REVIEW – There’s been a wave of games set within the Vampire: The Masquerade universe. Still, most of them have primarily been text-based adventure games (except Bloodhunt’s battle royale and Werewolf: Apocalypse). At first glance, Swansong seems to depart from this trend with its third-person camera perspective and fully controllable characters. Still, it soon becomes apparent that this is not the sequel to Bloodlines we all wanted (and which seems to be forever overdue).
That wouldn’t necessarily make Swansong a bad game, but it undoubtedly owes a lot more to the series’ tabletop origins than the spectacular trailers suggest. Whether a mix of traditional RPG and third-person video games works is a more complicated question.
Lots of text and stats, and it instead “sucks.”
The world of Swansong fits into the broader setting of World of Darkness and is brimming with references, stories and supposed lore (with the crutch of an ever-expanding glossary for new players). From the charismatic Tremere to the insane Malkavians, the various vampire types are all present and entirely fair. Interacting with each type may require different approaches. While it seems like a laudable variety, the reality is that you’ll often be locked into limited choices despite the extensive web of character stats. This is where the disconnect between role-playing and dialogue-driven gameplay becomes most apparent.
In Swansong’s narrative, you play as three – conflicting – vampires who serve the new prince of the Boston Chamberlain, Hazel Iversen: the ancient protector Galeb, the conflicted Emem, and the Malkavian Leysha. Iversen recruits all three undead to investigate the circumstances of a massacre of vampires. Along the way, you’ll get involved in various intrigues, diplomacy, assassinations and relatively straightforward (and boring) puzzles to solve. There’s some freedom in how you set up each character with stat points and abilities, but once you’ve committed to a particular path, you may find that optimal routes are blocked. This ensures that your choices have consequences, though the gameplay experience will be more limited than varied as a result.
Good at everything else
Whatever skills and traits you choose, each character has a skill that sets them apart – Galeb is an expert at dominating and persuading people, Emem can see through a sieve, while Leysha can take on the appearance of others to infiltrate carefully guarded locations. These abilities provide the most playable aspects of Swansong, and they are interesting and okay, but again they make the game feel linear and force you down specific paths.
To use these abilities, you need willpower points, points that can only be filled up with mission rewards or uncommon consumables. Willpower points are also used to influence conversational skills, so you need to find a balance between using them to explore abilities and the opportunities they open up for conversational use. The other consumable system is hunger, with particular skills and powers increasing your bloodlust. When this starts to fill you up, you need to feed (from rats or humans) to control your inner beast. Feeding on rats can affect your influence on others while drinking from humans requires you to seek safe places away from prying eyes.
Before its release, Swansong’s focus on multiple paths and alternate storylines encouraged replaying the game and making different choices. These paths can be the result of success or failure in certain dialogues, puzzles solved or abandoned, or finding or not finding documents to collect. After each level, the mission screen will show you alternative options you could have chosen – although not exactly how to reach them. Some of these will require skill development (a particularly frustrating approach), while others will point you towards characters or items you haven’t found. There’s certainly a lot of depth to this mechanic, and I can see that the process of finding all the alternatives will appeal to those who really like the game and its environment.
Unfortunately, this is not helped by the game’s graphics, which are pretty dated, with low polygon counts, unpolished models and environment textures, stiff, lifeless facial expressions and motion animation. It’s the middle of 2022, and the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series consoles have been out for over a year and a half, but these graphics are not one generation but two, so it’s like watching a PS3/Xbox 360 game, but at a higher resolution.
These are not the vampires you were looking for
I have to admit that Swansong fell slightly short of my expectations. The gameplay would be relatively enjoyable, but unfortunately, it’s a bit slow and monotonous, more for hardcore adventure and role-playing gamers. The graphics are dated and underdeveloped, but the voice actors did excellently. The story and the characters are interesting, but it’s a shame that the dialogue system itself is a bit rhetorical in places, which also affects the story. The game is also too linear for a role-playing game, and the stealth gameplay experience would have been better left to Splinter Cell or Metal Gear Solid.
+ Interesting story and vampire characters
+ Relatively good ratio of detective and adventure game elements
+ Fans of tabletop RPGs may like it
– A bit slow and monotonous gameplay
– Extremely dated graphics
– The dialogue system and RPG rules are too restrictive
Publisher: Big Bad Wolf Studio
Developer: Clément Plantier
Genre: adventure and role-playing game
Release date: May 19, 2022