Originally released back in the early 1990s, Vampire: The Masquerade continues to be one of the more popular tabletop RPG games/systems. This has spawned a lot of spinoffs over the years, including a number of video games. Despite the popularity of the series, I am personally not that familiar with it. I have never played the original tabletop RPG or any of the video games. Despite this I was intrigued by Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong as I knew the franchise had a cult following and I thought the game looked interesting. Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong is a mixed bag as there are some things that I really liked, but there are a fair share of issues as well.
Based on the tabletop RPG series, Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong takes place in Boston. Hazel Iversen is the new Prince of the Boston Camarilla. In her new role she wants to grow her influence, while also maintaining the Masquerade (not letting humans find out about the existence of vampires). One of Hazel’s recent plans for growth hits a snag when a lot of vampires are killed. In the game you play as Galeb, Emem and Leysha who are tasked with discovering what lead to the deaths so the Camarilla can be protected.
Since it is based on a popular RPG, you would think Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong is itself an RPG. While it has RPG elements, it is not your typical entry in the genre. There is actually no combat in the game outside of some quick time events.
Instead the game feels like a mixture of a RPG with a puzzle/investigation game. The game features a number of levels/scenes where you get to control one of the three characters. In each level you have an objective to complete. This usually entails investigating the area and finding evidence to help you with your mission.
Each investigation features a lot of detective work. Each character has their own special abilities which can help you while investigating. Some help you spot important items, and others keep your actions hidden. Before you start each level you will get to use experience earned from the last level you played with the current character. You will use this experience to acquire skills, or improve your stats. These stats/skills are needed in order to perform certain actions with things you encounter in the environment.
These investigation elements mostly involve puzzle solving. In order to find crucial information, you regularly need to solve puzzles. You can sometimes use your skills/stats to bypass parts of a puzzle, or you can follow a chain of clues to figure out how to solve it. You will obtain information from conversations, documents, and even the environment itself. Once you have acquired this information, you need to be piece it together to solve the puzzles.
The other major element of the game is the conversation mechanic. From these conversations you can acquire important information, or get someone to help you with your objective. Certain dialog options require you to utilize your stats. You will compare your corresponding stat against the other character. If your stat is higher and the randomization factor goes in your favor, you will receive a useful reply. Otherwise you will lose access to whatever information you could have learned from that piece of dialog.
To use stats and skills you will have to use some of your character’s power. Some abilities will use up your power and others will increase your hunger. You will find various objects in the world which can restore small amounts. Otherwise you can feed on humans. To feed you first need to find a safe location as you are trying to keep the existence of vampires hidden. You then need to find a vulnerable human in the area. Your character can then use their power to get them to follow them to the safe area. You then play a simple mini game where you hold down a button to feed on them. The longer you hold the button, the more your hunger will be satisfied. You don’t want to hold it for too long though, or you will kill the person. When you kill someone it will raise the awareness of your vampire Camarilla, which will lead to negative effects later in the game.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, I personally am not that familiar with the Vampire: The Masquerade franchise. Outside of the very basics, I knew little about the world. I mostly bring this up as I might have a different take on the game than someone who is already a big fan of the franchise.
I wouldn’t say that you have to already be a big fan of the series to enjoy Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong. You can play the game and have a general idea of what is going on even if you know nothing about the series. That said, a familiarity with the series will definitely be a net positive. The story in particular is filled with a lot of terms specific to the series. If you are not familiar with the series, this can lead to the story/dialog being kind of hard to follow at times.
The good news is that the game understands this could be a problem. Whenever the game uses a term you might not be familiar with, a little pop-up shows up on the screen which can take you to a menu that will describe the term that was used. If you don’t mind reading a lot of text, this shouldn’t be a problem. If you don’t want to read all of these pop-ups though, the story may be a little hard to follow at times.
Before playing Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong I honestly assumed that it would be another RPG. This usually entails some sort of combat. I was kind of surprised that it doesn’t actually have any combat whatsoever. This likely will be a turnoff for some players. I don’t know if it was necessarily a bad decision though.
Instead the game plays like a typical puzzle/investigation game. In a way the game made me feel like I was playing as a police detective. Instead of protecting the general population though, I was trying to protect the safety and anonymity of a group of vampires.
As a fan of puzzle games I was intrigued by this aspect of the game. I ultimately had some mixed feelings about it though. At times the puzzles/detective work can be surprisingly deep. Some puzzles can be kind of easy. Others actually require multiple steps to solve. While you might not solve them right away, there is cleverness to how some of them are designed. I felt a sense of accomplishment solving these puzzles. The game doesn’t really hold your hand. It forces you to be observant at all times as it doesn’t just hand you the clues needed to progress.
At times I really applaud the game for its puzzle design. At the same time there are some that just seem obtuse. It is really easy to miss certain clues. The icon that shows that you can interact with an object can be really small. In some cases you need to be really close to even know that you can interact with an object. To find everything that you need in an area, you need to move really slowly so you don’t miss anything. Otherwise you likely will have to scour the same area over and over again. You can easily miss something, and not even know that you did.
This is not helped by the fact that the skills/abilities that you choose to use your experience on can play a big role in how well you do. You have no idea what you are going to encounter in a level. Therefore you don’t know what skills/stats you should focus on. You basically have to hope that you chose the right options. If you don’t you can find an object in the environment that you want to use, but can’t because you don’t have the appropriate skills. This can be kind of frustrating as you know what you want to do, but can’t because you don’t have the necessary skill points.
This perfectly illustrates my frustrations with the puzzle design of Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong. At times the puzzles can be great forcing you to really ponder the information that you have in front of you. Other times you need to follow the train of thought of the puzzle designer perfectly or you will get stuck. You could also easily miss out on key pieces of information. This leads to a wildly inconsistent set of puzzles. You likely will love some, and dislike others.
Unfortunately the dialog sections are similar as well. In theory the dialog system is intriguing. You need to use your character’s strengths in order to get the needed information. In a way this feels like more of a conversation, then just a checklist of topics that you go down to get everything you need.
Like with the puzzle mechanics though, you better hope that you chose the right skills/stats at the beginning of the level. Otherwise options will be blocked preventing you from getting key information from a conversation. You can use some of your power to overcome your weak areas, but you will run out of that quickly as well. Then there is the fact that there is a randomization element. You can fail a dialog option even though your stats are better than the other person. This ultimately leads to a somewhat frustrating dialog system.
While I briefly talked about the story earlier, I wanted to come back to it before wrapping up. I think it is pretty clear that someone already a fan of the franchise is going to get more out of the story than someone who knows little to nothing about the world.
Like the rest of Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong I had mixed feelings about the story. There are interesting parts of the story, and some of the characters are well developed. Other areas are lacking though. The story and game as a whole starts off kind of slow. It picks up later on, but it takes time to get to that point.
As for whether your decisions and failures impact the overall story much, I can’t give a definitive answer. You can fail significant parts of missions. Outside of restarting the level from the start, you can’t correct these mistakes either. The game makes it feel like each decision in the game impacts the overall story. I haven’t played through the game enough to know if one decision/failure is going to have a big impact on the ending though.
Ultimately I had mixed feelings about Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong. For someone not too familiar with the franchise, there is a learning curve as the game throws a lot at you. Instead of being a traditional RPG, the game is more of a puzzle/investigation game. Most of the gameplay involves exploring the world looking for clues/information and engaging in dialog. This aspect of the game is pretty hit or miss. Some of the puzzles/detective elements are quite clever and rewarding. Others are frustrating as it is hard to find what you can interact with. Not having the right skills can really limit what you can do as well. The dialog system is similar. There are elements that I liked, and others that don’t work as well as intended. Even the story has its high and low points as it starts off kind of slow, but picks up later on.
Because of these mixed feelings, I can’t give a definitive recommendation either way. If you have no interest in the Vampire: The Masquerade franchise or the puzzle/investigation gameplay, I don’t see the game being for you. If the premise intrigues you though and you are willing to look past some of the issues, Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong can be a fun game that you should consider picking up.
Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong
Release Date: May 19th, 2022 | Systems: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Developer: Big Bad Wolf Studio | Publisher: Nacon | ESRB Rating: Mature for Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Sexual Content, Strong Language
Genres: Exploration, Investigation, Puzzle, Role Playing
Official Website: https://vampire-swansong.com/
- Has some really clever puzzle/investigation sections.
- An interesting world and story that fans of the franchise will likely enjoy.
- Some of the puzzle design is obtuse, and it is hard to find everything that you can interact with.
- You will miss important information and fail dialog/challenges because you chose the wrong upgrades.
Recommendation: For fans of the Vampire: The Masquerade series that are interested in the puzzle/detective gameplay.
Where to Purchase: Amazon (Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X), Digital(Epic, PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One/Series X|S)
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank Big Bad Wolf Studio and Nacon for the review copy of Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.