From the 90s onwards, movies taught me that vampires spend all their time eating and having sex with people (often concurrently). Vampire: The Masquerade - Swansong has taught me that they actually spend most of their time walking around looking at things, sometimes stopping to have tense conversations or pick up keycards. There is occasional eating.
I've never dived into the world of Vampire: The Masquerade before, and hoped Swansong was my chance to find out what all the fuss was about. I love lore, I would boil it in a spoon and inject it into my veins if I could, but this is more like trying to gatecrash a party for the free wine and realizing it's a symposium for particle theorists. Everyone is talking about things that - unless you've done some cramming on the Masquerade world - are utterly new to you, and your only hope of keeping up is to notice the little alert to tell you something new has been added to your codex.
I feel that much of Swansong, especially for newcomers, can be so saturated with deep lore hidden behind a chunk of Codex text. I do appreciate that the Codex is introduced to the player slowly as you come across new terms, meet new people and clans, but that also means a lot of reading. Long-time fans of the game would probably understand the references, but newcomers will have varying degrees of being able to relate to the subject matter.
I didn't find any use for tech skills because I'm willing to stare at a clue for 20 minutes to figure out the answer. You might not be, but I did appreciate that it's possible to do that at all. Swansong is one of those games that I needed a notebook on hand so I could scribble down shapes and codes, and I enjoyed how open some of the clues actually were. I got Emem out of her funk by looking at some posters for a very long time. I hacked into a computer because of a post-it saying that the password was stupid and easy. Sometimes Swansong verges into being too opaque, and you'll fail objectives that you didn't even really know you had. Overall, though, it's very satisfying to put the effort in. Swansong also relegates most of its exposition into codex entries, meaning the dialogue in-game is much more free-flowing, and can concentrate on intrigue and "Trust no one!" conversations. The tone as a whole is vampire drama rather than serious issues, and it works.
Luckily, later levels offer more meat to sink your teeth into. Leysha, for instance, can steal the appearance of different people - cops, forensic investigators - and uses the skill to sneak around a crime scene, uncovering secrets along the way. Galeb visits the home of a human ally of the vampires, and smart, methodical searching can uncover unexpected codes and hidden rooms. I do like the way that with each level like this you won't really know what you missed until a summary of what you did - and the alternative choices you could have made - appear at the end. It makes it feel like you've really nailed the assignment, even if you weren't really sure what it was about. I'm happy to report there is blood-drinking, in a semi-consensual, ooh try not to kill them the way, but it's the equivalent of grabbing a snack to sate your hunger rating, rather than a lusty seduction.
The first playthrough is a bit of a slog, but if you see it through even after the end, you will be rewarded for your resilience; which unfortunately won’t be for the newcomer looking for more visceral vampire action. It might appease the ardent fans who’s had years of exposure to the culture and jargon of the Kindred, but if you’re not a fan of the clans featured, it might also be a deterrent rather than an invitation.