It’s no secret that I’m a sucker (vampire pun #1) for vampire RPGs, my obsession with which began with the deeply flawed Masquerade: Redemption and peaked with Troika’s magnum opus, Bloodlines. I tried to satiate the thirst left behind by Bloodlines with Vampyr, Coteries of New York, Swansong, V Rising and even Vampire’s Fall: Origins to varied results. Heck, I’m one of those poor suckers (vampire pun #2) who pre-ordered Bloodlines 2 over three years ago. You can understand my excitement when Party for Introverts (cool name, btw) announced Cabernet, a narrative vampire RPG set in a world of 19th century aristocratic vampires. Thanks to Neon Hive PR, I got to have an early look at Cabernet’s juicy new demo build. Here’s yours truly, presenting Gameffine’s Cabernet preview.
Set in 19th century Eastern Europe, Cabernet puts you in (un)dead shoes of Liza, a recently-passed young doctor who couldn’t just stay dead and awoken the same night dazed, and confused. The game revolves around Liza being inducted to the local aristocratic vampire coven led by countess Viktoriya Orlova and Liza’s exploration of local politics, conspiracies and elite posh circle-jerking, as well as typical vampire tropes like confronting the newfound immortality, balancing their humanity, and the likes.
What sets Cabernet apart from the other narrative vampire RPGs is that the game aims to be more than a glorified walking simulator/visual novel with the illusion of choice, something that is clearly evident from the demo. The demo opens with Liza, one of the first lady doctors in the country, being put to rest by her sobbing mother, brother and uncle. The players get their first chance to shape their version of Liz comes in the form of a eulogy from her uncle. During the eulogy, players can decide what Liz was like by choosing skills like Music, Literature & Writing, Science & Logic, History & Politics. This essentially gives you +points in the selected skills, which are then used for skill checks in dialogue options. An engaging way to introduce gameplay mechanics through narrative, I must say.
Players are given control of Liza once she wakes up in a dark catacomb. Here, players familiarize themselves with the basic controls as well as the various systems in play. Liz opens the door of the catacombs to find herself amidst a grand ball held by the elites. Sooner rather than later, she comes to terms with the fact that she has been resurrected as a vampire by the countess Orlova. After coming to terms with the bitter reality, she is introduced into the secret circle and is taught the ropes by the Hussar. After all, sucking blood and transforming yourself into a bat are basically vampire 101.
The demo for Cabernet only features a tiny slice of what the full game has to offer, but it does give you an idea of what to expect, like a good demo should. The demo offers a handful of scenarios to test out the skill check system, where, depending on your skills, you’ll get access to new dialogue options and, as a result, alternate ways to approach situations. Each time you accumulate a certain number of XP, you’ll level up and get skill points to spend on the 4 skills. You can wear clothes and read books to boost these skills as well.
Moreover, there’s also a morality system in the game, which is measured by using two contradicting meters-one for Humanity and one for Nihilism. Liz gains Humanity and Nihilism points based on specific choices, like choosing how much blood you drain from NPCs and responding to dialogue choices in certain ways. Furthermore, there is also a relationship system in play, which is tracked individually for each NPC. While I did not get to observe the long-lasting effects of having a positive and negative relationship with other characters in the demo, such a system is usually an indication of a strong emphasis on player agency and high replayability.
It’s apparent from these that Cabernet revolves heavily around choice and consequences. But that isn’t to say that the gameplay department is any slouch. As I said beforehand, I was pleasantly surprised when the game turned out to be more than a visual novel. Aside from interacting with NPCs, you can literally turn into a cutesy little bat and fly around the levels. I don’t think any vampire-themed game does that other than Castlevania games. Everything else is pretty standard stuff-you move around in a 2D plane, pick up stuff, talk to people, drink blood, make choices, etc.
Now, before I move on to the stuff I did not love, do note once again that this preview is based off of a demo and everything I say is subject to change. Firstly, I found the art direction to be a bit plain. It’s not bad or anything, but I think for a game about vampires, they could have added a bit more flavor to the environment and character models – think Pentiment. Secondly, I felt that the dialogues do not always fit the historical background of the setting. I’m no expert in Russian history and literature, but some of the writing felt too modern for a game set in 18th century Eastern Europe. Other than these minor gripes, Cabernet is a promising narrative RPG any way you look at it. I even liked the voice acting, even though the voice actors are clearly not natives.
One can never have too many vampire RPGs. Even with the limited time spent in the demo, I can confidently say that Cabernet is one to watch out for. An often overlooked historical setting, choice-driven gameplay, and plenty of opportunities to piss off immortal elites made Cabernet climb to the top of my ever-growing Steam wishlist. You can even say that it’s got a bite!