The last good and thematic vampire game I played was Vampire: The Masquerade -- Bloodlines and that game came out way back in 2004. So understandably the hype was at an all-time high when a new vampire game was announced by a French studio Dontnod and promised to be just what the players wanted out of a vampire game. A dark, story-driven, open RPG that portrays both the struggle and badassery of being a vampire. Well, props to the studio cause they actually delivered on everything promised and the game was definitely worth the wait. So let's go in depth as to why.
Vampyr is available for purchase at KeenShop. And here's the launch trailer:
Vampyr - Launch Trailer
Vampyr has you playing as Jonathan Reid, a surgeon returning home from World War I. A home that is plagued by the Spanish Flu, meaning that a person of his skills is sorely needed and he full on plans to aid in the relief and combat of the disease. Things take turn for the worse as Jonathan is attacked almost immediately upon his return and wakes up in a mass grave with no recollection of how he got there.
It's here that he also discovers that something is not quite right and feels an unbearable thirst for human blood. The bloodlust compels him to attack none other than his own sister, ridding him with guilt and remorse over the act. Vampire hunters quickly chase him off and he finally gets a moment to think about what happened and what to do next.
As he both acclimates to his vampiric nature and his hospital night shift, he even gains some allies and sets out in search of answers. This makes him become entangled with the city's factions and citizens spread across 4 London districts. This social web is exactly what's at the core of Vampyr's story. Most of your time in the game will be spent observing, talking to and interacting with NPC's. None of them are just blank, one-sided characters either as each has their own story, secrets, and connections and you'll be able to use your position as a doctor to explore them in a multitude of ways as you go through the game. This helps with the fact that you'll feel like they are real people with real problems, making you genuinely care for some of them, and sympathize with most of them.
Dialogue choices offered and progression depend on how thorough you are in your investigations and quest chains and the entire story can differ greatly depending on the information you gather before engaging in conversations. As with many games that feature this system of dialogue options, some problems occur when dialogue options featuring two words translate to Jonathan saying something completely different that you imagined, messing up your relationship with an NPC. Another slight problem is that sometimes the dialogue options and the tone of conversation would feel very unnatural which made them feel less immersive and a bit disjointed.
Despite these little problems, the main story is interesting to follow and even the side quests are narrative driven in such a way that they feel like the extensions of the main story. Johnatan's inner conflict is consistent throughout and the vampiric vs. human nature is the prevalent theme that is expertly portrayed.
The meat of the game consists of the aforementioned character conversations and combat. Starting out, you might feel overwhelmed at just how much NPC conversations there are and how each conversation leaves you with hints, quests, and information. It might take some time to get you in the groove of the game and realize that you don't have to checklist every NPC, every night, cause you'll converse with most of them sooner or later as they are either tied to quests or the district's health.
The district health mechanic is a good way to get you roleplaying as a doctor -- making rounds, checking up on citizens and healing them, and it's also a mechanic that influences how many enemies are in a given district and what ending you ultimately get. Besides being a good doctor and healing the citizens with crafted medicine, you can, of course, give into the hunger. This brings the benefit of getting more XP to the detriment of district's health level and makes the game a bit easier as you unlock more skills to use in combat.
That segment of the game is best described as Dark Souls lite. There are 3 bars that require your attention, health, stamina, and blood. First one is self-explanatory, the second one depletes as you use weapons and dodges but it also quickly refills automatically. Lastly, the blood is used for your vampiric powers and can only be refilled by drinking blood from humans or rats. You can wield two different weapons (melee or ranged) in each arm or wield a two-handed weapon. The lock on feature is easy to use and the entire system is quite enjoyable and satisfying, more so when you consider that it is not the primary focus of the game.
The combat is set in a way that your playstyle impacts the difficulty and if you opt for a vegetarian playthrough, it's going to be more difficult, requiring a careful approach to enemies. If you decide to feed on NPC's, you'll unlock more abilities and can be a bit more liberal in their use. There are other possible sources of XP, so not-feeding is not punishingly hard but it is always compelling to go for it. I often found myself wanting to feed on some of the more criminal NPC's that I thought did more harm than good in the community but I found exploring their stories to be much more interesting. Stories which often proved me wrong about my initial impression of them.
VISUALS AND AUDIO
Visually, Vampyr delivers one very atmospheric experience. From the great design of the believable London districts to the lighting engine as well as the weather and fog effects. Everything is highly thematic to fit the whole gothic vampire aesthetic in the vein of the some of the best Hammer horror films. This makes backtracking, doing the rounds and everything you do not feel like a chore cause you'll always be fully immersed in the thick atmosphere of it all.
Characters are a level below the environment in terms of visuals. Apart from being less detailed, their facial animations sometimes look stiff and lip syncing is often all over the place. We found the game to be moderately demanding in terms of PC specs and the framerate does drop occasionally, especially in combat with multiple enemies or when the fog and weather get really thick. Despite that, it does feature enough graphical options for the most players to find a sweet spot between graphical fidelity and performance. What's good visually is supplemented by the excellent yet subtle music that fits the game like a glove. It's not as orchestral as you'd expect from a game like this, instead often opting for single string instrument to deliver a chilling crescendo that will stick with you even after you turn the game off. The general sound design is also up to par and effects from combat to weather all sound excellent and impactful.
Voice acting is also one area where Vampyr excels. Most NPC's are believably voiced and are good at conveying emotions as well as subtle tells that there's more to them than meets the eye. There were two or three NPC's that felt a bit miscast or had dialogue that would throw me out of the complete immersion but nothing game breaking.
I very much enjoyed my time with Vampyr. The developers describe it as an AA game but I found it surpasses that categorization in many areas. Sure it can be a bit rough around the edges but overall, it's a smooth experience with a great story and enjoyable combat wrapped in a thematic and atmospheric world that begs to be explored. I sincerely hope this is a start of a great vampiric franchise and that the developer goes even bigger in the sequel with another definite A added to the categorization above.
|+ Branching story & NPC social system||-- Some wonky animations|
|+ Atmosphere, visuals and audio||-- Slight performance issues|
|+ Enjoyable combat||-- Dialogue problems that result in unwanted consequences|