At an embarrassingly young age, I used to troll AOL chat rooms looking for "Vampyre Taverns," spelled just like that. There was nothing more exciting than pretending I was a cool, brooding vampire who used bright red fonts and wrote in brackets to express myself. I wasn’t particularly interested in vampire lore or anything, but out of the “classic” fictional monsters out there, vampires have always struck my fancy. You may also know that I’m a huge visual novel fan. Thus, Vampire: The Masquerade – Coteries of New York spoke to me. It’s going to be a while before Bloodlines 2 is finally out following its delay, so I eagerly sank my teeth into this installment. Unfortunately, while featuring stunning artwork and an enjoyable enough premise with decent mechanics, it was hardly an adventure I wanted to suck dry.
Happy death day to you
Vampire: The Masquerade – Coteries of New York places you in the role of a fledgling vampire, or a "Childe" (newborn) of a mysterious "Sire." (your vamp progenitor). You can choose between three different characters, each with their own names and back stories. I tried them all for good measure. While you can change their names, unfortunately you can't change their gender or appearance, which seemed a bit odd in a game that's all about attempting to make you appreciate front and center what it's really like being a newborn vampire.
The Brujah character was one that would "rebel against power and rage against authority." The Venture character was a top-level corporate executive all about wealth and control. Finally, the Toreador character sought thrills in the worlds of art and romance. Naturally, I chose the hipster Toreador character, though I came to regret that decision once I realized he was an artist who despised his own sister's work because she dared make a living out of her craft. But then again, according to him, she made money repurposing memes, so maybe he was in the right. I named my Toreador vampire Bilbo. I tried out the other characters as well, giving them the monikers Squanchy and ButtBoy. I was in a particularly silly mood after realizing just how much the game was ruined by some terrible writing, but more about that in a moment.
Essentially, no matter who you choose, you end up becoming a vampire and find yourself pulled into a dark world of secrets, strict rules, and the seedy underbelly of the vampire side of New York City. Each character has a slightly different opening story, but sooner or later you’ll be downing blood. I rather enjoyed these first moments, because they did a good job of setting the tone and introducing the concept of the Masquerade, or how vampires remain hidden while in plain sight to the rest of the world, but I would have liked a way to customize the character I chose.
Just vamp for a bit
The game plays out in classic visual novel format with minimal animation, large images and character portraits, and plenty of text to wade through. You’ll be spending 97% of your time reading and 3% making decisions and clicking on the ones you’ve chosen. You may also spend a bit of your in-game time checking out the dictionary to make sure you haven’t forgotten some of the slang word usage, as it’s all culled from the world of the tabletop universe of Vampire: The Masquerade. It’s always good to have a way to check terms there if you forget.
Your story is characterized by branching decisions as your new vampire family guides you through learning the ropes as a baby vamp. You're driven by Hunger, which is portrayed by a bloody frame around the screen. It can be driven higher when you use vampiric powers, tend to your wounds after a fight, or otherwise abuse your well-being (like not resting after visiting others around the city).
When it's maxed out, you'll get a warning after completing story. Some choices are only available if Hunger is high enough.It can also block off some choices. You'll need to Feed with a Feeding Opportunity to slake your Hunger, and if you don't, well, you'll be looking at some damaging repercussions. These are all systems that work well together, even though they aren't particularly challenging if you've ever played a time management RPG/visual novel before.
Much of your time will be spent early on creating the titular coteries, or vampire broods that I'm honestly shocked the game didn't call "squads." It's up to you to decide who you want to seek out, make an attempt to prove your worth to either by conversing with through the correct dialogue choices, or completing missions for. It's an exciting mishmash of different characters and personalities to choose from as you seek to build your coterie, and I found it fun building up my network of vamps and balancing out my night activities with feeding, hanging out with my patron (since my sire had up and disappeared) and learning what it's like to be a vampire.
For the most part, as I've described it, Vampire: The Masquerade – Coteries of New York sounds as though it's pretty fun, right? I certainly enjoyed the gameplay loop, and found it a refreshing change of pace. It's just unfortunate that most of this fun comes to a screeching halt every 20 minutes or so because of some of the most cringe-tactic writing I've ever seen.
Simply put, the writing is exceedingly awful in places. Imagine Interview with the Vampire if it were written in emoji, or Dracula if the centuries-old titular monster asked you for a vibe check. It’s embarrassing, frankly, that such weak collections of memes and pop culture references mar otherwise engaging moments. One moment you'll be learning about how to control your newfound powers and discussing the power dynamics between different clans, and the next you'll be cringing your way through a fake chatroom conversation where everyone types in lowercase like proper punctuation is beneath them (like every millennial on the internet) with "screen names" like "cultofLOONA."
This is a reference to the K-pop group Loona, and the meme "Stan LOONA," a rallying cry for people to follow the band. As a LOONA fan myself, however, even I found this jarring and out of place, even as a casual reference. The Call of Duty mention came out of left field as well. Not only does it date the writing for future playthroughs, but it made me feel extremely disconnected from any immersion the narrative had. If you're playing the game to escape, or to truly get any sort of enjoyment out of it as an RPG, these moments take you out of it immediately.
Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines is one of my favorite PC RPGs, and while it unfolds in a modern setting with plenty of slang, funny moments, and juvenile jokes, it's also appropriately dark. Still, its tone is pretty even-keeled. Being a vampire is serious business, as is the Masquerade. Obviously, I have no qualms with jokes (see my character names). But those names were my choice – the dialogue was not, and if you go into this game expecting the writing to match the aesthetic and tone of what you might have come to look for from Vampire: The Masquerade, you’ll be extremely disappointed.
While I understand it's meant to be a modern take on becoming a vampire, it doesn't have to devolve into such stupidity like the "vibe check meme" in the middle of a conversation. It effectively turned what I otherwise found an exciting story into a self-aware parody.
Honestly, it kind of sucks
I went into this game really expecting to like it – and I did, for the most part. In the end, I couldn't get past the odd tone and the feeling that it was penned by someone who didn't actually respect the source material, but wanted to write a self-aware parody of it. Writing obviously will make or break a visual novel, as text is all you have. It's an utter shame, because the visual novel setup was a major draw for me, as I suspect it will be for many others. But reading about vampire cam girls with multiple personalities and vibe checks and other nonsense when I'm trying to come to terms with the existential horror that is being a member of the undead? I may as well read a Sookie Stackhouse novel...more or less.
This review is based on a Steam download code provided by the publisher. Vampire: The Masquerade – Coteries of New York is available now on PC.
- Unique back stories for each character
- Interesting story about your descent into vampirism
- Attractive artwork
- Absolutely awful writing in some areas
- Bizarre, jarring tone that makes the game feel uneven and almost parodic
- No way to customize your character beyond their names
- Overall simplistic systems
Brittany Vincent posted a new article, Vampire: The Masquerade – Coteries of New York review: Bloody awkward
I love this review and it makes the game sound kind of delightfully bad?