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Review of Vampire: The Masquerade - Coteries of New York

SubjectVampire: The Masquerade - Coteries of New York
Vampire: The Masquerade - Coteries of New York
ByVote: 4.4beliar on 2022-05-11 last updated on 2022-05-12
Review(This review has been originally published in May 2022)

I don't think that "Vampire the Masquerade" is an IP that needs a special introduction. Originally a P&P RPG, it eventually bled into other media, including an early computer game "Redemption", which not many people have played, and a much more successful outing "Bloodlines", which was played by everyone and their pet Pomeranian. Somehow, despite being quite janky in the technical department, "Bloodlines" managed to become one of those timeless games like "Deus Ex", which are reinstalled every time someone mentions them on the internet.

Sadly, after "Bloodlines", all the newly created fans suffered decades of dry spiel, with no new VTM game released to sate their bloodlust. The sequel, ingeniously titled "Bloodlines 2" has been announced, but is apparently stuck in development hell, with some original developers leaving the production, which itself is being bounced between studios. In a move, which no one saw, a coterie (pun intended) of smaller projects, hailing from the "World of Darkness" have been recently released to whet our appetite while we are waiting for a larger snack. The most surprising thing about those projects is their genre - they are all visual novels, though I'm sure the phrase was not necessarily used in the advertising. One of those new games is "Coteries of New York" - a relatively short and simple VN that gained mixed reviews, but I always prefer making my own opinion. And considering VNs with vampires are relatively rare, I just had to check it out eventually.

Going into the game I knew from hearsay that the game is mostly linear and the choices do not really matter, but that is not necessarily a huge negative point, especially if the story is good. Sadly, I have to preemptively say that the story is not good. "Coteries" starts eerily similarly to the aforementioned "Bloodlines" - with the Embrace (vampiric creation) of your playable character. It's an expected start, as it allows a new player unfamiliar with the World of Darkness and VTM to explore the new setting alongside their character.

Technically there exist 13 vampire clans in the VTM lore, but the game allows us to chose out of the three: Brujah, Ventrue and Toreador, which roughly correspond to a Rebel, a Leader and an Artist. Sadly, there is very little actual change to the story based on your choice. In fact, the only real difference is within the first 10 minutes of the game, due to the different Embrace circumstances each character experiences. After that, the story is pretty much identical, with only an occasional different sentence to provide "flavour" to the chosen clan. In fact, you won't play this game multiple times to experience how different each character's story can be. You'll play the game multiple times to see all the available side-quests, as it's impossible to finish all of them in a single playthrough.

The writing of the game is competent enough (it doesn't look to be written by a 12 year old), but at the same time it's disconcertingly dry. There is no feeling or character in the protagonist's thoughts, and they are basically identical regardless who you are playing as. Initially I didn't understand why the writing was so bland and lifeless, but quickly it became clear to me. This is a low budget production, so in order not to write different scripts for each playable character, the protagonist was given no personality, so it could conceivably correspond to either of your selections. This was a huge first strike for me, as I expected to be amazed, curious and disgusted at the hidden vampire world together with the protagonist, but their reaction to finding out vampires exist can be summed out as "Meh".

The second strike comes from the fact, the game really doesn't have a coherent main plot. Majority, and I mean "vast majority" of the game's playtime comes from the side-quests, which are not in any way connected to the main storyline. Disconnected sidequests work well in RPGs, in fact they are the staple of the genre, but they do not work at all in visual novels. During the night, the game allows you to go and do one or two of the generic sidequests, like stalking your stalker or putting the fear of God into a nosy journalist, or you can recruit one of the possible four vampires into your coterie, which is basically a cabal of like-minded individuals. Now, that does sound interesting, but the character quests themselves are so cliche and banal, it was hard not to be disappointed. All of the quests are very short, and appear unfinished. They end just as they start getting interesting, and the execution is very tropy and seen before.

The characters of your coterie are walking stereotypes, like a wild Gangrel, a skulking Nosferatu or an eccentric Tremere. Moreover, most of the time you have no idea what you are doing and why. It does make sense in the main storyline, as you are just a pawn in a larger game for the other vampires, but the character quests are the same too. In the Tremere quest you are looking for some research papers, but have no idea why you are doing it, in the Gangrel quest you help her face her fears (I think... it was all very confusing). In the Nosferatu quest you are trailing a serial killer, and initially it appears there is a mystery why they are killing, but that mystery is quickly forgotten, and by the end, no one cares about the killer or the killings. The one character that was actually well written was Hope the Malkavian. She was a genuinely interesting person, and the writer managed to make a twisty spin on social media and internet culture in her characterization, but the quest itself was a lame revenge drama against... someone completely unimportant. What a waste of a good character!

Now, let's examine the main storyline. The game starts with your Embrace without the Prince's permission, which, if you know the VTM lore, means you would normally be sentenced to death. However, one Sophie Langley of Clan Toreador intervenes on your behalf, and becomes your patron. You are unaware why should she do that, but you can guess it's not out of the goodness of her heart. Just like all of the young vampires, you are a pawn to be used, but don't fear, you won't be used for long, because not counting the side-quests, the main story is ridiculously short. I don't think you would take 40 minutes to read through it at a leisurely pace, because there are just four scenes in the storyline. The first scene is your Embrace, after that you have to find some address for your patron, lastly, you have to arrange a meeting with a certain person, and finally the endgame arrives. All of that, and the game does not have a decency to give us a proper ending.

During the endgame, the main villain arrives, gloats how they were pulling the strings all along (even though we never saw that, and it's a classic case of "tell, don't show"), and how they are doing evil for shits and giggles. And at that point the game ends, right on a fucking Bolivian army cliffhanger. And I was left scratching my head, how literally nothing of importance happened throughout the whole VN runtime. It took me 5:45h to beat the VN the first time, and 9:36h to complete the game, which included two full playthroughs to beat all the sidequests and a partial third playthrough to collect the two bad endings (which are just quick "game overs"). This also netted me 24 out of 28 achievements.

There were moments where I thought something interesting will happen. For example, it was explained to me that many government agencies are now aware of the existence of vampires and have formed the Second Inquisition. Now, that's what I'm talking about! A proper baddie to fight us! Um... no. The SI appears a few times just to shoot at us, or serve as our meals and never rises beyond faceless mooks. At one point you get kidnapped and might think you'll have to use your resources to escape the captivity? Lol, nope! You immediately extricate yourself from the situation and go home as if nothing has happened. It's like the game is deathly afraid to commit to do anything even remotely interesting.

Additionally, the need to drink blood serves as an interesting mechanic on paper. Constantly find someone to drink or risk going feral? Yeah, no need for that. Your hunger resets after each scene, so you are never in danger of starving, and can only get hungry after getting injured or having used the vampire powers. Not to mention, playing as Amanda (Ventrue), I ran into a strange situation where feeding actually... increased my hunger. I know that Ventrue are picky eaters, but my Amanda literally could never feed. This actually might have been a bug, as I ran into another game breaking bug with her - the whole section of the secret meeting simply got skipped on her playthrough. One moment I was arranging the meeting, the next moment it was already after the meeting. Boy, would I have been confused if I didn't do Lamar's playthrough first! It's surprising that such a linear game still has such serious bugs two years after release. And that's why it's not okay to make the games with only a single autosave to record your progress, boys! You can never trust something won't get bugged.

It's a shame really, that the writing is bland, the characters are one-dimensional, and the storyline is uninspiring and unfinished, for the VTM lore is deep and can be used for so much more. Moreover, the game is extremely aesthetically pleasing. It looks great, with all the backgrounds animated and lively. Sure, there is not that many of them, and they are reused across multiple places, but I really have few complaints from the artistic perspective. Unfortunately, even as the first introductory VN into the World of Darkness, Coteries of New York is simply not good. At least I have heard its sequel "Shadows of New York" is better. Oh well, I might check it out while I'm at it...

[Published simultaneously on Carnival of Sin]
5 points

Comments

#1 by frater
2022-05-12 at 07:38
< report >I had much the same reaction to this one, when it ended it came as a literal shock... it felt like the story should just be getting started, as you say, nothing had really happened. It was a real shame since with an IP like this, there's a lot you could do.

The sequel did have it's own problems, but it was a significantly more interesting story at least. Same for the werewolf release.