Vampire: The Masquerade – Coteries of New York (PC) REVIEW – Blood-Splattered Beauty
Enter a world of darkness and become a pawn in vampire society, as the politics and the secret war between the Camarilla and Anarchs claim more lives of undead and kine alike. New York has so many levels to its underworld, numerous chapters of its troubled history, but a new childe in their ranks could make a name for themselves and help shape what is to come.
Coteries of New York is a new visual novel for the Vampire: The Masquerade franchise, placing players in an entangled web of a story as they fight to make allies, feed, and survive each night. The pen and paper role-playing games the world is based on is a rich environment full of afterlife and offers up the perfect material for the visual novel genre, focusing on the storytelling and atmosphere while allowing choices to feel like they have dire consequences, but with few other mechanics to learn, where anyone can pick the game up and play it.
Players choose between three clans: Toreador, Ventrue, or my preferred rabble, Brujah. This particular choice will change a few small things in the story and what powers the kindred has access to. It may seem like there is a lot to learn and tons of information being thrown at the player early on, but the game helps with a dictionary to learn the vampire lexicon. Also, once something should be clear in the story, the game explains the concept to make sure the player knows also. However, as an added bonus for anyone new, the scenario puts characters and those new to V:tM in the same spot as a recently embraced neonate, allowing them to learn the world together.
It’s a common story in this world, starting with a recently embraced lick who doesn’t know how to find their creator or watches their master die, now being left to the mercy of the Prince — vampire royalty. Their fate is to be adopted by someone else under the guise of a benevolent benefactor, but who will likely manipulate them along the way. In this world, though, it is a serious case of sink or swim — prove yourself or be beheaded. A borderline trope, but no reason to change a formula that works.
The writing here is tight, descriptive in the transitions and concise when using exposition. There is a lot of reading, but none of it is ever boring, with the exception of a few repeated sections. The themes and tones fit the macabre setting, while all of the characters and interactions feel like they belong in the world. The prose can be a bit flowery and will contain some verbose language while mixing in a few fun pop culture references. Since there’s so much reading, I was glad to see that text size and speed can all be adjusted in the options.
The images that are used to accompany the text here are excellent. Smears of color against the night, dark but still blinding, fighting against newly enhanced senses the player now possesses. They are paintings, but these backgrounds are given dynamic elements that use flashing lights and slight movements to accent the environments in some incredible ways. There may be a limited number of backdrops, recycled often in areas, but the world that they help present is vibrant in that way a fading heartbeat is, where each thump is deafening and the sight of it is exquisite.
There is also a sort of ‘music’ that accompanies each scene, mood setters that are more like collected sounds and ambient noises rather than full tracks. These effects give closing doors more impact, the club an underlined bump, or dark alleyways and New York streets that extra bit of life. It’s easy to not notice the sounds, but without them, it feels like something is missing. This, combined with the previously mentioned elements, swirl together to create an atmosphere that embodies V:tM and the true horrors of the night.
It also makes it easy to fall into character, along with just enough backstory to where my creation feels fleshed out but still mine. Sure, I wish the game was fully voice acted, and honestly think it could have benefited from some romance options, but all of the other boxes were checked for what I need in my sci-fi vampire stories.
As a visual novel, there are choices to make amongst the ton of reading. In the beginning, some options will feel like the ‘correct’ answer is a bit too obvious — especially for players familiar with the lore already — but some can be a bit trickier later and will have the new bloodsucker guessing. There are times that it feels like there isn’t a correct answer, or one I wanted at least, but most of the responses are level-headed and don’t make me think the answer completely took me out of the story. One issue I had was not finding an easy way to go back when clicking the wrong selection or wanting to re-evaluate my choice, but I’m thankful there is a full log where I could read over all of the dialogue that was said again.
The small mechanics that might help Coteries of New York stand out and will make the game feel more involving are things like the hunger for blood, where feeding can be dangerous but needs to be done. There is also a map for players to select the order in which they try to engage their targets, but some strategy is involved due to vampires only being able to work at night, making time management an issue — which says a lot for a group of immortal creatures. The main quest itself has limited time and I found myself wondering if I had pursued the right allies with the limited time I had to give to each. This is also the element that will encourage a second or third playthrough.
Coteries of New York is out now on PC and those who prefer consoles will get their chance to take a bite in early 2020. I think playing this on something portable like the Switch may make the story even more enticing. The game worked a lot for me, but that is coming from someone who has played in this sandbox through many incarnations. I could see this being a solid primer for anyone wanting to get into the World of Darkness to prepare for Bloodlines 2, or those who need another excellent adventure to hold them over and sate the hunger.
A Steam key was provided by PR for the purposes of this review.
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Vampire: the Masquerade - Coteries of New York holds a lot of depth in its world and melds in some small mechanics to help add an element of strategy. Better suited to players who are already familiar to the world, but easy enough for fledgling vampires to embrace it.
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