Swansong is a role-playing game that delivers the entirety of its drama through dialogue–there is no combat to speak of. Critical scenes between characters are resolved within conversational set-pieces called "confrontations." RPGs can exist without traditional battles--just look at Disco Elysium, for example--but the dialogue now thrust center-stage needs to sing, or at least harmonize with a deep skill system. Swansong, sadly, delivers neither. Its writing is pedestrian, often incoherent, and its supporting systems are underutilized, adding little flavor to distinguish the three playable characters.
There’s a lot of internal politicking and posturing, as internal disputes within the Boston Camarilla spill over. It doesn’t hurt if you don’t know the difference between a Toreador and a Nosferatu, and a Codex is available to handle more esoteric concepts like the Beckoning.
Vampire: The Masquerade: Swansong does the complete opposite. Its cabal of backstabbing bloodsuckers are painfully boring, frequently stupid, and exhibit all the charisma of a Nosferatu living in a bin. Big Bad Wolf's narrative RPG has grand ambitions and spots of potential, but it all falls apart in a mess of half-baked ideas and a script sucked dry of personality.
So many scenes over the course of the game--not just in the beginning--seemingly arrive with something missing, some crucial detail or two omitted. It feels like watching a TV series where you don't quite understand what's going on and you're constantly worried you've skipped an episode where something important happened. Not everything needs to be explained, of course, and some matters are best left ambiguous. But whether it's a specific aspect of vampire society or the precise history of certain character relationships, too many details are too lightly sketched or simply assumed. Even with the aid of the codex, it's a struggle to follow what exactly is going on.
It seems like a lot the first few times it happens, though ultimately confrontations are simple: make it through the conversation and win the final point, without “missing” too many times and failing. Failure is usually soft anyways, usually cutting off one of several points of progression or incurring a physical change in a character. But it feels good to just barely eke out a battle of the minds.
There are also some decent ideas explored in the story itself. The central mystery surrounding who's behind the attack is intriguing, while the character conflicts produce some stimulating drama. The strongest of these is Leysha's toxic relationship with her vampire therapist. The concept of a vampire therapist is probably the closest to a joke that Swansong gets, but his disturbingly domineering demeanour toward Leysha overrides the inherent absurdity in the idea, and their storyline delivers the best twists in the game.
Swansong is weirdly obsessed with all manner of security mechanisms. Keys, swipe cards, implanted ID chips, safes, gates, lockers, drawers, passwords, keypads, and sliding block contraptions, you name it, Swansong has almost certainly designed a puzzle around it. Outside of dialogue, you're exploring some relatively small locations: a fancy apartment, some warehouses by the docks, a small research facility, and so on. Navigating these places typically involves bypassing a bunch of lock-and-key-type puzzles.
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