Vampire: The Masquerade is a criminally underutilized franchise in video games. Since the fantastic yet ultimately flawed Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines back in 2004, we have seen little from it. Vampire: The Masquerade – Coteries of New York is brutal, dark and filled with suspense, exactly how a successor should feel. While there are some glaring issues, it’s hard not to get completely wrapped up in this world.
Coteries of New York, to put it simply, is a visual novel set in the world of darkness. You, as one of three characters, must make decisions to impact the story. It draws inspiration largely from tabletop RPGs and Telltale games – a winning combo. Each character has differences in their main bloodline, their past and the way they are talked to in certain scenarios but they are all fundamentally very similar. You can choose a passionate man belonging to the clan of Brujah, an artistic fella of the clan Toreador or a businesswoman of clan Ventrue. They all have their own personality types and their pasts affect the descriptions of certain areas. This doesn’t tend to justify all three playthroughs but does give a little extra bonus if you do.
This, naturally, moves one onto the story. You, as a human, meet a mysterious figure one night and are subsequently “embraced”. This means you are turned into a fledgling vampire. Don’t worry, Vampire: The Masquerade comes with a handy dictionary that informs you of all the terminology and meaning. The dictionary is a great addition to Coteries. Its narrative doesn’t hold your hand and explain everything but it also doesn’t drop you in the deep end. You can learn as much as you’d like to know.
Speaking of narrative, after being thoroughly intimidated by a member of the Camarilla, you are introduced to the prince of their domain. You are then made aware of one of the central mysteries of the game. Under Camarilla code, someone who turns human without informing others must be executed, along with the person they turned. For some reason, you are saved by the fiery and mysterious Sophie Langley and taken under her wing. This is an intriguing opening that fuels so many questions. Who turned me into a vampire? Why did Sophie save me? What do I do from here?
Finally, the game starts to open up and show you a little bit of what it can offer. The central gameplay loop is, obviously enough, based on making decisions, but it plays with this in interesting ways. You, as a vampire, must battle between your thirst and the beast. Drink too much and you might succumb to your animalistic instincts. Too little and you might just be too weak to fight off the constant threats. This plays into the side objectives very well. In this, Sophie Langley has tasked you with making friends with fellow vampires. This is mostly tactical. The world of Vampire: The Masquerade is treacherous so you might need a little bit of protection.
Luckily for you, the supporting cast are great. For the most part, they have well-defined story arcs and some wonderfully weird personalities. The game is worth replaying through again just to discover who they are and what they have to offer. The struggle with the beast and your relationship with the characters often clash. You can do what is needed to help them, or sneak off to get some precious blood, possibly jeopardizing their operation. This, in one action, is what makes this world fascinating. While you can, and probably should, help people you should prioritize your own survival. Speaking of survival, you have a multitude of vampire abilities available to you. These can be used contextually if you’ve drank enough blood, giving you options like the ability to sprint very fast or manipulate people.
These are great skills but often make you need blood faster. You have to decide when it is appropriate to use them and when you can solve the problem at hand without those skills; one of the many balances Vampire: The Masquerade offers. This is encapsulated well in its style and tone.
The art for Coteries of New York is great. It’s dark, and vibrant in a gritty way. It has this faux watercolor style, almost impressionist in tone. All the characters strike a nice balance between feeling somewhat cartoony and partially realistic. This could break the immersion of the tone or it could, in Coteries of New York’s case, make it feel totally unique. The music only heightens this. It’s often dark and brooding but sets the mood very well. Different characters are accentuated with certain songs and the music ramps up when needed. This entire package works together well. The art, music, tone and overall writing set an atmosphere and that atmosphere is held throughout the entire game.
Unfortunately, this is let down in some areas. The game could benefit from some quality of life improvements. There isn’t an option to skip previously seen text which makes replays tiring. You also can’t choose to have multiple save files on one story. There are three save slots but not an option to manually save without exiting. This means that every new area and text is saved. In a way, it makes sense to stop the player from saving and loading when they make mistakes, yet in my case, this went horribly. When going into an area, the game glitched, not letting me progress. Unfortunately, due to its obtuse save system, anytime I loaded, it brought me back to that broken file. This was a game breaking glitch that forced me to restart the entire game.
Perhaps most people might call it a day and end it there. Luckily, the writing and tone was interesting enough for me to make my way through it again and it gave the opportunity to try some decisions I hadn’t the first time around. This could be seen as a testament to the game. Unfortunately, the ending does not live up to the rest of it, feeling a bit forced and there is only one main ending which is very disappointing for a game of its caliber. Visual novels are often built for replayability but Coteries of New York has so many issues that destroy this sense of replayability.
Overall, Vampire: The Masquerade – Coteries Of New York on Xbox One has a great tone encompassed with a solid soundtrack, wonderful visuals and mostly strong narrative design. Unfortunately, this is let down by a weak ending, a game breaking glitch and some fundamental design choices that betray its very nature as a visual novel. Regardless, Coteries of New York has been intriguing enough to play through minutes after losing my progress and it has fuelled my anticipation of both Shadows of New York and Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2. And this is pretty much all I could ask for.