The Nintendo Switch port of Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong remains a compelling narrative-RPG that I’ve enjoyed replaying on the go – especially with the hindsight needed to avoid some dire outcomes for the cast – but the port feels brutally compromised when it comes to the visuals. That said, they don’t render it unplayable by any means, so I want to cover what it does well first.
Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong is an accessible entry point for those interested in the World of Darkness setting; a world where Gothic horrors like vampires, werewolves, and ghouls exist in the shadows alongside modern-day humanity. Vampire clans are most closely integrated into human society – influencing individuals, businesses, and entire governments – while clashing among themselves to control the blood supply.
To keep their presence a secret and avoid the attention of modern-day vampire hunters, the “Camarilla” Prince of each region strictly enforces the “Masquerade” – a highly organised and often merciless campaign that targets mortals and vampires alike for indiscretions.
In Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong, you alternate between three playable protagonists: the Toreador “Emem”, the Malkavian “Leysha”, and Ventrue “Galeb” – all with personalities archetypical of their clans. A lockdown is initiated as they’re summoned to the residence of the Boston Prince after a “code red” is sent from a party celebrating a newly forged alliance with the “Hartford Chantry” blood mages – a move aimed at expanding and controlling the blood trade in the region.
With unverified reports of casualties and key members of both factions now missing or potentially dead, the Prince tasks the three with following different leads best suited to their abilities, to uncover the true nature of the threat. Emem is the most charismatic and brash; the unstable Leysha doubts herself but excels at stealth and subtlety; while Galeb is a jaded enforcer sent to do any dirty work. In the background, an internal power struggle plays out between the Prince and her “primogens” – a council meant to advise and limit their power.
As for how it plays? Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong feels like one part player-choice-driven narrative game (think Life is Strange), one part Frogwares-style investigation game (think The Sinking City), and one part CRPG with attribute- and skill-based dialogue or investigation checks. There are a few intense timed-choice sequences, one brief stealth section, and a few logic puzzles to mix things up.
Over the course of three nights, you pick the order you want to tackle groups of missions, before being dropped into large-ish environments, with a checklist of evolving tasks, and multiple ways to achieve them. Unsurprisingly, Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong is designed for replays with prior knowledge, giving you a chance to save or condemn the main cast and several secondary characters in the final chapters.
The attribute and skill system can feel underdeveloped at first, with a min-max approach the only way to unlock many potential interactions – especially as you only earn skill points at the end of each chapter and can only invest them at the start of the next. Play for long enough though, and you’ll discover Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong still offers plenty of depth elsewhere by ensuring simple player choice remains important; temporary or permanent traits you earn based on your decisions are powerful; and so are a handful of rare accessories that can be equipped to modify skill-checks and dialogue confrontations in interesting ways.
Using social skills and vampiric powers is not without cost, so you’re forced to hunt for rare consumables that restore willpower; search for safe rooms and potential victims to reduce your hunger level; and you’ll need to gather incriminating evidence and avoid outright killing victims to keep down a suspicion level that can make future skill checks even tougher. There’s an enjoyable flow to each scene as you first get the lay of the land, hunt for clues, scout for safe rooms and prey, weigh up the cost of your abilities to get the information you need, and often decide which objective takes priority.
It’s entirely possible to complete a scene with many tasks unfulfilled, especially in chapters with alternate conclusions, but there’s always a way forward – either by using logical arguments instead of skills, or having certain fail states incorporated into the narrative. It’s a smart design but also one that highlights Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong’s positive and negative feedback loops.
If you investigate thoroughly, get lucky with dialogue challenge dice rolls, and complete most objectives, you’ll earn enough XP to boost several attributes and skills, improving your chances of similar success in the next chapter. Should you miss important clues, lose dialogue challenges, or skip objectives, you’ll find yourself low on XP and your options restricted in future chapters.
Now Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong was never the most visually spectacular title and felt like it was developed with seventh-generation hardware in mind – but that said, it still had detailed environments, decent lighting, and a great atmosphere thanks to solid voice work and an unsettling ambience. On the Nintendo Switch, there are significant graphical downgrades that are hard to ignore on the small screen, and harder still when docked with a large TV.
From a gameplay perspective, the small text and interaction prompts can be an issue in handheld mode, but the low resolution and incredibly blurry textures can make spotting environmental clues – think codes, patterns, or tracks – an issue on a big screen too. Considering just the aesthetics, a lot of fine detail is lost in the environments and so too is much of the atmosphere with no self-shadowed character models, no dynamic shadows, and no volumetric lighting.
The one upside is that load times are reasonably short and it runs well in most chapters, with only minor framerate dips in a few complex locations – though that’s less of an issue given the genre.
So wrapping up, Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong on the Nintendo Switch is harder to recommend as the experience is somewhat dependent on how you play. In handheld mode on a small screen, it still looks rough but the visuals are easier to tolerate and you can focus on the branching narrative and gameplay mechanics. If you’re someone who plays primarily docked on a TV though, I’d argue Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong is ugly to the point of distraction and undermines any storytelling ambitions.
Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a code provided to gameblur by the publisher. It is also available on PC, Xbox One/Series S|X, and PS4/5.
Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong (Nintendo Switch) ReviewVampire: The Masquerade – Swansong (Nintendo Switch) Review
- An accessible introduction to the World of Darkness IP
- A complex, branching story with dozens of scene variations and entirely missable encounters
- Attributes, skills, and player-choice allow for multiple outcomes...
- ..but the narrative always has a way to move forward regardless
- Small text and interaction prompts in handheld mode
- Low rendering resolution, blurry textures, and simplified lighting
- It’s ugly to the point of distraction in docked mode