You may not have heard of it, but there is a crisis in vampirism. This may not be surprising as the neck-slitters live in a parallel dimension and take great pains to save their existence from us Mughals.
You could be forgiven for being confused as Swansong has many layers in an elaborate fantasy that began in 1991 as a series of tabletop RPGs under the name World of Darkness. Vampire is one of five “species” related branches of RPGs and has spawned several spin-off games to date, including last month’s Bloodhunt, an entry in the battle-royal genre.
Despite being set in the same universe, Swansong couldn’t be more different from Bloodhunt. Instead of a fast-paced, battle-focused delicate-fest, it plays out more like Vampire Parliament: The Walking-and-Talking-Fest. The Boston faction of the undead world has come under vicious attack from a secret source and the local leader seeks answers to the crisis. She instructs three vampires to investigate the attack out of revenge.
You take control of three characters in turn – each with different personalities and abilities – on missions to uncover the mystery. You do not do this with your fists, your sharp teeth, or anything resembling a weapon. Instead, your trio uses only their intelligence and persuasive talents to conduct a systematic investigation of people and places.
This being a World of Darkness RPG, you can be fed copious amounts of lore in a tremendous way. Meanwhile, you use persuasion and intimidation to interrogate Boston’s vampire population, while spying through computers, scribbled notes, and information stored in books.
Some of Swansong’s happiest moments unfold through its puzzles, which often require you to jot down shapes, codes, and passwords for later use. Less successful is Swansong’s RPG system, in which you level up your stats to do better in conversational combat. It doesn’t seem solidly tied to your success as an interrogator and often seems quite opaque as to your actual skills.
Of the three characters, the most enjoyable is Lesha who can imitate the other characters’ costumes through disguise, rather than as if she is Agent 47 from Hitman. This opens up the most interesting gameplay compared to the other two less dramatic approaches.
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And drama is what Swansong strives for the most. The writing rotates from gothic nonsense to carefully curated social commentary. But it falls short of the limited budget spent on the facial details of the graphics and the regularity of technical glitches.
This vampire has taken a bite but it is not as sharp as it seems.