It has been roughly fifteen years since I’ve played a proper (in my eyes anyway) vampire video game. That’s fifteen years too long if you ask me. Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver will always stand out as one of the highpoints for me, but any chance of receiving more games in that franchise is pretty much all but gone. I’m happy to say that’s all about to change because DONTNOD, the acclaimed developer of Life is Strange has crafted a gothic horror masterpiece with their newest game that satisfies that craving I’ve yearned for. Vampyr is a deep action RPG where your actions have real consequences. The combat is satisfying. There’s also a fantastic story to accompany all this.
Vampyr takes place in 1918 London, after the Great War. The city has been devastated and the Spanish Flu is spreading rapidly among its citizens. You take control of Dr. Jonathan Reid, who has just recently (for reasons I won’t mention) turned into a vampire. You’re discovering your newfound abilities and hunger, trying to come to terms with the fact that in order to survive, you may just have to prey on those that you vowed to save. It’s an interesting premise, with the ability to make different choices that could affect the outcome of your story. Do you lure that nice nurse into an alleyway so you can feed off her more potent and powerful blood, or do you spare her life and only feast on the corrupt, weaker blood? This hunger for blood doesn’t have an effect on anything other than how difficult your game is. There’s no meter warning that Johnathan needs to feed or he’ll die. My first playthrough I tried to be the nice guy, but I was always really under leveled when dealing with some of the boss fights. You feel immense satisfaction knowing you killed a tough enemy, but in the back of my mind, I was always thinking about how easier it would be if I just ate someone to gain a huge boost of exp.
These citizens that are either there for you to help or kill are at the heart of many side quests you can partake in. When I arrived at each new district (there are four), instead of continuing with the main story, I ventured through each nook and cranny and talked to everyone I possibly could. Each character has a history about them, and in order to progress further and find out things about them, you have to talk to everyone. Talking to one citizen could give you a hint about another, opening up different chat paths. The writing is fantastic. The depth of conversations you can have with people can branch off in exciting directions. Each district also has a health meter. If too many citizens become sick and are left unattended, the district can fall into chaos. During my first playthrough, I let a district fall into “Critical” and the streets became filled with everything from werewolves to the Priwen (vampire hunters), to Skal (a certain type of vampire) battling it out. It made trying to do anything a chore there, but it was completely my fault.
To avoid letting a district fall into chaos, you can monitor each NPCs health and see if they need medical attention. This is how you keep each of the districts in tip-top shape. There’s a crafting system where you can create medicine for whatever symptoms the citizens have, or upgrade weapons that you have found. Along with leveling up your weapons, you can level up Johnathan’s abilities and stats. There are defensive abilities like being able to stun your enemies by stopping their heart, or straight up ultimate moves, like teleporting back and forth between a group of enemies wreaking havoc. If you’re more of the “I need max health and stamina first” type, you can level those up as well.
All that good stuff comes at a small cost though. The characters facial animations aren’t the greatest, which is disappointing because the voice acting and writing is great all around. After playing God of War and being able to see the various emotions on Kratos face in great detail, I’ve been spoiled it would seem. Also, the characters never change their clothes. This sounds ridiculous, and I wouldn’t ever question this, but nurse Dorothy is always covered in blood. It doesn’t matter where she is or when you see her, she has blood on her outfit and all over her hands. It just looks silly when she’s handing something over to someone and she’s covered head to toe in plasma. No time to wash your hands, ma’am? Even the way characters walk around like nothing is out of the ordinary. The city is in complete chaos with creatures and vampire hunters roaming the streets, yet everyone just carries on with their merry business. It does take place at night, so you really only talk to the shady characters that wouldn’t mind being out during the age of the Spanish flu. One NPC recites poetry in a graveyard trying to impress a girl. It’s a video game so you kind of have to suspend your disbelief. It’s like playing any RPG, you can just walk into random strangers homes and have conversations with them. This type of character interaction is just part of the norm.
Along with all this citizen interaction, there’s some great combat. It’s exciting and fast-paced. You have a stamina bar, much like the one in Dark Souls, so choosing when to attack and when to back off and recover is vital. You can mix it up with close range and long range weapons depending on your play style. You can have up to two main hand and off hand weapons equipped at any time, being able to switch between whichever you want in and out of battle. In your main hand, you can equip anything from a mace to a hacksaw. In your offhand you could select a stake that allows you to stun enemies faster or a knife that builds your Blood bar up quicker, allowing you to use your special moves more frequently. You could also just choose to use a gun and blast your enemies away. If you can juggle your moves appropriately, the enemy sometimes won’t be able to even get a hit in before they’re dead.
I absolutely love Vampyr. While there are a few things to nitpick, I can’t wait to continue my next playthrough as the villain. With a satisfying combat system and deep character skill customization. Tough moral choices that will make you question how you handle any conversation. A story that is dark, mature and full of twists and turns that kept me invested in all the characters. Vampyr is a must play.
Definitely check it out. – NVJ
Vampyr is available June 5th on PS4, Xbox One & PC