We humans have had a fascination with vampires for many centuries now. These mythical creatures can be found in all contemporary forms of art and media. When it comes to video games, there have been numerous attempts at portraying them, but only a few stand out, the most notable being Troika Games’ Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines. Now, it’s Dotnod’s (the studio behind Life is Strange) turn to spin a bloody tale with their latest game, Vampyr.
Vampyr is set in Victorian London where you assume the role of a new-born vampire, Dr Jonathan Reed. His primary quest is to stop a deadly plague threatening to devour the whole of London. The irony lies in the fact that Reed is a doctor by profession and his job is to save lives. Now, he must take them just to sustain himself. The result is that the good doctor often finds himself in some serious moral dilemmas.
Vampyr Review: Characters and Community
Right off the bat lets talk about the citizens and the character design as it’s one of the best things about Vampyr. While quests do net you experience, the easiest way to accumulate it is by sucking the blood of NPCs. However, the default exp gained by embracing a citizen is measly. You need to do a bit of work in order to increase it. This can be done by gathering information about the citizens and keeping them healthy.
There’s a caveat here though, as each citizen is linked to every other in a burrow via a network and if you decide to kill one the entire district is affected. If the stability in an area falls below critical, the citizens go missing and high level enemies start popping up. The side quests also fail.
On top of this, you can’t just walk up to anyone and suck them dry. Each NPC has a stat called mesmerize level and you can only off them if your level is equal or greater than theirs. Sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it. The returns are worth the effort though (up to 5000XP from just one NPC).
The reasoning behind this system is that when you kill someone, their peers are also affected, and as a result the society suffers a whole. However, there are certain people in every area like gangsters and criminals who shouldn’t have a positive impact on the district, but surprise surprise if you whack them, it is negatively affected. My point being, this community morale tracker that Dontnod has developed isn’t perfect and could use some tweaks.
Vampyr Review: Combat and Crafting
The other enjoyable aspect of Vampyr is the combat. The game blends dual wielding and special vampiric abilities to devise a fast paced hack and slash combat system that’s quite fun at first, but by the end starts to get repetitive. The enemies follow a resistance scale, having high, moderate and low resistances against different kinds of attacks. The combat lacks in depth though. While there are combo moves, they are too simple and too few, and it doesn’t take that long to master and soon get bored of them.
In addition to the stamina bar found in most games, Vampyr has a blood bar needed to execute vampiric skills. This bar is replenished by biting enemies during combat or using certain weapons that draw blood.
The combat in Vampyr is complemented by a crafting system, using which you can prepare potions and upgrade weapons. It also lets you synthesize remedies to keep the citizens’ health in check, in case you want to eat them or just to improve the community stability. Weapon customization is also a welcome addition where you have the option of choosing between weapon damage, handling or blood draw.
Vampyr Review: Plot and Game-World
With all the positives out of the way, let’s talk about where Vampyr falls short and why it is ultimately a disappointment. The main issue with the game is the lousy plot, especially since the expectations were quite high. Life is Strange and Before the Storm had a terrific story, but Vampyr covers most of it in the epilogue. Just like the combat, initially it’s interesting but as the game drags on, it turns out to be a big bore. The ending holds a bit of intrigue, but that’s far from enough to warrant the poor writing overall.
The lack of a proper antagonist is also thoroughly felt, and it further contributes to the shaky plot. On a more casual note, the well mannered and polite attitude of the protagonist is kind of hard to get used to. Many video game characters these days tend to act immaturely, with little decency and no control over their language.
Another major issue with Vampyr is the small map. While this shouldn’t cause any trouble in a linear game, Vampyr is an open world RPG and as such you visit the same locations and fight the same enemies half a dozen times just to obtain some ingredient or quest item. The first mission requires Reed to go to the hospital morgue and collect the ingredients for a drug, but so do a bunch of other side quests, as well as the one of the last quests. The backtracking in Vampyr was a major turnoff for me and let’s admit it video games would be better off without it.
The lack of fast travel makes this even worse, and every time you want to level up, you have to go to a hideout. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue, but if you are heading towards an objective and need to level-up, chances are there won’t be any hideouts nearby. So, you’ll have to walk a fair-distance to a hideout and after resting, on the way back fight the same enemies again.
Vampyr Review: Soundtrack, Visuals and Conclusion
The soundtrack and the visuals are decent, nothing special but not something you can complain about either. The optimization is well done. We got constant 60 FPS on an NVIDIA GTX 1050 Ti powered laptop at 1080p and our 1080 Ti was able to maintain constant 60 FPS at 4K Ultra without breaking a sweat.
In all the promotional content, the main theme of Dontnod’s marketing was player choice and it’s consequences on the game world. That is where the game actually excels. There are ample choices throughout the game that affect different districts as well as the outcome of the story.
In the end however, Vampyr fails to impress. The devs seem to have focused plenty on player choice and consequences, but the story has been neglected. The game world is also relatively small for an open world RPG and the combat suffers indirectly as a result. Looks like fans of the genre will have to look elsewhere to satisfy their vampire fetishes, but unfortunately there aren’t many good games on the block. As mentioned in the beginning, The Masquerade – Bloodlines is the only A grade game of it’s genre. The excess of multiplayer and co-op games is really taking a toll on the single player experience. Although you see a good singleplayer title every now and then, the number is dwindling and vampire games are a rare breed. Seeing such a promising title fall short is real shame.