As popular as Vampires may be, games surrounding them have become few and far between, so when I had the chance to review Dontnod Studios latest title, I was eager to see what they could do with our favourite creatures of the night. So, does it suck or is Vampyr a title worth sinking your teeth into?
It's true, there have been a number of Vampire themed titles over the years, but as we've hit the modern generation of consoles, it's a setting that's barely been touched. Way back on the PS2, we had games such as Darkwatch and Vampire Night - The prior seemingly taking inspiration from the Manga (and Animé) Vampire Hunter D, with the latter being more akin to the House of the Dead series. I personally really enjoyed Vampire Night, but sadly didn't get the chance to play Darkwatch, though I've heard good things. On top of this, we have the now old Bloodrayne series, and as fun as they were, the games were average at best (just don't go near the films). Castlevania and the Legacy of Kain/Soul Reaver series are naturally the most well known amongst gamers however, and yet there is one title I've not yet mentioned, which many of you will be shouting out right now. That of course is Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines.
Considered by many to be the best Vampire title ever released, the now dated game featured a number of different vampire races that varied from the charismatic and creative, high standing Toreador to the hated, hideous, sewer-bound monstrosities known as the Nosferatu. So why am I mentioning this? You'll find out later.
Vampyr is set in the year 1918 during the Spanish Flu Epidemic. This was a real epidemic that plagued the streets of London for two years, so, keeping spoilers to a minimum, let's take a deeper look at the story of Vampyr.
If you've read the website or seen the trailers and posters, you'll know by now that the character you play in Vampyr is Doctor Jonathan Reid. After pioneering a brand new blood transfusion technique, his name became known around the world, so shortly after the games intro scene, it's no surprise the residents of the Pembroke Hospital are a little awestruck at his arrival.
For the most part, the Pembroke serves as a good base of operations, largely due to the fact you're granted permission to work through the nights by the head Doctor, Dr. Edgar Swansea. This makes your new, unwanted lifestyle as a Vampire at least manageable, granting you the breathing space necessary to get by in society.
From here, it's up to you to decide whether to kill, save or even save and then kill for more experience, any one of the residents within each of the explore-able London districts. Outright killing somebody will net you a certain amount of experience points, but because their blood quality and social importance directly correlates to the amount of experience they offer, if they're suffering from a cold, fatigue or even a migraine, their blood quality will be below their full potential. So, in order to make the most of each kill, it'll be up to you to heal them of their ailments, along with unlocking their secrets via character specific side-quests to maximise your experience points through the consumption of their blood.
This is good and bad, for you see, it's not always possible to grasp just how influential some of the characters may be later down the line, so if you feed on them too early, the health of the whole district will go down. This is something I tried to avoid and unfortunately got right to the end of the game, only for the Pembroke district to turn hostile on me. I was always careful with who I killed and saw Jonathan as more a vigilante than a killer, taking out those I decided needed to face justice for their actions. The first character I healed and then later murdered was a very nasty thug and one of two main members of the notorious Wet Boot Boys - A vicious gang that often harmed, bullied and killed others. He needed to go and so as soon as I did his side-quests, retrieved his "lucky" knife and spoke to him, he couldn't give his word he wouldn't hurt another soul again, instead replying with sarcasm. Considering the hospital he hung around in, I couldn't take that chance and so I dominated him with my mind, lead him out of sight and sucked him dry. The other character I'm happy to mention killing was Doctor Chadana - He looks after the dead and runs the Pembrokes makeshift morgue. A seemingly friendly fellow, to me he seemed a little too friendly and when I discovered what he'd been doing, he was next on my list, only I had to wait a good few levels before I was strong enough to be able to feed from him.
Like most of Dontnods titles, Vampyr is a game of morality. For every good and bad action you take, there is a consequence. To get the most experience in the fastest way possible, you must drink from district residents, but if you drink from too many, make a poor choice or don't drink enough, the difficulty can really step up. I was fortunate in that I achieved the second best ending possible. I only fed on a select number and didn't feed on some of the more hardened criminals, mainly due to the district health at the time, but I made the decisions I felt were right and for that, I was seemingly rewarded, even if I wasn't comfortable with every choice I was offered.
When I finished Vampyr, only the Pembroke had become hostile for me. The Docks and the West End were in relatively good health, while I'd sanitised Whitechapel completely. Not a bad run, but I really wanted the Pembroke to remain in good health and the thing that sucks about a district turning hostile is that every resident of that district becomes a Vampyr, so not only could I not save the residents, I'd also lost out on a huge amount of blood sucking experience, should I have wished to instead drink from them all. Vampyr does a good job in not telling you about this, seemingly pushing you to find out the consequences of your own actions yourself.
So, how does Vampyr play exactly? I think the easiest way to describe Vampyr is a cross between Bloodborne and a fairly typical skill-tree based RPG. You see, you'll be spending most of your running from district to district, unlocking shortcuts and new hideouts as you traverse your way around the Victorian streets of London, fighting and/or avoiding Vampire Hunters, other Vampires or even the more Werewolf typed beings known as Sewer Beasts.
Going back to the similarities between this and Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines, there are four known types of Vampire within the game and they are:
Ekon - The higher class. The Vampire nobles with the highest social standing and highest degree of respect from most other races. These are the ones most likely to deceive the residents of London, but also just as capable at quenching their thirst by other means, as they serve and protect the more fragile human populace, should they wish.
Vulkod - Brutish and bestial, these hulking beasts are pretty much the toughest muscle any Ekon can enlist. They're as immensely strong as they are tall. An unprepared fight with one of these territorial creatures is one that'll soon send you to your grave (again).
Nemrod - These Vampires are a breed of Vampire hating Vampires. They've come to despise their "gift" and instead, choose to hunt down all over Vampires out of disgust for what they've become. Many Nemrod are able to integrate themselves within society because they too look mostly human and a large number of them turn to the Guard of Priwen to become Vampire Hunters themselves. It's risky business for if the Guard found out, they'd likely kill them on the spot, but on the other hand, perhaps humanity needs a new deadly ally against the Vampiric threat and bloodlust to come.
Skal - These Vampires are the lowest of the low. Often forced to live underground, these creatures are usually mindless and feral - A deadly mix for sure. Though, like in many cases, there are some exceptions. Skal don't heal like regular Ekon. Though immortal, if injured their wound never truly heal, leaving awful scars and marks all over their bodies, making them one of the ugliest Vampire races within the game. Though not quite as disgusting as the Nosferatu from Vampire The Masquerade, the Skal are so high in number that they'll become your most common enemy within the game.
As an Ekon class Vampire yourself, you're fortunate enough to be able to infiltrate society, because compared to the lower, sewer-dwelling Skal, your breed is welcomed into high Vampire society and not frowned upon with disdain. That and you look almost as human as you did when you were alive and I say almost, because anyone giving Jonathan Reid eye contact should know something's wrong just by looking at him - His sclera is completely red with blood.
That in mind, I was hoping the more you fed, the more your appearance would change. Whether you looked healthier and more alive, the more you drank or instead became more monstrous in appearance, I wouldn't have minded. I just think the idea of your appearance changing depending on how much blood you've consumed would have been a really cool feature. Sadly this isn't the case, but there are a good amount of abilities to acquire and upgrade over the course of the game.
On my playthrough, I didn't get the chance to try them all out, but I made sure to upgrade my biting power, the amount I heal from a bite and the amount of blood I could absorb from each bite. In addition to this, I purchased and fully upgraded my Claws, my Abyss Ultimate attack and spent a good amount of experience points on making my Autophagy (Blood healing), Blood Spear (long ranged spear attack made from blood that can penetrate multiple enemies in a single strike), Body Condition (health), Physical Prowess (stamina) and Spring (more like a teleport strike) abilities that much better. Aside from the passive abilities such as my increased health and stamina, each of these abilities have a cooldown time, most of which hanging around the 10 second mark, with the Ultimate attack sitting at 60.
In fast paced combat, you really need to pay attention to your health, stamina, blood count and ability cooldown, else you'll find yourself in a lot of trouble. Vampyr only has one difficulty setting, which increases or decreases depending on your actions. If you haven't fed enough on others, you may find your opponents are that much stronger than you, where as if you feed too much, you'll find yourself overpowering your opponents at the cost of story. Thankfully for the more casual of you out there, this is an easy fix this and to further increase survivability, you have a number of additional tools at your disposal.
These tools vary from Blood Serums to top up your health and blood levels, knives, hatchets and other weapons you'd expect to see in the rougher parts of early 1900 London. My personal loadout was a Shotgun I'd acquired much earlier in the game from an NPC named Milton, a Priwen Stake which worked wonders at stunning my opponents, leaving them wide open for a good old blood sucking (mid-combat) and Clays Hatchet, which I later upgraded to a fairly powerful Sword. Each of these weapons can be upgraded in a number of ways, favouring raw power, blood drain on every hit or a mixture of both. A guns use is naturally limited by the ammo you'll find scattered across the map, but each of these weapons proved highly effective once fully upgraded and you'll often find yourself at your workbench, crafting anything from remedies to aid worried NPC's, Serums, Weapon upgrades and the occasional story related items. You can also dash with circle, allowing you to evade attacks in the blink of an eye, provided you have enough stamina, which saved my life on numerous occasions.
Dialogue in Vampyr is interesting and deep enough to get you favouring, and at times relating to some of the NPC's you'll be interacting with. Vampyr's dialogue includes multiple choice answers that could move you forward or completely stop any progress when trying to understand character intentions. The best way to describe these segments is that they're very reminiscent of the conversations found within the likes of Fallout or the Elder Scrolls series. There was one dialogue choice I never actually tested out and that was "Turn", which is seemingly only given as an option to the Pillars of each District. Presumably, it would allow you to sire a Vampire yourself and remain the pillar of the district - A better choice than killing for sure, but do any of the main NPC's deserve such a blessing (or curse)?
Regardless of the outcome, you'll need to interact with every NPC if you wish to find out more about them, and most importantly, give the correct response in each conversation if you're intent on sucking them dry for all they're worth.
Though not a terrifying game, Vampyr's score is mostly melancholic. After all, it's a sad time to be alive with so many people suffering and dying of the Spanish Flu. Poverty is high, people turn to extreme measures to survive and with rumour of Vampires prowling the streets of London through the dead of night, those with any sense have shut themselves in as they fear for their lives. Jonathan Reid is also in a tough situation himself, in that he's still adjusting to his vampiric abilities and struggling to come to terms with killing others and sucking the occasional rat dry for emergency sustenance. That said, the music is downright haunting at times and does a great job at immersing you within this almost hopeless recreation of London. Just don't expect the same musical tone of Bloodborne or Dark Souls - Vampyr isn't that depressing.
As for the visuals, London itself looks great. The textures are crisp, lighting relatively impressive and it's a real treat going through some of the more familiar areas, such as Poplar, Pimlico and I think I even wandered through Slough at one point. These areas are meant to feel familiar, that much is apparent, but they aren't full sized recreations by any stretch, instead added more for character.
When I first began playing Vampyr, I did initially wish the character models and textures were a little better, but like Life is Strange, Vampyr has its own artstyle and while far more detailed than the aforementioned title, is by no means photo realistic and to be honest, it doesn't need to be. Each character is recognisable. Once you've met them you'll know what they look like and generally where to find them.
I should mention though, that there are a fair few bugs (and I don't mean the Spanish Flu) hampering the experience and though I didn't find any to be game-breaking, they are somewhat off-putting. Occasionally the in-game fog will disappear and then suddenly re-appear. I discovered one dialogue segment where there was no sound at all (and I didn't have subtitles turned on, so missed out on a line or two). Sometimes I couldn't load the game up because it would be stuck at the main menu (this was uncommon, but happened about three times during my 40+ hour playthrough). Other times the game would error report and close down, but most of all, it mainly suffers with loading problems and spelling errors. Without these issues, it'd be deserving of a slightly higher score, but as it stands, it's a great game, hindered by said issues and that's a bit of a shame.
Overall, there's a lot to like about Vampyr. It does a lot of things right and even though I feel more emphasis was placed on the story and dialogue over the combat, getting to know the many characters of London and becoming Judge, Jury and Executioner as a creature (with a conscience) of the Night was a lot of fun. I do wish there was less running around and healing NPC's after each rest (which you have to do to level up), because it can feel like quite the chore, but the story is where Vampyr excels, which is something Dontnod have somewhat mastered. That said, I didn't feel as strongly about this as I did playing Life is Strange, but Vampyr is a different type of game and by no stretch a hollow experience. Given time (and a sequel), I feel this could become a great rival to Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines and I hope we get to see more of Dr. Jonathan Reid again some day.
We score our games with review stamps ranging from "Not For Us" (1-2/10) to "Must Play" (9-10/10) and with Vampyr being a solid 8/10 from us, we give it the "Great Game" status.
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