We’re a little far out from Halloween, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be surrounded by classic creatures of the night! I, myself, have been wrapping myself in toilet paper to really embrace the mummy lifestyle. What, you thought I was hording TP because of a pandemic? It’s going to be the next big thing, trust me.
Until that happens, though, we can safely enjoy experiencing vampire politics in Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong, a narrative RPG within the World of Darkness series that explores the convoluted relationships between bloodsuckers.
Humanity lives in ignorance, surrounded by predators. The Kindred, vampires that have existed for centuries, exist among us thanks to a code of silence known as the Masquerade. This is the case everywhere, but in big cities like Boston it’s especially prominent. However, after a political shake-up, the Kindred in Boston have encountered a set of deadly circumstances and locked down in a Code Red for safety. You’ll control three of Boston’s vampiric elite – prophet Lesha, socialite Emem and enforcer Geleb – as they strive to learn the meaning behind the Code Red and delve into a mystery that may envelop the whole of the city’s underworld.
Fans of Telltale’s games are sure to appreciate Swansong’s gameplay. Unlike previous titles set in this universe, there’s not much of a focus on combat here. Instead, Swansong plays something like 2018 adventure The Council, with your characters spending more time engaging in social confrontations rather than physical fights. You can assign skills to all three Kindred to help determine how this plays out, as well as rationing resource pools to overcome challenges where it’s necessary.
That might sound like an exciting concept, and it is when it works…but more often you’ll feel like you’re being punished for not being able to predict the future as you won’t know what skills are needed for which interactions. In contrast with The Council, Swansong tends to have much fewer “correct” solutions to a given situation. One way to look at this is that at least it adds replay value!
Swansong also suffers a little from a technical perspective. For a game that has so much in common with visual novels you’d think there’d be more of a focus on great graphics, but that’s just not so. Characters have a weird doll-like quality to them that doesn’t do much for the supernatural horror feel we’re aiming ofr here…well, not intentionally, at least. Some of this might be attributed to the game having a Switch version which would require tuning down the graphics a bit. Either way, this just isn’t a great-looking game.
That’s not to say Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong is all bad. The World of Darkness setting is as intriguing as ever, and while the more violent side of Kindred life might not come up as much as one would expect, players who really like vampiric politics are going to get a lot out of this one. There’s plenty of intrigue to go around, plus it does a pretty good job of rewarding players who have a keen eye for detail and can investigate the world thoroughly. This game is different, but when it works, it works. You might just need a second playthrough to get the most out of it, since you won’t mistakenly pick useless skills and powers when you know what’s coming.