Vampire: The Masquerade - Swansong Review

Richard Walker

It all begins with a doom-laden premonition, before you're hurled headlong into the deep end of Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong's Boston Camarilla, a secret society of bloodsuckers, expected to know what's going on without being given very much in the way of context. You're told that 'The Masquerade' of the title is how vampires hide themselves from the rest of the world, and anything that compromises it is cause for alarm. One such compromise has occurred, an attack on vampirekind initiating a 'Code Red', throwing the Camarilla into disarray. As three different vamps, it falls to you to learn the truth behind the cause of the Code Red, at the behest of Prince Hazel Iversen. Eventually, Swansong will get its hooks into you, but it's bloody tough going at times, and an abrupt opening isn’t the most welcoming start.


During the game's first hour or so, in all likelihood, you'll feel completely adrift. Unless you're already well versed in all things Vampire: The Masquerade, or prepared to read reams of codex entries, it's hard to know exactly what is going on. Clearly, there's some kind of emergency afoot, but Swansong expects you to start making dialogue choices without adequately setting up the story. It's all a big, confusing mess from the outset, but, if you take the time to get to know protagonists Emem Louis, Galeb Bazory, and Leysha, then attempt to wrap your head around the inner workings of the Boston Camarilla, Swansong slowly becomes more palatable.

Developed by The Council studio, Big Bad Wolf, and based upon the current fifth edition of the Vampire: The Masquerade tabletop RPG, Swansong is a messy affair. It takes some pretty Herculean perseverance to get to its good bits, and subsequently to get to grips with the various intricacies of its systems, which are informed by the tabletop source material. Emem, Galeb, and Leysha have their own unique vampiric abilities to help them make their way through the high society of the Camarilla, with its political chicanery and litany of mysterious, brutal murders committed from the shadows. Each of Swansong’s vamps also has their own dedicated skill tree and character sheet, the latter of which is connected to the same set of core skills.

It can be tricky to predict which of these skills you're going to need for each of Swansong's scenarios, however, so pouring XP into technology or security prowess might see you come unstuck, when points might have been better spent on improving your linguistic proficiency. Given the volume of chat in the game, it generally seems wiser to invest in your vamp's social skills – intimidation, persuasion, or rhetoric allowing you to get the results you want in differing ways – but, then, when you're stuck with a device you can't hack or a locked door in your path, you can often question your choices. Either way, there's a depth and diversity to the abilities at your disposal, making progression a frequently agonising series of decisions.

There's no combat in Swansong. The crux lies in making dialogue choices, and these are best exemplified in the 'confrontations' you'll have with some of the game's more difficult characters. Winning an exchange hinges upon a number of factors, including your ability to focus, which in turn expends your willpower. As your willpower dwindles, so, too, does your capacity to counter during a heated tête-à-tête, leaving you without an option to respond effectively. Similar limits are placed upon your vampire powers, which are connected to your hunger level, topped up by surreptitiously feeding upon unsuspecting civilians. You'll need to locate safe zones in which to do this, then avoid overdoing it via the mini-game gauge, as holding the trigger down to feed for too long will kill your prey. Leaving behind dead bodies isn't a great way to uphold 'The Masquerade', as they tend to invite suspicion. Funny, that.

Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong is slow to get started, and initially its glacial pace and lack of background context can be hugely off-putting. Textures popping in and out, stilted animation, shabby lip syncing, some ugly character models, occasional glitches, and a choppy frame rate do little to help make a compelling case for the game, but, if you decide to stick with it, a rather involving narrative begins to emerge. Puzzles also promote a fair bit of player agency, trusting you to figure out the solution for yourself with minimal handholding. Soon the slower pace becomes somewhat hypnotic, and Swansong's myriad technical flaws become less of a major issue, and more a bothersome hindrance.


Certain mechanics are quite muddled and poorly presented, and when conversations end in a tie, diverting to a 50/50 dice roll, and then things don't go your way, it's immensely frustrating. Nonetheless, weeding out a traitor and figuring out whether Prince Hazel can be trusted, while developing each of your character's traits and abilities, as well as solving intricate puzzles, eventually proves to be a relatively enjoyable experience. Unfortunately, Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong's lack of polish and attention to detail drags it down into the doldrums, its low-level production values ultimately scuffing what is otherwise a fairly interesting and complex game of vampiric machinations and intrigue. There’s a good game in here somewhere, but you’ll have to work exceedingly hard to find it.

Vampire: The Masquerade - Swansong

Should you manage to look past the shoddy presentation and dodgy visuals, Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong will reveal itself to be a mildly engaging tale of hidden bloodsuckers, unravelling a mystery brimming with murder and betrayal. Beauty, in this case, really is more than skin deep.

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Voice performances are perfectly fine, while the game's soundtrack is entirely unobtrusive. As such, the soundscape is a little on the unremarkable side. Completely serviceable stuff, and that's about all there is to say about that.


Take a cursory look at Swansong, and it looks alright. Seeing it in motion, on the other hand, is altogether different. Character models and textures are fairly poor, but environments are relatively decent. Overall, it's not much of a looker.


At first, Swansong can seem enormously daunting, the game hurling you into a maelstrom of characters, stats, dice-rolling nonsense, and such. You'd be forgiven for giving up early-on, but it's a game that proves rewarding in the long term.


Occasionally, Swansong can feel like it's dragging on a bit, and frequent glitches can make a frustrating game more so. At one point, I lost a bunch of save data and had to start over. However, it seems that the day one patch has ironed out a few issues.


For the most part, Swansong's list has many of the game's bases covered. Having said that, trophies for making different decisions, which, in turn encourage multiple playthroughs, aren't particularly appealing. One playthrough was enough, thanks.

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