Our Vampire – The Masquerade Swansong review begins with the title ‘Masquerade,’ which is the vampire society’s elegant term for the secret to their existence. After an attack on Prince Hazel’s kin at a party in Boston, the Camarilla sect ruling Boston has issued a code red. This indicates that someone is trying to disrupt the status quo. Are the Anarchs the sect of vampires that refuse to follow the civilized Camarilla’s code or Prince Hazel of Boston’s ruling Camarilla sect? Some internal skullduggery? What about a rival organization?
Bram Stoker saw the vampire as a lonely lothario. He was a creaking, but perfectly mannered, figure wearing ruffled collars and cuffs. Count Dracula only thinks of fine taffeta and new pick-up lines. He’d barely last 20 minutes before the Camarilla Prince took a swing at him.
Vampire:The Masquerade’s vampires are more like undead illuminati. They are cold, calculating, and have fangs. But they also have a mind full of political maneuverings and manoeuvrings. They are the ones who control our society. They keep an eye on our actions, our environment, and our health. They need us to be their blood supply, so they must protect the Masquerade from our descendants forever.
This is a wonderful setting for a game and it’s not just because of the VTM: Bloodlines nostalgia. Mark Rein-Hagen’s 1991 tabletop role playing game, The World of Darkness, is rich in detail and provides the same thrill as the Matrix movie: seeing familiar places in a completely new and sinister context.
It can take some time to get there. It is a three-protagonist board game that switches perspectives between the perspectives of three vampires from Prince Hazel’s inner circle. It is a lengthy game that requires a lot of explanation before it gives you any agency. It is understandable. For newcomers to this world, it must explain the concept, rules of vampire society and code red. Then, introduce a key character, establish their motivations, and then end with a summary. Three times in succession. This is a lot of work to complete in an hour. You can’t help but feel that there is a better solution than this torrent of conversations.
Once you have mastered the where, when and why of the case, you are given the keys to a detective game that includes RPG elements as well as conversation boss fights. This game is very similar to Big Bad Wolf Studio’s The Council, in that it’s full of intrigue and raises eyebrows where there may be combat. You can’t interact with the environment. If you want to be more precise, it comes down to combing every room for ‘interact prompts. These prompts are almost always placed on paper and drawers and then you move on to the next area.
However, it can get more intense when you use vampiric abilities and in conversations. These abilities give you additional senses. They can show you where your character has been, flagging an illusion presence, and hiding you from other people. These abilities don’t have a cooldown, so you can walk around with them on at all times. However, contextual actions cost you points.
Imagine you have the desire to hack a computer or dominate someone in conversation to make them do what you want. Or you would like to use your education to get more insight from evidence you find. To do these things, you’ll need points. One or two points might be awarded as a reward for a conversation or to level up after a scene. You feel like you don’t have enough, especially in conversations where you can spend more points on an action to help your opponent focus and improve their performance at the social media tool you’re trying to win them over. This is a good thing. It feels meaningful to spend points, no matter how frustrating it may be to ignore the importance of budgeting.
Emem, Galeb and Leysha make a great trio. Swansong is a good balance between giving you an idea of their behavior and letting your imagination run wild. My Emem is all detective skills. Leysha is a physical type. Galeb is the master of all shady trades. You might have completely different skills. While Emem will remain a charming straight-talker and Galeb will enjoy his role as a Channel 5 TV star, Leysha will become a struggling mother.
In September 2019, Prince Hazel gives the trio tough orders and they find themselves deeper in a murder spree. It’s not particularly poetic or profound in storytelling, but it’s engaging and makes the most of World of Darkness. It’s a depressing, unfeeling world, much like the new Hitman game, with mysterious super-rich people living in private misery. The interior sets bring it to life. It’s like Architectural Digest meets Twilight in the best sense.
It’s not clear how much you can have in the story. You will make some major decisions right away and they have knock-on consequences throughout the game. However, I did fail to win a confrontation and was expected to be punished with severe consequences. A ghoul dressed as a cop on a crime scene had taken sensitive documents about Camarilla from me and was ready to share them with police.
She was resolute, despite my poor debating skills. However, after the HUD informed me that I had failed the confrontation, I was offered three conversational options. These conversations gave me a 100% chance of dominating my enemy and accomplishing what I had been trying to do all along. Disaster averted, documents kept hidden, ghoul sent packing. What was at stake during the confrontation?
It isn’t particularly polished or beautiful. It doesn’t move storygames forward in a genre. Swansong is different. It has an atmosphere and depth of fiction that keep you present in the moment. This allows you to forget about the repetitive nature of the tasks it asks you to do from scene to scene.