Platform: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, PC (Epic Games)
Developer: Big Bad Wolf Studio
I really, really wanted to love Vampire: The Masquerade — Swansong. I’m a huge fan of the World of Darkness franchise, especially the Vampire subseries. The cult classic Vampire: The Masquerade — Bloodlines remains one of my favorite games of all time. So when I learned about Swansong, I got excited, especially since Bloodlines 2 seems lost in limbo.
However, Swansong’s jarring visuals ultimately ripped me out of my immersion. No matter how hard I tried to get lost in the writing — which is pretty solid — the shoddy, unpolished graphics took me out of the moment. Whether I was weirded out by wooden faces, dead eyes or animations that looked unfinished, I found myself growing more and more annoyed and disappointed with Swansong over time.
In this Vampire: The Masquerade — Swansong review, I’ll go over why I think this game misses the mark, despite its strong foundation.
Vampire: The Masquerade — Swansong review: Gameplay
Vampire: The Masquerade — Swansong sees you play as three vampires: Galeb, Emem and Leysha. Each has their own skillset and abilities, ranging from invisibility to persuasion. You tackle separate missions with these characters as you try to uncover what’s happening to the vampire culture in Boston.
As you go about these missions, you’ll have to discover clues to progress the story. Whether it’s tracking someone down via their scent or gaining access to restricted areas, Swansong tries to challenge you to solve problems in various ways. However, I wish the game gave you more freedom on how to accomplish each mission, since your play space is very limited.
As Swansong is a narrative RPG, there are several choices you have to make at key moments in the narrative. These choices impact not only the story, but also the experience points that you gain at the end of each level. Experience points are critical to upgrading your vampires’ skills and abilities.
When you approach a clue, you will sometimes have the ability to unlock further information if you meet the skill requirements. Sometimes, you need to expend willpower, a finite resource you have in each level. You can also temporarily boost your skills in dialogue using willpower, giving you better odds of winning each skill check encounter. Just beware, as the NPC to whom you’re speaking can do the same thing.
Using your vampiric powers increases your hunger, and the closer you get to maxing it out, the more likely your character is to succumb to their inner Beast. This primal force within each vampire can drive them to feed, even when it’s not safe to do so. You can lower your hunger by finding safe zones, where you can lure unsuspecting victims in order to feed on them. Just don’t get too greedy.
While Swansong lacks combat and any sense of freedom outside each mission’s sandbox, you get access to more subtle aspects of being a vampire in the World of Darkness. You have to put your mind to use first, since force won’t help you solve these mysteries. I like this change of pace over other games where you play as a vampire, such as Bloodlines or Vampyr.
Vampire: The Masquerade — Swansong review: Story and setting
Vampire: The Masquerade — Swansong takes place in the Boston domain. You take on the roles of Galeb, an ancient Ventrue; Emem, a wily Toreador; and Leysha, an unstable Malkavian who has premonitions. All three are under orders from the Prince of Boston to figure out what happened at a party. Vampires of the local ruling Camarilla faction and the nearby Tremere Warlocks had gathered together to celebrate a unification treaty. But things went horribly wrong.
Since this game takes place in the world of Vampire: The Masquerade 5th edition, vampires are all under threat. The Second Inquisition, a term used for the coalition of international intelligence agencies and the Vatican, has risen to slay all of these parasitic monsters, and has thus far accomplished said mission with alarming efficiency.
As you progress through the game, you’ll discover more and more about what’s going on. The writing captivated me as I dug through the codex and picked apart every clue and piece of dialogue.
Some of the dialogue is a bit stiff and awkward, or occasionally outright cringey. But overall, I enjoyed Swansong’s story and setting. While I acknowledge my bias toward this universe, if you like undead underworld intrigue, you’ll like what Swansong’s writers have done.
Vampire: The Masquerade — Swansong review: Visuals and sound
Swansong falls apart in the visuals department. While I don’t expect flawless graphics, I do want to see a game that looks finished and polished. I played Swansong on PC at max settings, and it still looked like a game in the alpha stages. Characters are way too shiny, facial expressions don’t seem to go above the characters’ mouths and the wide, dead eyes genuinely weirded me out. Think Mass Effect: Andromeda and the “my face is tired” meme.
Character models also look unfinished. They’re blocky, like you might find in a game from 10 or more years ago. Animations are also pretty bad, with even main characters walking unnaturally. I realize it might be difficult to properly animate a woman walking in high-heeled shoes, but Emem’s gait in the opening section just doesn't look right. The visuals are so unnerving that they rip me out of my immersion in Swansong’s story.
While the graphics disappoint, Swansong does redeem itself with its sound design. The soundtrack fades into the background, but it has a post-grunge vibe that reminded me of Bloodlines’ soundtrack. The voice acting is also pretty good throughout the game, especially from the protagonists. A lot of the actors accurately portrayed the cool and collected vampires of the Camarilla, creatures that can be centuries old (as Galeb is).
Vampire: The Masquerade — Swansong review: Verdict
Vampire: The Masquerade — Swansong seems like it needed a lot more production time. On top of everything else, the copious amounts of errors and typos in the text further cemented this opinion. I think that it would have benefited from a delay or two. Swansong has a good underlying structure, but the overall product suffers from its rough presentation.
As someone who enjoys Vampire: The Masquerade, I found the story engaging, but I couldn’t get over the awkward facial expressions, animations, and character models.
Swansong is a tough sell at $49. If you’re interested in a solid Vampire story, I recommend Vampire: The Masquerade — Coteries of New York, or the original Bloodlines if you're feeling nostalgic. At this point, I’d wait to see if Swansong gets patched, and if you can find a good sale.