Note: The following is a first impressions look at Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong. As such, it is representative only of the gameplay we’ve got through so far.
In the past two years or so, RPGs have gone through something of a revival. After the devastating fall and subsequent rise of Cyberpunk 2077, there hasn’t been anything aside from Elden Ring to fill that lore-laden, narrative focused itch. In steps Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong, a narrative RPG tied to the extensive RPG series of the same name. It’s nothing like the Bloodhunt PVP game that laucnhed earlier this year, as its own beast entirely.
In Swansong, you play as three vampires at different points in the Masquerade hierarchy. There the rebellious Emem, sinister Galeb, and reckless Leysha, who you can all send down their own moral paths. As such, they’re more like drawing boards for your own role playing, with backstories present, but the ability to completely dictate how each character turns out.
But it’s not a case of being gradually introduced to each of their characters: the first few hours of Swansong chucks you straight into the deep end, expecting you to already be aware of Vampire: The Masquerade lore. It’s never too intimidating thanks to an opening crawl and reasonably exposition-heavy dialogue, but you’ll definitely feel a lot brush over you, as you get to grips with the three main characters and the internal leaks within the Masquerade that form the basis of the story.
In terms of gameplay, Swansong is a reasonably hands-off RPG that melds the branching dialogue choices of Telltale games with the exploration-based role playing of Disco Elysium. Combat is at a premium here, and aside from a fairly rudimentary feeding mechanic, you’ll either be selecting dialogue or walking around in search of clues.
Puzzle-solving is a key part of Swansong‘s gameplay loop, and it’s very engaging in how it’s presented. Clues like a minimap or objective markers aren’t present here: instead, you have to thoroughly comb through your environment to find clues, with an Eagle Vision-style mode showing directional hints if you so require. These puzzles are mostly just there to break up the dialogue, but they’re still fun.
Interestingly, Swansong adapts the series’ tabletop origins quite nicely to video game territory. Each dialogue choices requires you to expend points, of which you start each level with a limited amount. Therefore, the whole thing is a balancing act between choosing the most rewarding but expensive dialogue, or conserving your points to ensure you ‘win’ in each encounter. That sort of strategy isn’t something typical of the genre, so it’s refreshing to see here.
The only issue many players will have with Swansong is just how intimidating it can be. This first impressions writeup is only based on the first few hours, but with 20+ hours out there to complete the story, it’s no small undertaking. Combine that with the various energy mechanics, numerous skill trees, and plenty of extensive lore, and it’s clear to see why some may be put off. The graphics aren’t particularly appealing either, looking PS3-era at points due to some shoddy character models, but it runs at a smooth 60 frames per second, which is never a bad thing.
As such, Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Its novel approach to RPGs is definitely going to appeal to fans of the genre, and the extent to which you can customise each character will no doubt hook people invested in the story. The main problem newcomers will face is actually gelling with the world in the first place, because it can be much less accommodating than your average RPG. It’s certainly one we’ll keep plugging away at, because there’s something just unique enough about Swansong to make it worth a shot.