We all needed a long break from vampires after TWILIGHT, right? A long hiatus to recall why we loved the immortal blood suckers in the first place. The game industry must have got the memo too because it has been a very long time since a game has focused on and built a world out of vamps. The good developers at DONTNOD are officially bringing our vampless game landscape to an end with the ambitious and highly anticipated, VAMPYR.
This vamp-centered, action-RPG’s backdrop belong to a very bleak time in London’s history. Not only are the effects of the Spanish Flu Pandemic wreaking havoc at this time, but a vampiric presence has risen and is doing its part to make things even worse, following the the decimation that was World War I. Things are seriously austere.
Its great to see the dark world of the vampire again. DONTNOD was heavily inspired by classic vampire films ranging from Bram Stoker and the like. I heavily got the feel of an Anne Rice world being created in video game form. The melancholy is almost palpable. Its fantastic to see a vampire story that takes itself seriously while also being very intrinsically involved.
The team over at DONTKNOD have painstakingly recreated London and weaved fictional and historical facts together in really impressive ways. Narratives that are able to walk this line exist in both the prestigious and the pulpy, are the kinds of game that add another depth of immersion.
The story focuses on Dr. Jonathan Reid a recently turned vampire, who is trying to discover who went out of their way to turn him into a creature of the night. On top of all that, he attacks and kills his sister in a hungered frenzy. Can’t blame him for being super peeved and going out looking for bloody revenge.
From there on the game primarily revolves around your hunt for the entity that changed and cursed you. But along the way there are plenty of characters to meet, both good and evil that give detour to the main story with their individual stories and side missions.
The devs let it be known early on that, the more people you decide to drink from and kill, the easier the game is. Citizens in the world come with varied “mesmerize” levels, if your mesmerize power is the same or greater than theirs, you can put that person in a trance and lead them away from the public eye to drink from them. While you are given a significant amount of XP for doing that, it also puts you on the darker path and makes you into more of a monster, plus there are always consequences to face.
XP assists in helping you to learn new vamperic abilities. These range from increasing heath and stamina to coagulating a person’s blood in his veins or using razor sharp claws to rip them to shreds. There are plenty of powers to experiment with. Something really interesting the game does is, it doesn’t make you commit to the powers you initially purchase. For example, say you picked “Blood Dart” and decided to even level that power all the way up. If you change your mind later in the game, you are free to reset all powers, essentially putting all of your XP back in the bank and letting you select different abilities and upgrades at no penalty.
London is a sandbox, where you are able to lurk in the shadows taking down both hunters and other species of vampire and werewolves, but it also houses districts where citizens reside. Meeting these citizens gives you side missions, and clues that you unlock by going through different dialogue trees. Again these are options that are given to you. You never have to help someone with their side-mission. In fact, if you are leveled up enough you are free to eat em for supper. But keep in mind the healthier and happier that person is the more XP their blood will offer you, if you choose to make them into a snack. Its kinda messed up but if you keep the person healthy and happy, you can drink from them later and receive more XP from their blood.
Be careful what path you choose though. Not lending medical aid to citizens or deciding to eat them all, will lead to that part of the city going from “heathy” to “critical.” Once these districts are too far gone, citizens will abandon the area and the streets will become filled with monsters. This is kind of a bummer since a bunch of possible side missions will be gone too.
The game adjusts to your play style, the more folks you help the more enriched your journey is with side missions, the more you eat and devour the less there is left for you in terms of relationships and substance.
One of my favorite things about this game is how Jonathan Reid is both a doctor and a killer. I find that juxtaposition fascinating. On one hand you are crafting meds to cure the people of London and on the other hand your hunger makes you the very thing that can kill them. It’s narratively enriching and something I haven’t seen in a game before. Cure or kill? The decisions and consequence are yours and yours alone.
I started this game out with the “I’m just gonna kill everyone and be the ultimate predator” mentality. But characters are so carefully thought out and voice acted that there is a real sense of a person there. It makes walking the line a tricky one. I fully plan on going through the game again being a straight up “bad guy” but for my first play through I enjoyed walking the line and seeing where that took me.
“Vampyr astounds in all of its
bloody glory and
begs to be replayed”
Before receiving more vampiric powers, combat is a little bit dull. You are armed with a primary and secondary weapons, which are both capable of being leveled up to different strengths. There are also, plenty of weapons to choose from. My personal favorite was a surgical saw and a club. When paired together, the club wallops would stun while the saw was there to make quick work of finishing em off.
Combat becomes much more fun when you are able to unleash all of your vampire powers. Certain combinations of those powers yield to you a variety of powerful ways to take enemies down. I enjoyed the experimentation with using different ones to different results. Its also refreshing that Vampyr doesn’t punish you for selecting the wrong skill tree upgrades. While most games would have your upgrade choices be final, here you can go back reset and work out some new approaches to combat.
As you level up, hunters and other monsters will also do the same in order to keep combat interesting and never too easy. In fact, combat can be surprising from time to time. Getting cocky about your new powers can get you dead pretty quick. Always be mindful that the game and its inhabitants are evolving with you.
There is also a lot of fresh takes on classic vamp lore that seems to come with each reintroduction of the rules of the vampire from medium to medium. VAMPYR does something really interesting by introducing several different races of vampire, as well as interesting takes on some of the classic rules. For example, here only some vampires are affected by a crucifix, and the reason? Is it cause God hates em? Or is cause of a deep seated conscious pre-supposed Catholic guilt? Don’t wanna spoil too much but the game is full of interesting takes like that throughout.
Not everyone is what they seem. Sure most citizens just need a hand completing a task but look closer. Some citizens are hiding secrets that you have to look for to uncover. Finding out a person is stealing from the dead or an undercover serial killer makes feasting on them a lot easier to choose to do and can save lives in the process. There is a lot to discover in this game and it definitely rewards you for taking the time to search.
Its been awhile since there was a good vampire experience out there. VAMPYR astounds in all of its bloody glory and begs to be replayed. It’s a fantastic experience that vampire lore lovers are sure to sink their teeth into. The narrative is expertly written and full of surprises, while the combat, world and evolution create a powerful mix of gameplay necessities. I loved this world, and hope that DONTNOD revisits it in future sequels.
VAMPYR is out June 5 on PS4, PC and Xbox One.