Across the entire World of Darkness franchise, few entries command the attention Vampire: The Masquerade manages. Sure, we've seen recent excursions across this shared universe like Werewolf: The Apocalypse - Earthblood and Wraith: The Oblivion - Afterlife, but vampires were always the biggest hit.
Alongside two recent visual novels, an early access battle royale game, and the upcoming Bloodlines 2, there's also Swansong launching on May 19, promising a narrative-driven RPG. Arriving on PC, Switch, Xbox, and PlayStation, this latest adaptation comes from Big Bad Wolf, who previously brought us The Council.
Swansong tells the story of three vampires from different clans: Galeb Bazory of clan Ventrue, Emem of clan Toreador, and Leysha of clan Malkavian, each offering some variances. Going hands-on at a recent preview event, we tried out one of Galeb's levels, and I came away impressed.
Roll For Persuasion
Much of VTM's story revolves around the Camarilla, a vampiric sect acting as the government for any territory they control. Taking us to Boston, Massachusetts, Galeb's section begins by investigating the murder of the Camarilla's banker, Jason Moore, who's found decapitated in his own home.
Before starting, you must assign Galeb's character skills. Using points to enhance proficiencies, that's split into three categories: Dialogue, Exploration, and Knowledge. It can offer perks like increased technological prowess, more persuasion choices, or enhanced deductive abilities. Meanwhile, disciplines build upon three vampiric special powers - Fortitude, Dominate, and Presence - in a skill tree.
During this level, we've gone undercover as an FBI agent searching Moore's apartment, carrying out our own investigation for the Prince, Boston's Camarilla leader. Straight away, we're tasked with finding five reports the Prince asked Moore to prepare. Since we can't find Moore, we need them, which are scattered across this apartment.
Once we've begun investigating, Galeb has several tools at his disposal. We can wonder freely, interact with objects, and receive different options like hacking tech if we invested points into the relevant skills. Better still, Galeb can "Sense The Unseen", letting him spot supernatural creatures or items they've handled. Ultimately, our main goal is to remove any items of suspicion, protecting the Camarilla.
A Confrontational Approach
It's immediately clear how much choice this game awards you, and you can reach the same objective through multiple methods. If you fancy risking the Prince's wrath, you can always leave early, so I'd recommend being thorough. Sadly, I didn't see this fully unfold but these choices have wider impacts, and there are no obvious "right or wrong picks."
With some NPCs, you can probe for more information but every so often, Galeb enters a Confrontation. For clarity, Swansong doesn't do traditional combat, these are dialogue fights. Split into different segments, you'll try convincing your opponent into giving you what you need, achievable through several methods. One confrontation has Galeb approach an undercover agent, a Ghoul reluctant to reveal her plan.
You've got several options available here. We can try using persuasion, rhetoric for pulling rank or dominate to mentally overpower them. However, each ability has a price and if the success odds are poor, you can boost them for a higher cost.
Galeb has two meters, willpower and hunger, which are drained or increased respectively with each use. It's important keeping both in check, as getting too hungry or exhausting willpower locks out those actions. Confrontations also have different win-lose criteria, allowing one or two "misses" during these talks. If you fail, that doesn't stop the story from advancing. It forces you to be strategic.
Thankfully, you can replenish both gauges. As a vampire, Galeb feeds on blood and several NPCs can be targeted. Once picked, you'll determine how much blood you drain, leading these unsuspecting NPCs into a safe room. That'll drop your hunger gauge but drinking too much risks kills them, raising suspicion against you. Willpower isn't so risky, raised through consumable items instead.
Personally, I really enjoyed how Swansong handles choice and as Galeb at least, I had significant freedom in handling this mission. Investigating felt in-depth, there's a solid grasp of the core mechanics, and every action has consequences, even if it's not always obvious. In a prior presentation, Big Bad Wolf confirmed Swansong has a branching narrative and I can already tell it'll have significant replayability.
My only real criticism is graphical and while Big Bad Wolf has paid significant attention to facial designs, certain characters had some slightly unnerving eyes. For an AA project though, that's more understandable. This certainly isn't another Bloodlines, Swansong is doing a fine job defining its own identity, and as a murder mystery fan, I was quickly invested. I'm very excited to see how this story unfolds.
PC edition was used for this preview, hardware provided by Nacon.