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Ambitious and slightly disjointed vampire epic, November 27, 2020
Choice of the Vampire was one of the first Choice of Games, which in October 2020 received a major DLC/expansion, bringing the 3rd (or 4th?) major segment of the story.
I feel like there has been a recent proliferation of vampire-related interactive fiction and visual novels recently. It is difficult for me to talk about this game without comparing it to the Vampire: the Masquerade franchise. Much of the vampire lore is similar, with the international vampire Society, the masquerade, and political conflicts between different vampire factions, as well as the basic vampire "biology". In some ways CotV almost feels like a fanfiction of VtM. However there are no vampire clans here.
CotV is as much a game about American history as it is about vampires. Sometimes it feels like having the game be about vampires is just an excuse to have a character who lives through lots of interesting moments in American history, like a 19th century vampire version of Forrest Gump. There are a lot of references to both major events, like the War of 1812, Reconstruction and its downfall, and the labor movement, as well as somewhat more obscure events, like the early days of baseball (or “base ball”). The quantity of historical references increased in the Memphis and especially the St. Louis chapters as opposed to the New Orleans chapter. Playing the game reminded me of high school US history class, in a mostly good way.
There are a few opportunities to work against the tide of history, but the tide of history is always stronger. You can play as a vampire who is a former slave or a free person of color or a Choctaw, with all that entails. You can help or hinder the destruction of the Confederacy at Vicksburg (the city falls no matter what you do). You can support the freedmen in Memphis, but they inevitably fall prey to the KKK and the yellow fever. You can try to support the labor strikes in St. Louis, but they are crushed. Or you can do the opposite of that: own a plantation with slaves, literally join the KKK, help the Pinkertons crush the labor revolts. Either way, the broader historical forces never change.
In some ways, I feel like the game tries to do too much. There is a very large number of characters; I could not keep up with all the different senator candidates, governors, praetors, quaestors, and so on, and often forgot what those titles even meant. There were just so many names, and while the characters were reasonably distinct, they sort of blended together. They were all just a bunch of jerks. Some supported Stone and others supported Adonis. I didn’t even see how they were different; they both seemed like jerks too. The glossary of vampires was nice, but kind of difficult to navigate. This is not to mention all of the mortal characters, who are often actual historical figures.
In addition, there are a lot of short-term plotlines, but the long-term plot is not very present. New Orleans was about trying to rise in society. Vicksburg had the siege. Memphis had the senator election, looking for Wilson Maddox, the yellow fever, and the municipal bonds. St. Louis had West and the Columbian Exposition. Sometimes, there are so many different things going on, it's hard to keep up. There are also many brief plot points that are brought up once and quickly abandoned. There are a number of romance options, all of which end poorly. The long-term plotlines are basically the Stone vs Adonis revolution, your chosen long-term vampiric goal, and general technological/societal change. The “metaplot” doesn’t feel as developed as VtM; there’s no Gehenna or Inquisition or Anarch Revolt or Sabbat or stuff like that. Much of the deep lore about vampires remains mysterious throughout the course of the game so far.
The story tries to tie in the historical struggles with the vampiric struggles, but it doesn’t really succeed at giving a sense of urgency to the latter. Compared to VtM: Night Road, there is not so much of the "personal horror" or pervasive dread that each night will be your last. Hunger frenzies and turning into a wight do not seem to be present. There’s little sense of danger even when you really are in danger due to West in St. Louis.
(Spoiler - click to show)Speaking of which, I ended up getting killed by West. I wasn’t sure if it was That Kind of Game, since I didn’t seem to be in danger of death in any of the previous chapters. It felt kind of sudden.