialogue skills will determine what dialogue options are available and how effective they are while talking with certain characters. Knowledge skills help you bypass challenges -- hacking a computer or getting through a locked door -- or learn new information. Finally, there are Disciplines, special powers unique to each character that range from manipulating a person's memory, quick bursts of speed, or picking up traces of psychic energy.

Yet, when Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong becomes too frustrating for its own good, there are moments where it clicks. For every moment I yelled at my screen in anger, there were multiple exclamations of triumph. For every idiotic key hunt there was a Confrontation that had me sweating bullets.

At the end of each story chapter, you are awarded points for how many objectives you complete. These points can then be spent on upgrading your skills or improving your Disciplines. In addition, there is a Trait system. If you keep using a skill or perform certain actions during a story chapter, you will unlock additional bonuses.

vampire the masquerade swansong review dialogue choices
Journey will remember this.

Overall, it's a novel spin on the entire RPG formula. In many ways, it's a refinement of Big Bad Wolf Studio's last project: the quasi-historical episodic mystery, The Council, just with the Vampire: The Masquerade license.

 
 

Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong is at its best when it leans into this dialogue RPG gameplay. This is highlighted during Confrontations: dialogue boss battles where you have a fixed number of times you can mess up before you fail. What is impressive is that, while you are rewarded for having certain builds, you can still win the battle by paying attention. You aren't locked out of winning because you didn't have +3 Persuasion for example, but you are still pressured to choose wisely. This is the first RPG in a long time where I actually treated dialogue as an honest debate and not just a puzzle.

vampire the masquerade swansong review emem lab
The key to forwarding the plot is in here somewhere. Good luck finding it.

Swansong's Puzzles - Malkavian Logic

But while the dialogue system and RPG elements of the game has their moments, the level design leaves a lot to be desired. Level layouts can be confusing with interchangeable rooms and environments, making it hard to keep a mental map of important areas. Some key NPCs wander around these maps, which can be a pain in the neck if you need to find them. There are even stretches where you're wandering around a location looking around for that one interaction that moves the plot forward.

The biggest misstep, however, is some utterly asinine puzzle logic. Some of these harken back to old Adventure game logic at times, bordering less on believable solutions and more on being obtuse. The worst offender was in one of Leysha's chapters where an NPC asked me to seek out a different supporting character in the area. I found who I was looking for, completely out in the open. But every time I went to speak with him, rather than triggering a dialogue option, I got generic repeating lines like he was unimportant. You are given the problem, and you see the solution, but the game doesn't always give you a straight path to it.

Not helping these problems are technical issues. There were several times during my playthrough where my game soft locked due to a key item or NPC not spawning. In addition, character animation can be subpar, the lip-sync being the worst offender. While I had no major crashes during my time with the game, these breaks in immersion do add up.

vampire the masquerade swansong review leysha confrontation
Cheeky King in Yellow reference, game.

Yet, when Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong becomes too frustrating for its own good, there are moments where it clicks. For every moment I yelled at my screen in anger, there were multiple exclamations of triumph. For every idiotic key hunt, there was a Confrontation that had me sweating bullets.

It is maddening since Big Bad Wolf Studio's game design has the potential to be fantastic. The game manages to have multiple outcomes for various story chapters. There are even endings where your lead characters are killed off or fail their missions. When my first playthrough ended, there was a subplot I never figured out, but I still came away fully satisfied with all three leads still alive. I actively missed out on story content due to how I chose to build my characters' skills, yet the core experience was still solid on its own. In a story that juggles so many different character relationships, organizations at war, and overlapping motivations, that is not nothing.

vampire the masquerade swansong review galeb
Miraculously, he survived this scene.

Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong Review | Final Thoughts

If you can tolerate middling production values and some baffling puzzle sections, Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong is worth a look. Fans of the World of Darkness setting will find a story with some surprises worth experiencing. As a novel experiment of adventure game challenges and RPG elements, it is uneven but gets some things right. Just be prepared to put up with some headaches before you start.


TechRaptor reviewed Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong on PC via Epic Games Store with a code provided by the publisher. It is also available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and Nintendo Switch.

Review Summary

Review Summary

6.0
Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong has some novelty as a dialogue focused RPG, but is hampered by mid-production jank and subpar level design.

Pros

  • Great Dialogue-Based RPG Systems
  • Engaging Protagonists and Story

Cons

  • Obtuse Puzzle and Level Design
  • Underwhelming Visuals and Animation