When I found out the creators of the brilliant Life Is Strange series, Dontnod, were making a new game about vampires, I thought “Cool, an episodic game about vampires!”. When I learned it was an action RPG, I was very curious to see how they would tackle the genre again.
Dontnod were responsible for the underrated Remember Me game, but sadly they went bankrupt due to poor sales of that game. They then teamed up with SquareEnix to bring us their biggest success so far in Life Is Strange, but 3 years later have had another crack at this particular genre. Was it worth another shot with a vampire flavour?
The Storytelling of Vampyr
You play as Dr. Jonathon Reid, who awakens in a mass grave and is suddenly overcome by bloodlust. This craving causes him to unknowingly kill his sister Mary. After trying to make sense of what is going on, and seeing the dire state of London, Dr. Reid ends up at Pembroke Hospital to do what he can to help the victims of this ravished country.
Knowing Dontnod’s history with storytelling, I expected Vampyr to follow suit. While the story is good, it doesn’t quite match the quality of Life Is Strange. For me, the storytelling is a bit over the place, with one disconnected quest moving on to another disconnected quest. There’s not much flow, or growth, to the story.
Ultimately there is still an overall story arc, but it takes quite a while to get there, and a lot of things you need to do aren’t really related to it. This does make certain sections of the story feel like a waste of time. Every part of any game’s story should be connected to the overall story in some way or another.
That’s not to say the story is uninteresting at any point, but every objective, every chapter, needed to feel more relevant. I just don’t think Vampyr achieved this as well as it could have, but it does at least come together well in the end.
Living the life of a Vampire
One of my favourite aspects of Vampyr is the decision making the game gives you in regards to its citizens. In Vampyr, this particular area of London is loosely divided into four sections, each with their own set of citizens. Almost every citizen has their own name, back-story, and own set of issues.
Some of these citizens will have their own side quests to give, and even though most citizens don’t have exciting personalities, I still found it interesting to converse with them because you get to learn more about them. The more you can learn, the higher their quality of blood becomes, meaning more XP for you.
Like any vampire from legend, you need to feed on human blood to survive (or in this case, become stronger). This is where it becomes very interesting- do you kill off the very citizens you just helped to gain a burst of XP and become stronger? Or do you do the ‘right’ thing and let them live, but stay weaker in the process? I do think it’s a little funny how the game encourages you to help people and then rewards you for their deaths.
Everyone will have their own justifications though. For me, I mainly went after the people with little will to live and the more ‘evil’ citizens. It was enough to ensure I didn’t struggle with the combat and plunge any area into chaos. These decisions also shape the difficulty of Vampyr- if you kill off plenty of people, the game becomes easier; if you don’t kill many, or any, the game becomes more difficult.
It’s such an interesting mechanic because it’s all on you to decide the course of the game. Whenever you do kill someone though, it may cause new dialogue to open up with other citizens, to see the aftermath of someone’s death. So it’s obviously a very dynamic system, but I just wish the citizen’s would express more emotion, as the voice acting can be hit and miss. If a close friend or relative was killed, shouldn’t the characters be just that more upset about it?
Once you have gobbled up your victims of choice, and have scavenged any XP from quests, you need to sleep in order to level up, or ‘evolve’. You’ll be taken to skill selection screen where you select what active or passive abilities you want to level up.
As you progress through the story, the enemies become more difficult so you need to be leveling up along with them. But every time you go to sleep, time will pass, and citizens can come down with illnesses. So everything needs to be factored in when the best time to sleep is because if you do it too often, the citizens will get worse and you, being a doctor, need to tend to them.
This was an aspect I was slightly annoyed about because have to keep travelling around to cure anyone who falls ill, and feels like more of a chore than anything. People who are sick will offer less XP too, and their illnesses can get worse, requiring more materials to craft medicine for them. What makes matters worse is that there is no fast travel, so you’ll potentially have to walk all the way to the other side of the map. No fast travel in this kind of game is lunacy!
The combat of Vampyr
The combat to Vampyr plays out like almost any 3rd person action game. I could compare it to any Souls game, but Vampyr’s combat definitely lacks the brutality of those games. To be honest, it also lacks the polish. Animations aren’t exactly smooth and it the whole system could have had just a little more time spent on it.
It’s not bad by any means, it’s just been done better in many other games. As you learn more skills, it definitely becomes more enjoyable, and everyone’s experience with combat will differ. There’s a decent amount of skills to learn but you can only assign a select few.
Apart from having the usual health and stamina meter, you’ll also have a blood meter, which is what you’ll use for your skills. Filling up the blood meter is a game of its own! You can sneak up to your enemies and bite them, stun them enough in battle and bite them, or my personal favourite…eat rats on the streets! Dr. Reid may not like that method, but it is useful when no enemies are around.
There is a small variety of weapons to find and choose from, and they can all be upgraded to make life easier, especially for those who aren’t killing many citizens.
Vampyr’s Grim and Atmospheric London
In terms of location, Vampyr’s setting isn’t terribly exciting. Set in early 1900s London, there’s nothing interesting to see, especially considering the whole game is set at night. But what I did like about it was the grim atmosphere the game exudes. You can really feel it, and it can be pretty depressing at times, but it does pull you in.
Combine that with all the characters in a constant state of despair and soon enough you start to feel sorry for Vampyr’s version of London. I could unfairly compare Vampyr’s setting and atmosphere to 2015’s Bloodbourne, as it does attempt to replicate it, but it just doesn’t do it as masterfully.
It was still enough to immerse me in its world though. The music is very fitting for this game, with its violins and choir-like vocals, the soundtrack is very impressive. I especially love the music when you’re in the process of embracing someone (that being killing them). It’s the kind of music that haunts you which is works so well considering you’re about to murder someone who’s most likely innocent.
When I look at each individual component of Vampyr, a lot of it can seem quite average. The combat, citizen personalities, setting, and story all could have been much better if more time was spent on them.
But it’s the good points of Vampyr that kept me playing, despite all the criticisms. It’s a game I was never bored with, and actually enjoyed going around talking to everyone to learn more about them. Choosing who to kill off and when to level up was always exciting because there’s no going back from ending someone’s life.
It’s the freedom in the decision-making that Vampyr gives you that makes this game so compelling to play. Making those tough choices, especially out of necessity, is what makes Vampyr intriguing, even if there’s a lot it doesn’t do perfectly.