Reviews - Updated on May 18, 2022

A few years ago, French collective Big Bad Wolf released The Council, an episodic adventure in the spirit of Telltale Games. It was distinguished from ordinary interactive cinema by RPG elements, thanks to which it was more interesting to solve problems and achieve what you wanted in dialogues than just choosing actions and replicas. Now the studio has turned to the world of Vampire: The Masquerade with the release of Swansong, where ideas that have retained originality have been developed.

Pranks and intrigues

This time we are transported to Boston, where among the vampires there is a panic – the code “Red” is declared. The prince of the city, Hazel, has formed an alliance with the bloodbenders of Hartford Chapel and organized a reunion party, but something has gone wrong – the members are not getting in touch. It is necessary to find out exactly what happened and who is behind the attack, because because of what happened, the entire Camarilla faction is in danger.

Hazel entrusts the investigation to three representatives of the clans, giving them separate assignments. If the main character did not change in The Council, then there are three playable protagonists at once. Sometimes the developers themselves decide who you will manage, and sometimes they give you a choice – in any case, you need to play for the whole trinity. They do not visit the same places – this is another plus compared to the previous release of the studio, where almost all the action took place within the walls of the estate.

The characters will see a variety of places from the slums to the elite indoor clubs.

The characters will see a variety of places from the slums to the elite indoor clubs.

We first meet Emem, a member of the Toreador clan and a successful variety show dancer who has opened several popular clubs in Boston. Another hero is Galeb of the Ventrue clan, an experienced tradesman who at one time retired and turned into an executioner. And Leisha is a soothsayer who is visited by visions of possible futures. Due to consultations with a psychiatrist, she has to spend less time with her young daughter than she would like.

Vampire cases

What Swansong is sure to please fans of the Vampire: The Masquerade universe is the huge amount of text. Even the biographies of the characters are rich in details about their past – what will never be talked about in the dialogue allows you to better understand the characters and feel their stories. For example, Hazel is called the new prince, but what happened to the old one? Her biography is detailed. Of course, this is not an ideal way to introduce the player to the action, but it is better than long introductory videos or overloaded dialogues.

It's a pity you can't rewind dialogues - those who read subtitles quickly will be uncomfortable.  But when you pass it again, you can do it.

It is a pity that the dialogues cannot be rewound – fast readers of subtitles will be uncomfortable. But when you pass it again, you can do it.

The matter is not limited to this – the game has a full-fledged codex. Every time someone mentions a new term or name in the dialog, an alert pops up on the screen about the corresponding entry. Who are the sires and ghouls, what is the final death of a vampire, what is called the Second Inquisition? There are even detailed stories about each clan. Everything is translated into Russian and is very interesting, so the developers assured that players who do not understand the World of Darkness have nothing to worry about – everything is laid out for them.

Such a meticulous attention of the authors and a clear reluctance to spoil the universe with gag is captivating. Therefore, interest in history does not fade away: the characters are cute, they find themselves in different situations, and they cannot do without making difficult decisions. The final episodes turned out to be a little crumpled (and the introduction is frightening with the number of names), but The Council’s mistake with the sharp transformation of the detective into a mystical thriller was not repeated – there will be surprises, but not so changing the storyline.

Not everyone can drink blood - a corresponding icon appears on potential victims.

Not everyone can drink blood – a corresponding icon appears on potential victims.

What the developers failed to fix is ​​the technical part. There are many beautiful locations here, the rooms are again hung with various paintings – it’s nice to look at the environment. However, the character models are very controversial – their facial animations are reminiscent of Mass Effect: Andromeda, they are so bad. Among the protagonists, Emem was the best (thanks to her interesting appearance), Galeb was animated normally, but there were some problems with Leisha. But this is a character whose emotions were especially important to show, given his state of mind.

The quality of models and animations of secondary characters also varies.

The quality of models and animations of secondary characters also varies.

There is always time to talk

It saves the gameplay – although there were some disadvantages, the advantages outweigh. There are many similarities with The Council: we freely control the character, we can explore each location and interact with objects. Some things allow you to pick up, others are only allowed to look, listening to the comments of the hero. If your characteristics are good enough, you can even get more information, although it is far from always useful. In one of the episodes, for example, the character will tell what material the table is made of – it is not entirely clear why this is necessary.

Let it remain a secret.

Let it remain a secret.

The role system is back. First, you choose a class for each character – this affects the starting characteristics. Then, by completing episodes, you earn experience and can invest it in improving parameters. Pumping eloquence, persuasion and other dialogue options expands the possibilities. If you invest in security and electronics, you can pick locks and hack devices. And insight and wisdom will be useful both for the above comments and for some conversations.

Another option is to pump physical, social and mental characteristics that affect success in dialogues. When you try to intimidate or convince someone, the opponent just doesn’t give up – he has his own indicators. If your two points of eloquence are opposed to his two points, a lot depends on your chance of success – it increases by leveling up characteristics. It’s convenient that you can temporarily increase your performance for the sake of some kind of cue, but action points are spent on this. And their number in each scene is limited, as in The Council.

Sometimes everything is decided by a die roll.

These points are spent, in particular, on picking locks. It is better to carefully explore the locations and not scatter points at the first opportunity – you may regret it. There are a lot of safes and locked computers here, and searching for passwords always turns out to be an interesting puzzle in which no one will lead you by the handle. Either you need to read several letters, or understand the password from vague phrases on sticky notes. At the same time, the heroes do not have diaries – write down your guesses yourself. With the keys, the situation is similar – you don’t need much intelligence to pick the locks, but almost always you can either find the keys or ask for them using skills in dialogues.

After making some story decisions, the player gains traits that affect performance.

After making some story decisions, the player gains traits that affect performance.

Master of none

You can also spend experience on disciplines that each hero has his own. The character has a kind of skill tree, and I clearly made a big mistake trying to pump all the branches a little bit. The game isn’t long enough to be able to buy all the skills by the end, although I was hoping for a New Game+ where I could continue to improve my abilities and play through everything in a new way – unfortunately, there is nothing like that. Obviously, there is no need for disciplines – otherwise the game would be impassable for those who spent points on something wrong. However, sometimes they open up new possibilities, thanks to which your passage will be unique.

It's always nice to see a 100% chance of success.

It’s always nice to see a 100% chance of success.

For example, Leisha is the only protagonist who can copy other people’s attire and, like Hitman, penetrate into locations forbidden to onlookers. And among her disciplines is “Doppelganger”, which allows you to fully take on the appearance of the selected person. First you walk and collect information (including communicating with the target), and then you reincarnate. In one episode, it came in handy for me, and then I reloaded the save and tried to go the other way – it turned out that you can continue the story without it. However, in this case, I would lose several dialogues, and it would not be so interesting.

It's expensive, but completely useless.

It’s expensive, but completely useless.

It’s a pity that there are few such disciplines and for the most part the upgrade tree is littered with modifications that simply affect your victory in dialogues. For example, you will block the opportunity for an opponent to strengthen a skill or defend against his disciplines. Most often, such options can only be used by increasing hunger – this is another scale in the corner of the screen that fills up after some actions. And since you are playing as vampires, there is only one way to satisfy your hunger – take some victim to a closed room and feast on it.

Using unusual abilities causes hunger.

It’s hard to get rid of the feeling that all these role-playing systems are cramped within the game. The plot takes 15–20 hours to complete, and since all the characters have their own leveling, you just don’t have time to improve everything you want. But there is also a separate menu with talents – the more actively you use disciplines, the more bonuses you get. You need to use the same tone in dialogues as many as 16 times (intimidate, convince, and so on), and only then will you increase the effectiveness of discipline to the maximum. This once again confirms my theory that it’s not worth spraying – it’s better to choose one direction and pump it.

On the other hand, these systems encourage you to thoroughly explore the locations, and the game rewards for this. After each chapter, you are shown a final table with successes, failures and missed opportunities, and the number of points received depends on these results. If you didn’t find a room, didn’t pick up a computer password, didn’t get information out of someone, you won’t get a bonus. And since the dialogues are fascinating, the notes are immersed in the universe, and the search for collectibles makes sense (they restore action points or satisfy hunger), there is no desire to run to the next goal and miss everything around.

Victims survive the ritual, but can be killed if desired.

Victims survive the ritual, but can be killed if desired.

Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong is hardly a big step forward after The Council, but that doesn’t make it a bad game. This is a worthy detective story, the authors of which respect the universe of the “World of Darkness” and clearly plunged into it. It’s a pity that the ambitious role-playing system lacks timing – the game ends at the moment when it seems that you have just begun to develop characters. Well, for facial animations, the project cannot but be scolded – fortunately, it is difficult to spoil a fascinating plot with this.

Pluses: a fascinating story with three main characters, whose fates can develop in different ways; beautiful locations, which are noticeably more than in The Council; still original for the genre role-playing system, which allows you to behave differently in dialogues; solving riddles and guessing passwords does not get boring, and for such meticulousness they are also rewarded; a voluminous codex, revealing a lot of details about the universe of the “World of Darkness”.

Cons: facial animation leaves much to be desired; role-playing elements are closely within the game – timing is not enough to reveal their potential; a little sloppy ending.

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