Developer DONTNOD is most known for the amazing Life is Strange. Their latest entry, published by Focus Home Interactive, is Vampyr. Players find themselves waking up as a bloodsucking monster in a pit of rotting bodies during the Spanish flu epidemic of the early 20th century. From there they take the role of the newly minted vampire, or Ekon, named Dr. Jonathon Reid. Dr. Reid sets on a quest to learn who turned him and why. Vampyr is a third person action RPG and relies heavily on cinematic storytelling via voice dialog and the choices the player makes. Every single one of the many NPC scattered about the area of 1918 London has a story to tell, and with multiple choice interaction the player can be a saint or a sinner, a killer or a savior. The choice is up to you.
Vampyr relies heavily on its story and the moral implications of your choices. Expect to spend many hours talking with the residents of the four major areas in the game. The dialogue voice work is impressive to say the least, a staggering amount of time was spent to record all of the various responses. Each person has “hints” that can be opened up via certain dialogue responses by talking with other people within their social circle, finding information, or completing task they initiate. These hints, along with curing illnesses, are needed to increase that characters blood quality and provide more experience for Dr. Reid if you choose to follow your darker instincts and take them around a corner for a little “necking.” Just be aware that every characters death effects the surrounding areas stability. If too many are killed or become sick, the area can be sucked into darkness and gone forever to the things that go bump in the night.
Players must decide early on in Vampyr if they are seeking redemption and to save the city or in my case, kill everyone and let God sort them out. To be fair I tried to be nice at first, but expect a much more challenging game if you do so. The game itself likes to remind you that experience can be gained by killing locals if you find combat too difficult. Combat is rather challenging at first anyway. Like any good RPG, Dr. Reid has a plethora of skills to choose from, increasing his health, blood supply, stamina, and providing new and powerful skills like a clawed attack or blood shield. So while some experience points can be gained via combat and other ways, if you are looking to be powerful quickly, Vampyr pretty much forces you to be a leech. I would have much rather seen a more balanced approach, rewarding the more difficult moral high ground with a different set of skills or even more experience. Instead I felt the devil on my shoulder push me to get the max amount of blood health for these people as quickly as possible just so I could eat them. Yum.
Combat in Vampyr is based on using a two-handed weapon, or a main-hand with off-hand. Pistols and shotguns can provide you some limited range attacks but reloading is slow and painful. Stakes and small clubs are good to stun your attackers and then bite them for blood. Honestly I found it much more beneficial to just get a quick main hand sword or bonesaw that will automatically fill your blood pool with each connecting attack. Your blood pool is the fuel for your special abilities, and unless you plan to constantly be crafting healing syringes, also major source of healing yourself, expect to either drain enemies or find a blood filling weapon. All of Dr. Reid’s abilities are on a timer so finding a combination of them that works best for you is key. It took me some time to find a balance of defense and attack abilities. Attacking in general, along with dodging, requires stamina. I highly recommend you increase this and your health as soon as possible. Having no stamina can lead to your defeat quickly. While not as responsive as say The Witcher III, Vampyr still does a decent job creating an enjoyable combat experience.
Running around at night it can be difficult to see, so thankfully Dr. Reid has a vampire sight ability (very similar to Assassin’s Creed vision system) allowing him to see blood trails and other items of interest. Very useful when on certain missions. As you explore you will find hideouts that will allow rest and the use of your earned experience points. Just be aware that any murders you propagated will show the effects after resting for the day. You can always do like I did and just wait till your mesmerize level is high enough, kill everyone and then rest. Nothing helps me sleep more than a vampire killing spree. You can also use the workbench in your hideouts to craft antidotes and treatments for citizens. These will effect the quality of their blood and are well worth crafting for the experience if you kill them, or to keep the district from decaying further. Using gathered items, players can also upgrade weapons and craft syringes for themselves to grant blood, stamina, and health mid battle.
Graphically Vampyr looks pretty good. While not up to par with current bigger budget games, the characters are well modeled and lots of detail was put into making London look like it should during this time, a hell hole. The music is fitting for the mood but I will say, the ominous singing when embracing characters gets a little old after a while if you start killing enmass. Also the whole mesmerizing and embracing mechanic is a little hokey, why do I have to take this person behind a shed when there isn’t a soul on the streets? The awkward controls while leading them to their doom is comical at times too. At about 20 hours to complete, Vampyr isn’t particularly long but with the various endings and different choices, every playthrough can be different in many aspects. There are also tons of hidden collectables to look to for and the side quests NPC will give if you don’t off them right away.
Overall Vampyr is a solid game. It has many well thought out ideas and enough content to keep any RPG fan entertained. The story is fantastic and engaging while not feeling confined, allowing you to feel like your choices really do matter. The actor’s motion capture and voice work are top notch. But the end result just left me wanting more. Combat is entertaining but flawed. The lack of a fast travel system irritated me when forced to go from one end of the map to the other. While I did feel my choices effected the world around me, I still felt no need to stay on the nobel path. The reward just wasn’t there. Maybe that was the intention of DONTNOD, as being good is usually more difficult in real life and often less rewarding beyond the feeling of knowing you did the “right thing.” Or maybe it’s just that being bad feels sooooo good.