Don’t let the spelling put you off because Dontnot Entertainment’s Vampyr turns out to be one of this year’s best surprises.
Couldn’t they have just added the ‘e’ on the end?
No, get over it. You’ll forget ten minutes in anyway, as the game’s premise has you right under its hypnotic spell before you even realise what happened.
True, it never quite achieves the emotional heights of Life is Strange as you don’t feel the same connect with its cast, but Vampyr’s Victorian London is such a radical departure from Arcadia Bay anyway, the comparison is grossly unfair.
You begin the game as newly turned Vampire – or Ekon as the game affectionately calls you – Dr Jonathan Reid. You’re confused, startled, frustrated, angry, but also ravenous for the taste of blood. At this point, Reid knows nothing about Vampires so the game is as much about learning your strengths and weaknesses, dos and donts, as it is shaping the city of London around you.
And the biggest decision you’ll have to make is whether you choose to feast on the people you meet. In fact, that decision has far-reaching consequences, something Dontnod have toyed with quite brilliantly because it directly impacts the mechanics.
Pish, you might say. I’m going to be a model citizen and leave people be. I’m a doctor after all, I’m supposed to heal people. That’s true, but by doing that you’re going to be significantly underpowered in battle and will almost always need to fight someone several levels above you until the end of the game. Basically, being the good guy in Vampyr is like playing the game on the hardest difficulty. Which is kind of fair as 9 times out of 10 Vampires are bad dudes, Angel aside – and no, I’m not adding Cullen to that list. Stop it!
Fine, then I’ll scoff on everyone I meet, you say. That way I’ll be invincible and breeze through the game. Sure, you could do that, but that presents a number of other problems. For one, you’ll get more people on your back because you’re an evil whatsit that needs a stake through the heart. For another, you can lose out on in-game quests to earn XP and most importantly, you’ll be helping a territory descend into absolute chaos. So that safe haven you’ve been relying on to get you out of trouble? Neglecting it might end up making it less safe.
Bioware games and the like have ingrained a certain type of behaviour into us over the years. Paragon or Renegade, good or bad, not really giving us a middle ground. Vampyr definitely offers that, but it continually plays on a theme of temptation. It would be so easy to lure this NPC into a desolate alleyway and gnaw on their neck. It’ll give me a massive XP boost and no one will ever know. I’m not a bad guy if I do it just once, right? It’s just this boss fight is too hard for me and I’ve restarted five or six times now. I don’t want to quit the game forever because I get frustrated. Just this once, right?
Or maybe I can take advantage of a prone victim during a big fight. It’s a tough battle and I’m clearly outmatched. My opponent does it, they keep drinking innocent blood to completely heal themselves. I’d just be beating them to it, wouldn’t I? That’s not a bad thing… is it?
This is where Vampyr plays its strongest hand and it works perfectly.
Sounds like it can get frustrating
Well, it doesn’t help that every corner you take seems to lead into a fight. That’s definitely one of the games’ weak points. While I’m sure Victorian London was a tough neighbourhood, I’m pretty sure a well-dressed physician like Reid – despite a serious case of blood-shot eye – didn’t have to fight to the death six times before he tucked in for the night.
Of course, wandering into certain territories won’t endear you to the local gangs and often they will warn you to ‘turn away’ before bad things happen. Territories can improve or degrade depending on your actions. For instance, if you choose to kill someone helping local people, or mesmerize them into doing something else, the community can fall into disrepute and gangs can gain a foothold. Kill a gang leader however, and that group will be a bit less effective.
Obviously in Vampyr, the day cycle is no good to you and the only way to evolve and improve your skills is by visiting a hideout and resting for the night. Here you can access the games’ take on a skill tree where all of your accumulated XP throughout the night can be spent how you see fit. Whether you increase your stamina, health or blood bar, or you acquire new abilities, you choose what to prioritize.
Every night, the landscape changes based on your actions (or inaction). So an area that was previously neutral can suddenly turn into a haven for the unsavory. It creates this constantly tense and shifting environment that keeps you on your toes.
Fortunately, Vampyr’s combat has been well implemented, with Reid able to dart around his enemies using a dash tactic. You can wield a sword, club, hatchet or anything else in the main hand for your central attack, but there’s also a secondary slot for a gun or a stake that stuns an enemy. These couple with your abilities which have a cooldown rate but are also dependent on you having enough blood in order to execute it. Keeping your eye on three bars can be a bit of a challenge at first and it means that every battle should be approached cautiously, not spamming all your skills right at the beginning. On the whole, it’s enjoyable and works well, but as mentioned before, you can find yourself easily getting outmatched and outpaced if you’re trying too hard to be the ‘good guy’.
Vampyr’s main problem is in its environment monotony. Streets do look overly familiar and it’s very easy to get lost as a result because you’ll be convinced you’ve already been down that street or seen that bridge before. It also doesn’t help that you’ll regularly retread the same ground over and over. In an instance like this, having an exclusive night-time setting doesn’t really help the games’ case. The good news is there’s lots to do with a hefty amount of side quests, investigations, as well as the opportunity to treat people’s illnesses and improve the overall foundations of a region.
This is where crafting comes into play. Throughout the game, you’ll pick up lots of different items which can then be brought to a chemistry lab in any of the games’ numerous hideout and turned into cures for headaches, fatigue, pneumonia and more. Essentially, it’s a case of having the right ingredients, holding down a button and your creation is formed. There’s no XP gains for this though, and on the whole, there’s not really much incentive to heal someone’s illnesses as the impact is relatively minimal outside of minimally improving territorial or main quest conditions.
Is this the necks big thing?
Vampyr is a decent, solid game. It’s by no means perfect with a few odd glitches from time to time, slight graphical rippling which can be a bit distracting and the environmental repetition we’ve mentioned, but the story is interesting – especially the relationship between the Skals and Ekons – and it definitely adds something different to the long list of vampire games we’ve played over the years.
Don’t sleep on Dontnod Entertainment’s latest, Vampyr offers a rich playground full of fascinating possibilities.
+ Compelling story
+ Nice combat
+ Fascinating perspective on morality
– Environmental repetition
– Slight glitches
– Graphical distortion
7 out of 10
Tested on PC
Code provided by the publisher