Vampire the Masquerade: Swansong review – VTM’s RPG lacks any real bite

Lauren Bergin
vampire the masquerade vtm swansong emem looks at camera

Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong sees us return to the virtual World of Darkness after years of waiting, but unfortunately it simply doesn’t live up to the high expectations set for it.

2022 has been a pretty good year for the classic Vampire: The Masquerade franchise. With the release of Sharkmob’s battle royale take on the series, Bloodhunt, players are flocking back to the World of Darkness in droves to take its fan-favorite clans out for a spin.

Swansong, however, promised to steal the show. Set amid the bloodstained streets of a Boston plunged into chaos, players assume the role of Toreador vampire Emem, Leysha of Clan Malkavian, and straight-edged Ventrue, Caleb. Determined to uncover the truth behind a shootout gone wild, these three work independently (yet together) to bring those behind the event to justice.

While the premise sounds great on paper and I was very much strapped in for a thrilling psychological adventure, Swansong fails to truly encapsulate players in the fray, leaving you feeling largely underwhelmed given how long we’ve been waiting.

Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong: Key details

  • Price: £34.99 / $59.99
  • Developer: Big Bad Wolf
  • Release Date: May 19, 2022
  • Platforms: PlayStation / Xbox / Switch / PC

Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong: Trailer

Looks only get you so far

One thing about Vampire: The Masquerade’s mysterious universe that will always lure me in is the fact its characters are so beautifully designed.

Poster childe (get it?) Emem is the epitome of black elegance, strutting through the Camarilla with an aura of pure power. Her stunning red dress and golden hairpieces make her a literal sight to behold and, honestly, if she picked us as her vessel we’d be pretty cool with it.

Laysha and Caleb are wonderfully crafted characters, too, the former bending gender stereotypes with her androgynous style, and the latter commanding the Ventrue’s stature perfectly.

The problem is that they all lack soul — I was so excited to take control of Emem, but her character is completely bland. Nothing feels exciting because the characters themselves don’t feel excited – instead, tasks feel monotonous because your characters are giving ‘Monday morning at the office’ vibes.

For example, when reigning Prince Hazel Iversen asks Emem if she’d like a seat on the council, her reaction is the most unexcited “oh my God” face you’ve ever seen, almost bordering on sarcasm.

In a game that relies on pacing to bring it to life, everything feels sluggish, because your in-game alter egos simply aren’t that interesting. Sure, they get better with time as you get to know them – but is it worth the grind? Honestly, I’m not so sure.

vampire the masquerade swansong emem feed from a vessel young woman in mask
I’d happily offer my neck to Emem – just wish she’d be a bit more excited about it.

A tale as old as time

Part of Swansong’s charm is its RPG style, thrusting players into the middle of a ‘Code Red’ that’s supposed to get your heart pumping and set you on an adventure to catch those plotting behind the scenes.

Except, it doesn’t.

There’s really nothing to get excited about plot-wise because, not only are the characters pretty bored, the script isn’t exactly inspiring. The classic “whodunnit” skeleton isn’t supplemented with any real meat, and puzzles grow pretty old pretty quickly because they’re just not that fun to solve.

The “Confrontations” (dialogue-based word battles) are lackluster because there are no real emotional reactions, and given that these are the core focus of the game that doesn’t bode well. Failing enough of them pretty much halts the entire game, too, which is beyond rage-inducing.

Sure, these encounters test your intellect and make you consider the best way to seduce or deceive your brothers in arms, but honestly, it just isn’t a lot of fun.

vampire the masquerade swansong emem confronts hilda in camarilla court
Emem and Hilda are having a “confrontation” in this scene – not that you’d know.

What am I doing?

The main issue I have with Swansong’s design, though, is that there’s very little that’s actually intuitive. The skill system takes a while to master, but considering you can’t re-spec you’ll often find yourself ill-equipped to deal with different situations. A locked door may remain inaccessible until you somehow obtain more skill points, bringing things crashing to a halt just as the story starts to get its teeth into players.

Additionally, the skill checks during dialogue conversations seem completely muddled. Your vampire can increase their coercive talents to run rings around enemies, but often you’ll find you only have a meager success rate of actually winning these duels. In other cases, you’ll have a 100% chance – there’s inconsistency everywhere.

But surely the blood drinking is fun, right? Sadly not. You need to ensure you don’t kill humans by draining them completely, but the skill check to do so is lazy and easily completed. There’s also no direct violence in the game (it’s all viewed in cutscenes), which seems slightly counter-productive in a game where protagonists literally rip the living to pieces for sport.

Couple all of this with a janky 3D camera that is not only a pain to position, but lacks responsiveness and often requires multiple drags of the mouse to move.

Rating: 5/10

I truly wanted to love this game, and beneath the muddled surface lies the bare bones of an awesome detective RPG just begging to be let loose. Unfortunately, it looks like that skeleton will remain in the closet.

Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong is plagued by more than just the undead: its systems aren’t fun, puzzles are irritating, and the lack of depth seals the deal. I want to learn more about our protagonists, I want the story to be Criminal Minds but with vampires, but it simply isn’t.

Having waited so long for VTM to return triumphantly, Swansong is quite the letdown. For avid fans, it’s a must, but if you’ve been brought here by Bloodhunt we’d suggest just sticking to that.

Reviewed on PC.

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