Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong review (PS5)

Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong from Nacon is the eagerly anticipated new title in the Vampire: The Masquerade franchise. It’s being released for current and last-gen consoles as well as PCs, and we tested the PlayStation 5 version of the game.

Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines ranks as an all-time classic for PC gamers, but we’re still waiting for Paradox’ sequel, which has had an eventful development cycle. We saw a promising live demo back in 2019, but after several delays it currently doesn’t have a release date – fingers crossed for more news soon. On the plus side, however, we’ve gotten tons of Vampire: The Masquerade releases since 2019 – though most have been PC exclusives and many of them smaller scale productions. Because of that, we were really looking forward to Swansong, an ambitious narrative-driven role playing game from developer Big Bad Wolf Studio.

And yes, when Bloodlines was released almost two decades ago, I (like many gamers) had no idea of the tabletop RPG origins of the game and the rich lore that surrounds it. That game was updated somewhat recently, and together with a surge of videogames there’s no better time to get immersed in a dark world of vampires.

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Swansong is heavy on lore, so it’s great for those interested in the narrative element of the franchise. You’ll play as three different vampires over the course of the campaign, which is set in a dark underground version of Boston where a senior vampire (Hazel Iversen) summons the three of you to avert a “Red Alert” crisis in the city. The game then unfolds through lengthy chapters, each one focusing on a single protagonist – though the events and choices you make are interwoven between the chapters. And as with the core material, the story is kind of a slow burn, rich in atmosphere and world building.

Early on, Swansong will introduce you to the various vampire clans and how they relate to one another – an introduction that will feel familiar to those who’ve played Bloodlines or the tabletop game at some point. If you haven’t, then prepare to also be introduced to its mechanics, which underlie how dialogues are “won” in the game. Your character possesses special abilities that grant you boosts for certain dialogue choices, and combined with the amount of willpower you can spend you’ll see how likely you are to succeed. In other words, if you have strong powers of persuasion, especially compared to your opponent, then you’re more likely to have success with a dialogue choice that relies on that ability.

It seems straightforward at first, but Swansong uses the multi-layered nature of Vampire: The Masquerade to good effect. Because of this, you can still beat an opponent with stronger powers of persuasion (assuming that’s still the trait we’re looking at – there are several others as well). You can apply focus points to temporarily boost your effectiveness, for instance – and even when you’re tied you can still win, though this seems like a ‘roll of the dice’ situation that’s stacked against you for some reason.

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As this is a vampire title, bloodlust is also a factor to consider. Using your special abilities grows your hunger, and to stay strong you’ll have to feed. This can be done in safe zones where you feed on NPC characters, but you’ll have to be careful to not drain and kill them – one of the rules in the Vampire: The Masquerade world. A failure to do so could see you turn more animal-like, attacking humans at will and making your job harder. And to introduce even more mechanics, all of this also ties into your individual talents, which you hone by performing in-game actions. For the uninitiated, it can be a lot to take in, so some familiarity with the (rules of the) source material definitely helps.

But while we’d focused a lot on confrontation and interaction, Swansong also features plenty of ‘regular’ role playing game mechanics, many of which add replay value to the game by introducing different ways to approach situations by unlocking and using special skills. Some help your abilities for traversal, while others give you skills that you would typically associate with vampires, like a chance to seduce and sway others. Especially fun (and a bit Hitman-like) is the ability to disguise yourself as others and gain access to certain locations, so there’s a lot of “choose the way you want to play” outside of the more narrative-driven conversations here – parts that fare better than some of the game’s lackluster puzzles, that can even feel out of place.

It’s safe to say that Swansong is the most visually impressive Vampire: The Masquerade title yet, with atmosphere-rich environments and some impressive character models that you’ll see up close during the game’s many conversations. Nacon likes to position itself as a AA publisher and you can see this through some sub-par lip syncing, but we haven’t felt this immersed in the Masquerade world since that 2019 demo for Bloodlines 2.

The heavy role that tabletop RPG mechanics play will make Swansong’s mechanics feel a bit unwelcoming to newcomers and will require the kind of patience that not everyone will have, but stick with and there’s a lot of replay value here as you get immersed in Boston’s seedy underworld.

Score: 7.0/10

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