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Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong – The First Hands-on Preview

Vampire: The Masquerade - Swansong - The First Hands-on Preview

Vampire: The Masquerade fans have been having a hard time lately. The long-awaited sequel to Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines has been delayed indefinitely to 2021, meaning the open-world gothic horror RPG saga has returned to its grave much sooner than any of us hoped. There’s a silver lining here, and that’s that the much more cerebral Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong may just have enough blood and wit to satiate the appetite of any RPG enthusiast whose tastes are a bit more nocturnal.

Instead of running around in an open world, however, you’ll instead fall into the slicked-back Oxfords of one of three different vampire tritagonists, each exercising their supernatural abilities to uncover secrets and conduct detective work across multiple storylines that span down multiple paths, depending on how you choose to play – much like what you might be used to in Telltale’s The Walking Dead series. But if you’ve been put off by the relative superficiality of Telltale’s approach, don’t worry: after playing the second quest, which took around two hours to complete, Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong seems to be as deep as any CRPG. It’s clear that each of the various vampire stats, perks, and special abilities intertwine in a way that lends weight to your every decision, especially when putting points into your character build.

Vampire: The Masquerade – The Swan Song | Screenshots from March 2022

It also draws heavily from established lore in tabletop RPG World of Darkness, and as such you can spot the long-standing politics between vampire families intertwining in Swansong’s extensive dialogue. For example, Galeb’s ability to detect other vampires allowed me to interview a certain witness during the murder investigation that centers around the second quest, and I couldn’t have discerned that they were the slave of a lesser vampire without Galeb’s special power and the high social rank he holds in the vampire world as a member of the Ventrue family. This allowed me to find an important clue that I might not have uncovered conventionally.

There’s a lot less grip here than in other RPGs, which is great.

Unlike Bloodlines, Swansong wanders around at a comfortable pace for fans of CRPGs and detective games. As a fan of games like Disco Elysium, 13 Sentinels, and The Forgotten City, I felt right at home here. That said, at least in the second quest, there’s no combat to speak of. Some dialogue options require you to test your concentration against an NPC, which triggers a dice roll that determines whether you “pass”, for example, a Persuasion or Intimidate test. But the shady corners of Boston’s seedy underbelly are mostly littered with clues in the form of notes and unassuming objects, and it’s up to you to reconstruct the crime scene with your own senses – and just enough using your vampire powers to make things interesting. Note takers take note, there’s a lot less grip here than in other RPGs. I had unknowingly discovered a code for a locked safe, but instead of putting a marker in a quest log, Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong just treated it like it was part of the world, m forcing me to retrace my steps later. so I can jot down the code on a notepad. It seemed that whether or not a clue became useful or important depended on my own intuition and ability to piece together the information.

Choices seem to matter a lot here, especially since you get a limited amount of energy, called willpower points, to use skills, unlock doors, hack smartphones, or do basically anything that requires your abilities. not supernatural. There are “healing” items lying around, like those old coins, which allow you to periodically restore your Willpower points and continue to investigate. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Vampire: The Masquerade game if you didn’t have the ability to test your supernatural skills, or Disciplines, as well, but it increases your hunger gauge. Naturally, if your hunger gauge gets too high, you’ll have to feed on human NPCs in order to stay hidden in your human form, lest you blow your cover and lose the investigation. I didn’t choose to feed on anyone in my own test, but developer Big Bad Wolf Studio tells me it requires a certain degree of finesse – you’ll have to figure out how to lure NPCs into private areas before you can feast. of their blood and regain those sweet, sweet Discipline points.

If your hunger gauge gets too high, you’ll need to feed on human NPCs in order to stay hidden in your human form, lest you blow your cover and lose the investigation.

Overall, my experience was positive, even playing the latest Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong built on a game streaming service, presumably based somewhere in Bordeaux, France. One thing that may irritate fans of dialogue or choice-based role-playing games, and which could very well be fixed in time for Swansong’s May 19 release date, is that the facial and character animations in the version preview images from Swansong seem quite rigid and unconvincing. At least the writing and voice acting are strong enough to sell these characters. Some may also take issue with Galeb’s internal monologue, which was a little too short for a detective game that has so much background knowledge in the works, and it didn’t do much to inform me of what he actually thought; in fact, it seemed like a way to establish him as someone with a penchant for nervousness, rather than someone with a lot of inner depth that would have otherwise helped me connect him to the world I passed two hours to explore.