I’ve been waiting longingly for “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2”, which was supposed to be released in 2020, but is now mired in Development Hell. The development is officially going on, but after the change of the developer studio it became extremely quiet. As a substitute gratification for fans of the World of Darkness (WOD) pen-and-paper role-playing game, Vampire: The Masquerade Swansong was released this week. I took a look at the narrative RPG for you in the test.
The French developer of this game, Big Bad Wolf, released a very similar game with “The Council” in 2018. So if you’ve played The Council, you’ll be extremely familiar with the gameplay mechanics of Vampire: The Masquerade Swansong. There are absolutely no fights here either, but the most important “battles” are fought out in dialogues. For this you use your willpower, with which you can use skills such as rhetoric. You can also use blood points to use special skills – even outside of dialogues. However, this will make you hungry. From time to time you have to lure people into secluded corners and then you can quench your thirst.
You embody three protagonists in the atmospheric vampire adventure: Emem, who dominates Boston’s club nightlife, the powerful vampire nobleman Galeb and the psychologically traumatized Leysha. All three belong to different vampire clans: Toreador, Ventrue and Malkavian. This is where both the strengths and weaknesses of Vampire: The Masquerade Swansong are revealed: the game throws you right into the middle of the story, so to speak. Although a rough intro text explains the scenario, anyone who has not had any contact with the World of Darkness will either want to read the game’s codex entries or press the uninstall button completely overwhelmed.
So you hit the player directly different clan names around the ears, entangles the figures in the strict vampire hierarchy and also introduces numerous other groups and supporting characters. I liked it myself, I’m not a WOD insider, but I have enough prior knowledge to be able to classify everything. In this respect, the Big Bad Wolf game feels like a title by fans for fans right from the start.
That’s why I’m also inclined to forgive the technical shortcomings that were noticeable at the launch. The cutscenes in particular suffer from graphic errors: textures are faded in with strong delays, hair spins around wildly for no reason and it also happened that I was once unable to click on an object marked as interactive. I tested Vampire: The Masquerade Swansong on theSeries X. The performance also fluctuates, so the developers should definitely add a few patches here.
In general, however, this game is not an eye-catcher: from time to time really nice lighting moods are created and the faces of the characters are detailed. However, the animations are so wooden that at times you think you are watching a marionette theatre. Here, what is offered lags behind even the standard of the last generation of consoles. The (English) voice output also causes mixed feelings. Sometimes the volume of the speakers suddenly fluctuated, and then the accents in the dialogue didn’t fit at all. The selected speakers are well chosen almost across the board, the direction is lacking from time to time.
Music is used sparingly in Vampire: The Masquerade Swansong, and I didn’t particularly remember it. The soundscape fits, but is also more functional. So what draws you more into the game is the gloomy atmosphere, which is partly reminiscent of thrillers like “Sieben”. Because at the beginning of the story you hire yourself out as a detective: A “Code Red” was triggered, something went wrong with the vampires who secretly pull the strings in our society. The US city of Boston, which is governed by Hazel Iversen, is affected.
Within the framework of the strict vampire hierarchies, one tries to clarify what exactly went wrong, because some of the vampires’ confidants were killed. Someone should pay, but who? The vampires have to stick to “the masquerade”: humans must not discover them, because that could upset the balance. Anyone who breaks the masquerade will be sentenced to the final death. All three main characters act in different scenarios or changing locations – so you can’t switch back and forth at will, for example to solve a task with your favorite character.
At the beginning you have the choice of how you design their attributes and abilities: Do you prefer to chat up characters successfully or intimidate them? Is picking locks more important to you? Or may it be specialist knowledge and combination skills? However, some skills quickly turn out to be more useful than others. For example, you can usually find the keys for locked doors and other locks with a little searching in the game world. More importantly, you are able to either decipher clues or be successful in dialogues.
Not only the skills of the characters, which you can increase through experience points, influence the course of the story. You also make decisions on a regular basis: do you take your best friend before the prince as instructed, or do you let her escape quietly? All in all, “Vampire: The Masquerade Swansong” is reminiscent of a mixture of the Telltale games and the “Sherlock Holmes” titles from Frogwares.
What remains is an entertaining vampire adventure / RPG, but you should be prepared to forgive the technical shortcomings. Anyone hoping for a comforter to shorten the waiting time for “Vampire: The Masquerde – Bloodlines 2” should definitely take a look. This is especially true if you have already enjoyed The Council and/or know the World of Darkness inside out.
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