Vampire: The Masquerade has been a tabletop staple for decades now. Though, when I was first introduced to the lore-rich setting of Vampire: The Masquerade it was ironically from a computer game, Vampire: The Masquerade—Redemption, which released almost 20 years ago now. With those anticipating the release of Vampire: The Masquerade—Bloodlines 2 later this year, I’m sure there’s renewed interest in this franchise. That’s why when Vampire: The Masquerade—Coteries of New York released last month, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to refresh myself on the World of Darkness setting, and immerse myself in the shadowy night-time societies of the kindred.
Coteries of New York opens as many of the Vampire: The Masquerade stories I’ve played: you are a human, who gets tricked by a vampire into drinking their blood—and before you know it, you’re a vampire. Soon, you’ll learn that you must live amongst a society of kindred—as the vampires refer to themselves—and if you don’t follow their ancient rules and customs, you’ll be beheaded with supernatural grace and remorseless severity. But you will soon learn the ropes, and learn who to trust, and hopefully some kindred will take you under their wing while you navigate the many aspects of being a vampire: the powers that come with it, but also the many weaknesses. And there’s the constant hunger, and the call of the beast within.
While learning how to tame that hunger, and keep up the masquerade—the illusion that you’re a regular human, and totes not a vampire—your goal is to form a group of vampires into your coterie. This will take you across the city you once knew as a human, and now must navigate as a vampire, which brings with it its own problems.
Vampire: The Masquerade—Coteries of New York is called an adventure game in a few storefronts, but the truth is that it’s one-hundred-percent a visual novel. For those unaware, visual novels aren’t video games as most people might picture them. Instead, they sort of work as interactive “choose-your-own-adventure” stories, but often with many more paths, and much deeper interactions. But there is little gameplay, and most of what you can do amounts to multiple choice answers. You do have the option to use vampiric powers from time to time—and if you don’t make sure to regularly feed, you are locked out of certain options—this represents the hunger overwhelming you.
Just because it’s a visual novel, that doesn’t mean you can’t fail. You can piss off the wrong people, and make them ignore you—or even get yourself killed. There are three different characters to choose from at the start—all three have different backgrounds, and personalities. As a result, they also have different clans which represent the lineage of those who “embraced” them. But there aren’t skills or abilities to put points into, or even behind-the-scenes dice rolls or random number generators—it’s purely a visual novel. And Coteries of New York is one of the most stunning, well-written visual novels I’ve had the pleasure of playing recently.
When I say stunning, I absolutely mean it. Vampire: The Masquerade—Coteries of New York has amazing art, and surprisingly great music. I love the art style, and the animated backdrops. Many of them are striking enough to stand alone as a background for, say, a point-and-click adventure game. Each character is unique, and has a great character design—and drawn excellently. If a visual novel can be said to have high production value, especially for art and music, Coteries of New York nails it. But none of that is worth it if the story isn’t interesting. It is.
The most important aspect of any visual novel is the story. That includes the characters, and the dialogue. I’m happy to say that not only does Vampire: The Masquerade—Coteries of New York use The World of Darkness setting to great effect, it’s full of its own interest and intrigue that anyone familiar with the setting will enjoy. Since this is primarily a narrative-driven experience, I don’t want to spoil too much of the story. It has great, unique characters and interesting dialogue with an over-arching plot that is interesting, and ties the whole experience together.
Despite the inherent rigidity of visual novels, Coteries of New York feels pretty open—especially on the first playthrough. I did find there to be a decent amount of replayability as I chased the choices I didn’t make in my first playthrough. As with any story you know the plot to, subsequent playthroughs are predictable, but that’s expected. But what I didn’t do the first time around had me so wracked with curiosity, I couldn’t help but peek at the other paths.
I enjoyed my time with Vampire: The Masquerade—Coteries of New York. The art is brilliant, and the music is surprisingly competent (and catchy). I don’t play many visual novels, and it can be hard to find high quality ones—but Coteries of New York is one of the highest production value visual novels I’ve ever seen. This one was put together for deference and love for the source material, and it really shows.
Vampire: The Masquerade–Coteries of New York is available now via Steam, and will hit consoles–PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch–later this year.
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