VAMPIRE: THE MASQUERADE: SWANSONG is a very difficult game to review and is basically a heart monitor when it comes to quality. There’s parts that are magnificent with incredibly good writing, world-building, and character interactions. Finding these parts of the game requires you to read large chunks of the in-game codex and use of a guide since there’s no indication you should be looking for these parts. Plus, there’s parts of the game that are just outright broken and deeply frustrating if you want to have a functional experience.
Swansong is a detective game set in the World of Darkness, specifically Vampire: The Masquerade setting. It is not Bloodlines or anything like Bloodlines but closer to something like Monkey Island or other adventure game. You go around having conversations with people, picking up objects, and trying to figure out puzzles to figure out what goes where to achieve what.
You play three separate vampire characters: lesbian Toreador artist Emem, tortured Malkavian prophetess Leysha, and brooding Ventrue elder Galeb. All three of them were supposed to attend a party signalling the alliance of the Boston Camarilla (the vampire mafia for newbies) with the Hartford Tremere chantry (vampire wizards). However, something happened at the party, and now a bunch of Kindred may or may not be dead. It’s up to to you to find out what happened and play the political games that are central to the existence of Kindred.
I admit the game made a poor first impression with me by the fact that after twenty minutes of introduction, I ended up getting stuck in a door and the game saving its one save file so that I permanently stuck in it. I had to start the game over. Which wouldn’t have been a problem if not for the fact that not much past that point on my restart, it happened to me again after falling through the floor. I was ready to quit the game after that and with good reason. Still, I persevered on and started having a lot of fun. The restarting element didn’t need to happen but a couple of more times and became less of a problem when I had access to the levels I’d previously cleared.
The positives first, when the game gets going, it certainly does get what V:TM is all about. It’s about long established relationships and rivalries between immortal beings. The best parts of the game are when the player characters are leaning heavily into their personal struggles with their sire, past wrongs, and ancient rivalries. Emem used to be in a relationship with their sire but broke it off after an incident involving a forcible blood bond. Leysha’s “doctor” is a crooked scientist experimenting on blood as well as her. Galeb hates his eldest childe and is hoping to find redemption with his latest prospect.
This is the way a V:TM game should be written and designed with the idea of you just mostly wandering around and interacting with people. The most important skills in the game are your Persuasion, Education, Technology, and other social skills instead of your Disciplines. The game also continues if your character dies and I appreciate that kind of permanency when making a story. That is, if I am the one able to enjoy the story with its permanency and have the option of exploring other choices.
Of the three main characters, I had to say I liked Galeb the most. Emem has some great moments and her backstory is great (assuming you get to see it) and Leysha is a Malkavian seer so an automatic win but Galeb really embodies the kind of old school Ventrue leader that actually earned the title of Prince. There’s some really good levels to go with the more mediocre ones too like when you explore a human accountant’s apartment for clues as well as infiltrate the Second Inquisition’s local base. My favorite level is probably when Leysha visits the party and we find out what happened to all the Kindred there.
Unfortunately, the bad parts of the game is the fact the game is deeply counter-intuitive. There’s a level where your character has their memory erased and you get a huge amount of backstory on their personality, goals, and relationships by recovering the fragments. However, the game never tells you that you’re missing your memories so you only stumble on them by accident. They also are all different looking objects so you just have to constantly touch everything as well as stick your hands into nook or cranny to get an essential part of the story.
My conclusion is that Swansong is a good game, on PC and not so much on console. Furthermore, I think this is a rare game where you should just cheat the hell out of it. Read a guide for instructions on what to do each level and you’ll enjoy it more than if you tried to figure it out. I rarely say that but you’re missing tons of story if you just do what the game tells you to do so. The game would have also massively benefited from the ability to save as you will because you could do a lot more exploring that way as well as check out different outcomes.