Developed by: DONTNOD
Release Date: 6/5/2018
MSRP: $59.99 USD
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC (played on PS4)
Written by Rick Warren / gfn21
Set in post-war London during the year 1918, Vampyr puts players in the shoes of Dr. Jonathan Reid, a brilliant doctor-turned-Vampire. His journey consists of two major tasks: finding the Vampire who gave him eternal life and rescuing London from a deadly epidemic. With the story accompanied by action-oriented combat, a detailed open world, and a unique morality system, Life is Strange developer Don’t Nod has completely left their comfort zone with Vampyr. The resulting product might not be the best game of this year, but it’s certainly the most interesting one.
Risk and Reward
Vampyr’s greatest strengths are by far the original mechanics of the game, all stemming from the way it uses its NPCs. Each person in the game’s four districts has their own story to tell. Some operate as traditional side quests, while others involve investigating the actual person. Questioning the individuals that a character is associated with, finding their belongings, and watching the character as they do things in secret are all part of these investigations. Completing them unlocks new dialogue options for the characters in Vampyr’s world, and, more importantly, increases the experience points they provide. Some characters also fall ill, and you can craft cures for their various diseases that will heal them and raise their experience pool. It is how the NPCs provide this XP for you character that allows both the game’s morality and difficulty to come into play.
Investigations increase the XP gained from NPCs in Vampyr, but acquiring that XP requires another step: killing the NPC by drinking their blood. This means players will have to choose who they kill, a task that seems simple but is far from it. Killing a serial killer is simple enough, but what about someone who you saved from a vampire attack? A young couple who has fallen in love, a doctor hooked on drugs, a prostitute who is working to help her brother and a suicidal teenager are all potential victims... but are you willing to kill them? If you don’t, the game will be far more difficult than if you do, as citizens are the main source of XP in the game. This is an incredibly unique way to handle difficulty, and it’s fun to experience an RPG where it is far harder to be good than bad. If you want to be a hero, it won’t be easy.
Many of the characters are flawed in Vampyr, but very few of them are truly evil. This makes every kill something that will test a player’s morals, but it’s far from the only effect your actions will have. First, the connections each character has have to be thought of. How will their partner, child, co-worker, or friend react? Next, what about the district itself? Killing a soldier with PTSD and few relationships won’t have a large impact, whereas killing the person who keeps the district alive absolutely will. Referred to in the game as “pillars”, these NPCs provide massive chunks of XP... but killing them will place the district on a path to chaos. As more NPCs die, a district’s state becomes increasingly poor. Prices at merchants will climb, and if it gets bad enough, things take a turn for the worst. Everyone in the location will die, taking their quests and XP with them to the grave, and the area will instead be populated with strong enemies like werewolves.
The game does a brilliant job of acknowledging the actions you take. Every victim will leave you with their final thoughts as they die, with some cursing what you did to them and others commenting on those they care about. Characters question you in the dialogue throughout the game, and one boss even lists your victims’ names during a memorable fight. A great soundtrack backs that moment, and the rest of the game, and four endings judge you based on how much you killed. There is no obvious indicator in Vampyr for when you have committed an atrocity, as it chooses to subtlety and brilliantly evoke a feeling of guilt in players through its features rather than a karma system.
Blunders with the Basics
Yet, for as well as Vampyr’s main features work, there is quite a bit that does not. For the most part, the story is okay. There’s plenty to find in the world regarding the backstory of Vampires and the various factions. The main characters aren’t incredible by any means, but they’re good enough to get the job done. However, the main plot struggles in two areas: building the relationship between Dr. Reid and Lady Ashbury, and the reveal of Reid’s “maker”. The former wouldn’t have been an issue with a few more scenes between the two to make their love for each other believable, but the latter was a complete mess. The reveal of the vampire who made Jonathan what he is fell completely flat and was accompanied by multiple chains of dialogue with wordy, vague, and frankly boring information that was supposed to pass as a satisfying answer.
The combat was much like the characters: just good enough to interesting. The abilities are fun, and the enemies offer a fair challenge, but Vampyr could have been deeper in this area. Simple things that are featured in most action RPGs, like a heavy attack and a block/parry option, are completely missing in Vampyr. Having these features would have made the combat so much better, and it’s odd that they weren’t present.
Worst of all, though... the game simply does not run well. Lengthy load times when entering a safe room, building or new district constantly break up the gameplay. The frame-rate is haphazard, and the game often freezes when using Reid’s ultimate abilities. For those who care about graphics, they’ll be disappointed to see that the game looks outdated. The lack of fast travel in a decently-sized open world is frustrating, as traveling back and forth multiple times in a quest is unnecessary. Glitches exist, the largest of which stops a side quest from being finished for a good portion of players. Most of these things will hopefully be fixed through patches in the future, but after a week they’re still very prevalent problems that hold the game back quite a bit.
Vampyr’s citizen system is brilliant, spawning new approaches for morality, difficulty and leveling in video games. It’s a shame, then, that the rest of the game isn’t nearly as strong. The story and combat are both lacking in a few areas, and the plentiful technical problems are enough to make Vampyr a good game when it should be a great one. Due to this, it’s worth picking up down the road when the issues are fixed, but not right now.
Vampyr’s citizen system is a delight, but its technical issues hold it back from being something truly special.
Real consequences for districts +4
Difficulty tied to choices +3
Investigations are rewarding +1.5
An appropriate soundtrack and world +1
Combat is fine... +.5
...but not deep enough. -.5
Two key plot threads disappoint -1
Numerous technical issues -1.5
FINAL SCORE: 7