A code red has alerted the vampiric council of an unknown catastrophic event so it's up to Galeb, Leysha, and Emem to uncover the truth in Vampire: The Masquerade - Swansong. Are you up to the task?
My introduction to Vampire: The Masquerade
I'll start by stating that I have never played any other Vampire: The Masquerade game and I'm completely new to its universe even as a table-top role playing game. What drew me to the release of Vampire: The Masquerade - Swansong was the opportunity to do some investigating while uncovering the story behind a terrible event. Plus, I enjoyed the developer's previous game The Council. v1d30chumz 18-232-59-38
Unfortunately, Vampire: The Masquerade - Swansong does a poor job of introducing you to the universe unless you enjoy doing a ton of reading. You start off in the role of Emem, a vampire who is summoned to the Prince (a leader figure) and given orders to find out more about what's happened. New words are thrown at you and you'll struggle to follow along if you're new to the franchise like I am but you'll probably pick up just enough to understand what's happening at a very basic level.
After you complete Emem's first scene, you'll get to step into the shoes of 2 other main characters: Galeb and Leysha. While Emem is an up-and-comer in the very organised world of vampires and warlocks that the Vampire: The Masquerade universe encompasses, Leysha appears to be in a world of her own as she completes her assigned tasks while accompanied by her daughter and Galeb is more established in his role and fairly astute as well. As you play through the story, you'll learn more about the history of each character, what drives them, and what they struggle with. At least one of their backstories is actually quite surprising to watch unfold.
Making decisions is a key part of Vampire: The Masquerade - Swansong. You'll be faced with smaller choices such as whether or not you find every piece of evidence to support an argument as well as bigger decisions such as choosing whether to even go down a specific branch in the story. I felt like I was making my own story for the most part but the amount of choices frequently dictated how many bugs I came across. Once, I couldn't get an elevator to open and another time, the camera angle would stick to one direction thus preventing me from looking at a key item that I needed. The worst thing was that my character got stuck in a freezer with no way out so these bugs can be serious. Some of them can be fixed by restarting the game but others require you to restart a chapter and lose your progress which is frankly unacceptable for a full-fledged game.
In order to get around your environment, each character has a set of disciplines and skills. Disciplines are abilities that allow you to do things like highlight important items, follow scent trails, and teleport. Skills can literally unlock more doors for you by allowing you to hack into electronics or use a conversational skill to convince someone to give you a keycard. Disciplines are unique to each character while the same set of skills applies to all 3. At the end of each character's scene, you'll also be able to level-up their skills and disciplines. I quite liked this upgrade system and put thought into what to spend my measly points on to impact the next scene the most. Points are accrued by completing as many tasks and uncovering as much information as possible within a scene so there is a good incentive to do so.
There is no life bar in Vampire: The Masquerade - Swansong but you do have to manage your hunger and willpower. Hunger increases depending on your environment and actions and willpower depletes when you use it in an action such as choosing a discipline to persuade someone to give up information. Hunger is satiated by literally biting humans and sucking their blood in a pretty gruesome scene that always made me feel uneasy. In order to do so, you must find a safe zone in the area then select a good candidate and tell them to meet you in the safe zone. There are limited safe zones and humans and some areas will increase your hunger faster which makes it difficult to keep it at a reasonable level. Willpower is a little easier to boost if you can find items in your surroundings that increases it. Keep in mind, it's generally used to help you progress in the game but it's actually not required.
The scenery in Vampire: The Masquerade - Swansong has good variety with some fairly large areas featuring meandering corridors and doors to unlock and it was in these areas that I had the most fun. Deciding on the path to follow to get to my destination reminded me of a much simplified version of Hitman with just enough complexity to keep it interesting and make me feel like I was piecing things together for myself. Other scenes can be long, dull, and drawn-out and if the run button randomly stops working for you like it did for me then it will feel even more monotonous.
Finally, other scenes can be pretty hard to experience if you're not prepared to see a ton of blood, dismemberment, delusions, and generally extremely creepy atmospheres. It made me unnerved on more than one occasion but I'm glad I persevered to the next less creepy scene where I felt like I was back in my element. Besides figuring out a chain of events to proceed, there are also puzzles strewn about that can be quite satisfying to complete which is a nice change of pace.
Anyway, the character models in Vampire: The Masquerade - Swansong are very hit and miss. For the most part, Emem and Galeb are convincing but there are many side-characters that I assume are supposed to look like they're decomposing such as Kaius Leto who is covered with scars and even has a nose missing. It's not only these characters that are a little unsettling; in fact, most people that you come across will look a little off to some degree. For example, their eyes will often bulge when they're talking; sometimes, to a comical degree. On the other hand, the voice acting is rather solid for most characters bar one obvious misplacement.
As a newbie to Vampire: The Masquerade, I wasn't impressed with Swansong. There were moments when I found myself enjoying the investigation aspect but these were still marred by technical issues, graphical inconsistencies, and an unsettling atmosphere.
- + Scenes that require intensive problem-solving can be quite enjoyable
- + Learning about the main characters is interesting
- - Too many bugs that range from minor to major; some even require restarts
- - Character models can be off-putting
- - Some scenes are too unsettling to enjoy