Part visual novel, part choose-your-own-adventure, Vampire: The Masquerade – Coteries of New York (CoNY) is a standalone tale set in the World of Darkness universe. Vampires rule the New York nights and as a sire-less fledgling, you’ll be getting a peek behind the curtain of the politics and power struggles of the city’s elite Kindred societies. Although the story is canonical, don’t be worried if you’re clueless about Vampire: The Masquerade TTRPG lore because CoNY is fairly straightforward for newcomers, though veterans may get an extra kick out of seeing their favorite Embraced. There is even an in-game dictionary that explains terms you may not be familiar with as you come across them.
Starting off the story gives you the choice of three characters, each with a background story and vampire lineage. These bios aren’t just for show. While the character’s background ties in directly with the story and the way they interact with people, their lineage determines which powers they will have access to. For convenience's sake, let’s use Amanda (The game allows you to change the name if you don’t like the default) for an example. Each character has their own intro scenario: Amanda is an ambitious and over-worked businesswoman at a prestigious firm. Throughout the game, her dialogue options can occasionally be business-centric, and her taste in blood a little snobbish, as shown in the opening scene where she is unable to keep down blood given to her in a blood bag. And without any story spoilers, there comes a time in every character’s story that will see them dealing with the people they left behind in their former life. If you want to experience everything CoNY has on offer, it should take three playthroughs, assuming you don’t muck it all up somewhere along the line.
We’re going to stick with Amanda as we look at vampiric lineage. Her lineage is that of the Ventrue clan: one of the nobler clans of Kindred. This gives her access to the Disciplines inherent to that lineage, such as Fortitude, Dominate, and Presence. These options can pop up in the dialogue options during certain scenarios. They’re usually a great option to shift things in your favor but you can’t use them willy-nilly, thanks to the Hunger mechanic. As with every good mechanic, there should be a system of checks and balances. In this case: blood. During the course of the game, you will find yourself in many a predicament. Getting hurt during scenarios and using powers takes a toll on the blood in your system. The worse the blood marks appearing on the outline of the screen are, the closer you are to becoming a beast. This can be remedied by feeding. You will have opportunities to feed if you keep your eyes peeled, so you need to make sure to maintain a steady supply or else. Some dialogue options are blocked off depending on your level of hunger, but I honestly never had much trouble with maintaining it.
After the first couple of chapters, you will be able to check out the map of New York. When you have free time from the main plot, you will have time to build your own coterie of allies. There are four potential allies displayed on the map, each with their own line of quests you must complete to earn their friendship and trust. There are even a few side quests, though they don’t offer any rewards other than the enjoyment of the extra story and the Steam Achievements you can earn by completing them successfully. But nothing is ever guaranteed. If you don’t watch the way you act, it is possible that these potential allies might just tell you to get lost, closing off the line of quests for good and you lose what could have been a valuable ally further down the line. Even side quests have multiple outcomes: your choices do matter. On top of all that, time is finite: even for a vampire. You will only have the chance to act freely once or twice each night before the sun comes up. Destiny rushes ever forward. You won’t have enough time to complete all the ally and the side quests before the game reaches its conclusion. CoNY gives you just enough time to fully complete two ally quest lines and a few side quests. CoNY ups the stakes with an autosave system. You mess up, no reloading to a previous file. This might make you rethink your options when dealing with a dangerous situation.
Narrative-heavy text-based titles like this that are light on traditional gameplay live or die based on the merits of their story, characters, and dialogue. CoNY passes all three subjects with flying colors. The unique characters that make up your coterie are the real stars of the show. D’Angelo is a mangy-looking Nosferatu with a 1940’s detective shtick. He has a penchant for self-narrating under his breath and under his decaying exterior, he has a heart of gold. Hope comes from the Malkavian clan; a group of vampires known for being unhinged. Hope is no different. The most modern of the group, she has a strong affinity for technology and expresses herself with multiple personalities through her cellphone. The next one up is Tamika, a park dwelling Kindred from the wild Gangrel clan. My first encounter with her went poorly after I choose a bad dialogue option and ended up on the wrong side of her explosive temper. Tamika isn’t a one-dimensional character; however, if you choose to get to know her, you may be surprised at her melancholic side. Last but not least is the blood sorcerer of the mystical Tremere clan: Agathon. He is often stoic and focussed on his work, but getting to know him reveals some surprising truths about vampires and their previous lives that I won’t spoil here. Interacting and realizing the depths of these characters are an intrinsic part of the narrative experience and easily the best part of the game.
The music is dark, low-key. It is never overpowering, yet it still manages to blanket the entirety of the game with an ambient gloom, conveying a pervasive sense of foreboding and eternal damnation perfectly suited for this gothic danse macabre. The background images and character portraits that account for the brunt of the visual experience take on the look of gorgeous, hand-painted artwork. They aren’t totally still images, however. Dynamic lighting and particle effects breathe a sense of life into the scenes that would otherwise be static. I find that the audio and visuals work in perfect tandem with one another and go far towards reinforcing the moody atmosphere that CoNY maintains throughout. If you want an extremely satisfying narrative experience or simply want to let your inner vamp out, give it a go.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 9/10
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