Vampyr Review – Paint the Town Red
Vampyr fulfills the promise of a dark vampire RPG and is easily a contender for Game of the Year. The story has plenty of intrigue with great acting, fun gameplay, and thick mystery. DontnoD has learned so much from their two previous titles, Remember Me and Life is Strange, that Vampyr feels like a culmination of concepts that work very well together. Vampyr isn’t a AAA game in the traditional sense, the graphics aren’t the most intensive, the combat is a backseat passenger, and the focus is on a deep, intricate world that has consequence. This is such a breath of fresh air, or rather, the filthy air of 1918 London.
Vampyr follows Dr. Jonathan Reid, a war veteran who has returned to London. He has become a vampire and can’t remember who bit him, so he sets off to investigate why he has been turned, while also tending to the sick of London. The story is fleshed out particularly well, my only complaint is that the game opens with a prophecy that uses the same rhyme as the story of the One Ring from Lord of the Rings. This is so jarring and I was giggling while the narrator spoke. When the game opens proper we wake with Jonathan in a mass grave, having been freshly turned. After a moment of tragedy Reid vows to find the one who turned him, looking for answers and revenge. This early section sets up how to play the game, with a chase, some combat, and an introduction to the leveling system, allowing the player to get an ability or two to make Reid stronger. After the tutorial the game’s world opens up. This slow start is very effective and sets the tone of the world. People are dying in the streets, murders are way up, the victims drained of blood, at night a group of vampire hunters stalk the streets, killing anything remotely supernatural. This world is sick and decayed, making the atmosphere so engrossing. As the story continues Reid and the player must play a deadly game of shadows as they navigate the vampire underworld. With dark entities surrounding Reid at every corner the player must decide who they trust and what’s best for London. The game looks very good, while not top-tier visuals it still looks the part. The only issue I have with the graphics are the ears on character models, they seem lower poly than everything, making them oddly blocky. The voice acting is a high-point, every character puts in great range and there is genuine emotion in the acting. All in all Vampyr has great visual and sound presentation.
The combat is the divisive part. I love the combat system but it is easily the weakest element in the game. The system mixes elements from both Bloodborne and the Witcher 3. The attacks are quick with a primary weapon and off-hand second weapon acting as your main means of attack. While your primary is mostly a blade or a heavy two-handed instrument, your secondary weapons have a lot of variety. It can be a gun, a blunt instrument, or a bleeding weapon, all with different effects. Blunt weapons and guns cause stun damage which opens your opponent to a combat bite, whereas bleeding weapons fill your blood meter with each attack. Your blood meter is important because it allows you to use vampire abilities, such as a heal move, blood spears, or a darkness trap that stabs enemies. Physical attacks consume stamina while powers consume blood. Stamina recharges, blood must be earned either through combat bites or a bleeding weapon. Where this slightly falls apart is that the combat is a little loose. Sometimes attacks just don’t connect when it seems like it should. Dodging is also a little finicky, timings are hard to gauge and your warp dodge doesn’t go as far as you think it would. These are slight weaknesses but they can make boss fights a little more difficult than they need to be. Speaking of boss fights, some feel a little frustrating, such as a certain mid game boss who has weird hitboxes on their attacks. The issue stems from their back swing, you feel like you have the tactical advantage of getting behind them only to be hit and heavily poisoned by their back swing. Ultimately if you were interested in this game solely for the combat you probably will be disappointed.
Lastly a major part of the game is conversation and choice, similar to Life is Strange. The conversations happen on a wheel where you choose what you want to say. There’s two types of conversations, regular conversation style and major character choices. The major choices decide the fate of the main cast and determine the person Reid is. These take up most of the gameplay but they are so engaging. These conversations also ‘feed’ into the second major aspect of choice: feeding. As a vampire you gain experience through blood, the game rewards you with blood for beating enemies or by completing quests, but this only a small amount. If you truly want to be powerful you’ll need to feed on NPCs. Feeding on them grants a good deal of EXP but the way to maximize your gain is by getting to know your future meals. The more you learn about them the better you can gauge their blood quality, the better the blood the more EXP. They can also fall ill, which lowers their blood quality, but luckily Reid is a doctor, so he can make medicine to treat their aliments. This system provides a moral dilemma; after learning about these people, their lives, their struggles, will you feast of their blood, can you kill them? Conversely, you can never feed on anyone ever, it will leave you weaker but you save lives. Feeding and treating also impacts each district, the healthier the district the better the prices, the lower hunter patrols, and the lower the creatures of the night. But should you feed too much, the district will fall apart, people will go missing, questgivers will die and monsters will roam the streets. The systems interlock in a nearly perfect way, making the choice and consequence the most advanced system I’ve seen in a while.
Vampyr lives up to the vision DontnoD set out to create. It’s a dismal, engrossing world where you make choices for everyone in it. As a doctor, Reid, as well as the player, must decide if your morals as a doctor are stronger than the primal hunger of the vampire. Vampyr may have a few rough edges but it is diamond with a little dust. The game challenges how a traditional narrative is structured and what it means to be a vampire. You must know those you feed on, learn their lives, and ultimately decide if their life is worth the sacrifice for the greater good. Vampyr asks us to question our humanity and succeeds in that regard. I cannot recommend it enough. So go ahead, take a bite, let the intoxication of blood take over, for you are a vampire.