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Review | Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong

Swansong is the latest addition to the long-running Vampire: The masquerade series and is a single-player RPG adaption of a tabletop game.  Offering players the chance to solve a thrilling conspiracy by using the unique skills of three different vampires I must admit that I had been looking forward to playing it.  Clips of the cinematic cut-scenes in the trailer really caught my eye and one character in particular, the stylishly black-suited Leysha with her David Bowie eyes and new wave haircut looked somewhat intriguing.  Onwards then into vampiric high society in the XboxEra review of Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong.

The story takes place in Boston after a celebratory event has gone pear-shaped, due to the party-crashing antics of an as yet identified anti-vampire organisation.  Instead of differing domains being reunited by the charismatic ‘Prince’ Hazel Iversen of the ‘Camarilla community’, many important members have been slain and there is a sense of panic and unease among those that remain standing.  Three trusted vampires are despatched to investigate the conspiracy, destroy any threat identified, and reclaim any information that could bring down the Masquerade if it fell into enemy hands.

This is where the problems begin.  Although the game is designed to be approachable to series newcomers it really isn’t.  Each character has skills, attributes, and disciplines which need to be selected at the start of each of their interconnecting narratives.  This is complicated for those unfamiliar with the system and can really hamper your experience of the game.  Exploration and conversational battles (there is no other form of combat in the game) are all reliant on this system and the amount of willpower points you have at any particular time.  Willpower points enable you to focus on a task or argument increasing your chances of winning or solving it but tend to be in short supply. 

Skill points held at the start of the game are so low that it is virtually impossible to win conversations or important ‘Confrontation’ battles.  Even dialogue choices that are supposedly one hundred percent guaranteed to work in your favour (rather perplexingly) do not always win an argument.  In my experience most of the ‘Tied’ instances during dialog combat that were decided by a dice roll ended in my failure, further increasing my sense of frustration with this system.

I put all of my skill points into the domination skill for one of my characters (he is supposedly a hard man after all) and then discovered that for some inexplicable reason a lot of the opposition I came up against were impervious to domination.  This obviously made my character rather toothless, which is not a good look for a vampire. 

Exploration suffered the same fate in that if you do not choose to go big on technology-type skills you can find multiple devices, safes etc. that you are unable to open or hack easily.  Large parts of the game can end up being locked out to a character by skill decisions made at the very beginning.  This is presumably to encourage multiple playthroughs, but as mine took over twenty four hours I doubt that anyone but a hardcore fan would choose to play through this game more than once.

The mechanics available to each character range from the useful, like Leysha being able to become invisible and copy uniforms to gain access to restricted areas, to the barely worthwhile such as Emem’s ability to slow down time which I think was only actually needed on two occasions.

Investigating the conspiracy is based on detective work but is held back by a few flaws in game design.  For starters, a lot of the action takes place in a very dark environment.  This does make sense in a world of vampires but also makes it difficult to examine your surroundings while looking for clues.  The next issue is the janky control scheme used for interacting with items.  Opening a drawer and picking up the contents should not involve having to manipulate the character in minute ways until the item inside can be selected.  The times that I repeatedly opened and shut the same drawer accidentally became pretty irritating.  Having said that searching the phones and devices that I was able to access was interesting and clearly a lot of thought had gone into making it work smoothly.

Feeding on victims to reduce your hunger was interesting the first few times but soon got old.  To drain your victim completely or not to drain? that is the question.  More dead bodies being hidden equals more chance of discovery by mortals but in the end does it really matter? Feeding from Rats was also possible during a prolonged section that Emem spends caught in a ‘Mind Prison’ at a place called Harford Chantry.  I found this to be a particularly frustrating part of the game as I was required to solve three identical puzzles of increasing difficulty one after the other to exit the level.  I can imagine many players giving up on the game entirely after being presented with this challenge.  In fact, generally the puzzle design is far from logical and would test the patience of most gamers.

The ‘thrilling’ conspiracy investigation has its moments but in truth a game based around the complexities of vampire politics is (as would be expected) rather boring.  Newcomers to the series will feel as though they have been dropped into the middle of an ongoing saga (which they have) and will have little idea of what is going on for a reasonably large amount of time.  The Codex explaining everything is vast and presents almost too much information.  Unless you feel like reading a small book to understand what you are playing through it is far easier to stumble on blindly and just react to what you see happening in front of you.  Even then, choosing to follow a certain path can turn out to be pointless.  For example, after collecting ‘essential’ information for the head of security this plot thread went no further and remained totally unexplained at the stories end, just like the contents of the suitcase in ‘Pulp Fiction’.

The pacing of the whole experience is unbalanced and becomes even more of a kick in the teeth when it becomes apparent very late on in the game that you can lose any one of your characters in a very small section at the climax of each of their stories.  Personally, having invested so much time into each of them I could not bear for any of the characters to be killed off (particularly Leysha). 

Moral choices with consequences are presented at various times as in the ‘Life Is Strange’ series. These have an impact on the ending presented for each vampire, but again I doubt that many people will see more than one ending.  Even moving around each level is a painful experience.  Walking is tediously slow and jogging just about steps it up to normal walking pace.  Sometimes it felt like a test of will just moving across the map when stairs and enclosed areas dropped me back down to the walking crawl.

The game begins with a cut-scene premonition of a possible terrible future and ends with the prince giving a lengthy monologue (believe me it was no ‘Purple Rain’ style finale) and then blocks of text are presented explaining what happens after the game ends.  I felt greatly cheated by this conclusion, why not add another quick cut-scene to wrap things up?  Blocks of text? seriously?  After the time spent getting to that point it really felt rather insulting.

On a positive note, I did enjoy the personality of each character that I was able to control and some of the rather brutal cut-scenes were very well produced.  The most memorable involved a S.A.D. trooper gunning down a colleague and then committing suicide whilst under the influence of a child vampire.  Chilling stuff.

I am sad to report that the game did not run smoothly on my Xbox Series X.  This has nothing to do with the hardware and is down to the programming of the game itself.  So many glitches! I lost a lot of progress when I got stuck in one spot and had to restart an entire section which happened to be the already mentioned no fun ‘mind trap’ level.  NPCs could be observed wall-walking and getting their heads stuck inside unopened safes, while coloured shading and textures continually popped in and out on peoples faces.

Most unforgivably, puzzles regularly became unsolvable due to NPCs blocking access to interactive devices and interaction options not always being available on screen until I reloaded the game.  In total I spent several hours wasting my time searching for things that were simply not there due to these kinds of issues.

In conclusion, Swansong promised a lot but delivered what I felt to be a severely flawed gaming experience.  Quality cut-scenes alone cannot carry a title and that has been proved out here. With boring, glacially paced gameplay, janky controls and far too many technical issues wiping out any sense of pleasure gained from playing through to the games anti-climax, I was left wanting.  Having spent over twenty-four hours working my way through this title I cannot help but think my time would have been much better spent elsewhere.  If you are a big fan of the ‘Masquerade’ series, it may be worth checking this game out; if you are not a fan, paying full price could prove to be a be a ‘missed stake’.

Reviewed onXbox Series X
Available onXbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Windows PC, PS4|PS5
Release DateMay 19th, 2022
DeveloperBig Bad Wolf
PublisherNacon
RatedPEGI 18

Vampire: The Masquerade - Swansong

£49.99
5

Average

5.0/10

Pros

  • Contains impressive cinematic cut-scenes.

Cons

  • Overly wordy and incredibly slow.
  • Has some ridiculously challenging puzzles.
  • Contains far too many game spoiling glitches.
  • Very expensive for the experience it delivers.

Harm0nica

Staff Writer & Review Team

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