Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong, from developer Big Bad Wolf and publisher Nacon, is the latest in the long-running Vampire: The Masquerade franchise. Based on the tabletop games of the same name, the first video game adaption came out in 2000 with Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption. Despite this franchise being over two decades old, this is my first time ever playing any of them.
“What if vampires were real? What if these bloodthirsty predators lived hidden among us in complex societies and had been hatching conspiracies for thousands of years? And what if you became one of them? In Vampire: The Masquerade, you play as these alluring monsters in a sophisticated world where the lines between the real and supernatural are always blurred.”
So then, you play as three different vampires here and play between them switches as the story unfolds. Speaking of which, the game is set in Boston 2019. The three characters that you play as are part of a vampire court-thing and said court has suffered several attacks, with you having to investigate to find out how and why… I think. Look, I have to be honest here and say that I struggled to follow the story. I don’t know if that was due to some lazy writing or because Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong threw a lexicon of vampire language at me that I really struggled to decipher. If you are already well versed in the world of Vampire: The Masquerade, you will probably follow the plot easier than I did. But this game really is not friendly at all to first-timers of this franchise, as I am.
Anyway, the three characters you play as are Emem who is a century-old jazz singer. Gale is the right-hand man of the vampire’s big boss and Leysha is some kind of a psychic investigator. Between the three, they have to find out what the hell is going on and how to stop the attacks on the vampire court… I think. What struck me most about Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong is that, this isn’t an action game with you killing other vamps with crossbows and stakes. This is a much slower-paced and analytical kind of game, one where you have to delve into investigation, search for clues and partake in dialogue, lots and lots of vampire dialogue.
As there is no weaponry in this game at all, you have to win your ‘fights’ via conversations. Did you ever play The Secret of Monkey Island and do you remember the infamous insult sword fighting? Well, that is kind of how Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong works. Lots and lots of conversations and you have to get the best of your opponent via your words. You have various powers and stats to use as ‘weapons’ when you do engage in conversation, those powers and stats are what will give you an edge. Each of the three characters also has a pretty extensive character sheet. Bearing in mind that this title does spawn from a tabletop game and you can really see that here too.
When you do use your conversation powers, your hunger will increase or your willpower will decrease (depending on which power you use). Drinking human blood will sort out the hunger issue and using consumables will top up your willpower. Still, you need need to be careful as and when to use those powers as there is only a finite amount of availability to top them back up. So you can find yourself in a conversation that you just can not win if you have overused the powers previously.
Outside of the conversations that drive the game, you will be investigating crime scenes. There are a few puzzle-like elements too. But most of the game is dialogue-driven… and for me, this was a major drag. There really is nothing wrong with a dialogue-heavy game at all. But here, nothing seems to gel. The plot is awkward as is the voice acting. But when the actors have such a dull script to follow, can you blame them for not giving it 100%? Plus, the game just gets very monotonous after only a few hours.
Then there are several bugs and glitches in the game. Playing this on the Xbox Series X, as I did, you’d expect it to run buttery smooth. But no, I had the game stutter several times and even parts where the textures didn’t load in properly for a few seconds. These things can be patched out later, I know. But there really is very little that can be done for the tedious gameplay. I really liked the idea of Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong on paper. Playing as a vampire investigator and having to search for clues, solve puzzles and quiz people. Kind of like L.A. Noire… but with vampires. Yet, nothing seems to come together as well as it could’ve and you are left with a very disjointed and sadly, a very dull gameplay experience.
£50 is what Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong is selling for (at least on Series X which is what I played on) and that is a big price for a low budget game like this, especially for one which is this distinctly average to play too. Doing my judging the game by how much it costs vs how the game plays, I say avoid this like a vampire avoiding daylight. This is nowhere near a £50 title. If you can find it on sale for at least half of that, it may be worth a gander. Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong is far from being an outright bad game and it falls short of being as good as it could’ve been. What you are left with is a game that had some really great ideas but many of them were poorly executed. A slightly above average title that perhaps needed a bit more time in the coffin before being raised from its slumber.