I bought the original softcover rulebook for Vampire The Masquerade Swansong in 1991, when I was a probably-too-young-for-it thirteen years old. I’ve owned every main rulebook and even got to work on a couple of titles for Vampire: Vampire The Masquerade Swansong 20th Anniversary Edition. This game had a profound effect on my relationships, my friendships and my career as a writer and game designer.
The video game history of the setting is a bit more checkered. Bloodlines is still a classic even if the original needs a ton of fan mods to run and the sequel seems to be firmly lodged in Development Hell. Redemption was a great concept executed poorly. The visual novels and Choice Of mobile games are fun but I wanted more.
When Nacon offered a PS4 review code for Vampire The Masquerade Swansong, I got excited. I was a fan of Big Bad Wolf’s previous efforts, The Council, and thought they would be a good fit for the intrigues of Kindred society. I also thought it would let me dip my toe into writing about video games for a wider audience.
A Bad Night For Boston Vampires
Vampire The Masquerade Swansong is a game that teels the story of an attack on the vampires of Boston. It’s a 3D mystery game full of places to click, people to talk to and puzzles to solve. Players must manage their willpower to access useful dialog choices and feed on mortals to keep their hunger for blood in check.
The story is split between three main characters, each representing a different iconic vampire Clan. In Vampire The Masquerade Swansong lore the Clans determine poltical allegiances, family ties and mystical strengths and weaknesses. Each character works for the leader of the vampires known as the Prince, who has charged them to discover the reason behind an attack during a celebration between two factions forming an alliance.
Galeb serves as the Prince’s right hand in the investigation. He’s aided by Leysha, who sees visions of the future and her missing daughter. The third vampire, Emem, has connections to the vampires that oppose the current Prince’s rule that the Prince hopes can give her more information about who was responsible for the attack.
What I Liked
The game drops players right into the middle of Kindred (what vampires call themselves in the game) politics and intrigue. Nearly every other game in the setting starts the player off as a fledgling vampire so is can explain the world piece by piece. While there is an impressive glossary that explains concepts as you play, I really liked coming into the action without having my hand held.
Vampire The Masquerade Swansong also puts several of the storyline changes from Vampire The Masquerade Swansong Fifth Edition front and center. The Second Inquisition, an alliance of Church and state vampire hunters, are a primary antagonist. One of the maincharacters is dealing with The Beckoning that’s affecting vampires of a ertain age to leave their city behind. It’s a good crash course for players who might not have picked up their dice since the 90s.
The main three characters had some good personal storylines beyond the main mystery. The characters in general were well done, even if they had over the top names like Lazaraus Sheridan. A supplement for the tabletop role-playing game is coming detailing these characters and I’m interested in checking it out.
The main action in the game is dialog based with some choices only available through certain skills or vampire powers at certain levels. Games like this often feel like they have to sneak in some combat element to keep players interested. But this system really felt like these conversations mattered rather than cycling through dialogue choices until everybody’s said the same thing twice.
What I Didn’t Like
Vampire The Masquerade Swansong is technically rough. I played it on a Playstation 4 with a lot of pop-up, some hot-or-miss dialogue synchronization and a handful of crashes. I understand the PS4 a last gen system but there were some issues that seemed to be more universal, like a few tutorial moments that randomly switched to the developer’s native French.
Disciplines, the cool powers that these vampires have, are implented in strange ways. For example, Leysha can use her powers to take on the look of people she meets like cops or doctors to fit in to a location…except she doesn’t change her very distinctive face or haircut. I wanted the Hunger factor to be more of a risk/reward situation but the game made it pretty clear when a scene was just going to need you to use powers.
While I liked the overall story, getting to see all of it was a challenge. I never felt like I had enough XP to open all the available choices and felt like I was playing catchup through the whole game. I also felt cheated whenever I poured resources into a dialog choice, succeeded but then was told it was the wrong one and failed that part of a conflict anyway.
Who Should Play This?
Despite my issues, I enjoyed my time with Vampire The Masquerade Swansong. If I go through the 20 hours of runtime again, I’ll probably do so with a walkthrough on my lap to see what I missed. The decisions made seemed like they had weight on the narrative and I want to see how my first playthrough was different from one where I knew how my choices affected gameplay.
I recommend this game for fans of the tabletop RPG who already know the lore. Fans who can’t seem to get a tabletop game started will feel like they made it through a short campaign after the end of Vampire The Masquerade Swansong. People who enjoy games like Telltale stories will also enjoy the branchine storylines.