No Sparkling Vampires here...
The light was so bright that even covering my eyes would not prevent its gaze upon me. The very color of the illumination burned me, causing me to become weak, soft. The light burst out of a cross, held by a man in a cloak, a man whose very intent was to kill me. I darted past him, my body becoming a red mist, and I lashed out. My hands were weapons, my very fingers blades, and they drew blood. My senses quickened, the smell of his blood drove me insane. I swung out with my weapon, it stunned my opponent and in his confusion, I lept to him, sinking my teeth into the base of his neck, feeding on his blood. Oh, the blood. Has nothing ever tasted so good? As he struggled to compose himself, I called forth supernatural forces, dark vampiric powers that rose from the very ground, grabbing his wrists, his ankles, and in one brutal snap, they pulled him apart in a shower of crimson blood. Warm, delicious blood.
Vampyr is a vampire action-RPG that is as dark and morbid as it is fantastic and enthralling. Now, while that praise is certainly earned, during my 25 or so hours with the title, the game is not without its many problems, much of which can be summed up with the phrase "Euro-jank". If you are unfamiliar with that term, it is often used to describe European games that often put more development focus into their writing, their characters, and the systems that the game will abide by. This often means that the visuals and controls often suffer as a result. If you've played anything by the team at Spiders, such as Technomancer, Bound by Flame, and of Orcs and Men, then you are at least familiar with some of the better titles that have often been labeled as such, each of which I absolutely enjoyed. While Vampyr is not made by that studio, it still offers a similar experience in how the game presents itself.
Dontnod Entertainment is the studio behind Vampyr, and if the name rings any bells, it is because this is the studio that developed both Life is Strange and Remember Me. While the latter is a somewhat forgettable experience, pardon the pun, Life is Strange, however; is one of my favorite games of all time. Where Life is Strange is similar to that of a point and click adventure game based built around a teenage girl with time-traveling powers, Vampyr is an action RPG with fast-paced combat, skill tree's, and a light crafting mechanic. Despite the choice-based systems that can alter the narrative, the two games couldn't be more different.
Vampyr places you in 1918 London, via a war surgeon by the name of Jonathan Reid. After returning home from serving in France, he is made vampire and during his awakening, murders a loved one. Hunted by the townsfolk, he finds his savior in another doctor, a man who offers Reid a night job at the Pembroke Hospital. This new position allows him to once again treat those who require medical attention, but also offers the chance for Reid to get answers as to why he was turned, and how the vampire threat is tied to an epidemic that is sweeping the streets of London.
The city of London, or rather, the small portion we can freely explore, is as much of a character as those you find littering its streets. London is split into four districts that contain a wealth of characters that contribute to the overall health of that district. With the epidemic plaguing its citizens, most of the houses, shops, and buildings are either boarded up or abandoned. Each district contains around a dozen or so characters that you will interact with, accepts quests from, treat for various medical illnesses, or use them to learn more about not only the city you have recently returned to but that of their daily lives as well. As you heal and get to know each person, their blood level will rise in experience and feeding on them will result in a massive experience boost towards learning new skills and increasing such traits as health, blood, and stamina.
While that can sound appealing, there is a catch to having such varied and convenient sources of blood filling its streets. If you feed on the inhabitants of each district, you run the risk of lowering the health of that neighborhood and missing out on the various side quests that are offered. Should a district's health drop low enough, people will either die or leave the city entirely. Around halfway through the game, I made a choice I thought was for my best interest and the next day I found my choice had led to the deaths of every single character present in that district. My choice prevented me from taking on certain side quests that were only given out by those whom I failed to save.
Vampyr is full of said choices and yet, I found that many of them didn't change as much of the narrative as I wanted. While sure, some characters will mention aspects of that choice, the world itself just kept on spinning as if nothing I did really and truly mattered. If you let a district fall, it restricts you from accessing that content but had this created new content elsewhere, then the appeal of giving in to your vampire side would have been far more appealing. There are four different endings and various different outcomes to certain choices, but these are not drastic changes to the world other than letting a district crumble into despair.
When you first are introduced to many of the game's interesting characters, your dialogue options are limited. You can strike up a normal conversation about their lives, but many options will be locked, at least at first. As you continue to chat with them or those that are familiar with them, like a sibling or a spouse, you will unlock additional dialogue paths that can lead you to level up the quality of their blood. While not all characters will offer you a side quest, they still stand as a component to the health of that district. While you may be tempted to feed on a few, this can alter not only the difficulty of the game, but also contribute to the game's multiple endings. When you feed on a citizen of London, you will earn experience at a much faster rate, but doing so, as I've mentioned, will lower the health of that district. Should you lower it enough, then vampire hunters and various monsters will flood the streets and increase the challenge of navigating those dark and claustrophobic alleys.
While giving in to your primal urges is possible, several characters are blocked from becoming a source of blood until much later on in the game. You have the ability to hypnotize any of the game's core characters but your power is limited at first. As you complete more story missions, you will level up that ability as well and the choice to use it is up to you. This prevents you from messing up important quests early on or breaking the game entirely. Many of the characters that have a high resistance to your mind control power are usually loaded with a potential high experience gain should you require the need to feed on them, such as the mute, Camellia, who offers a staggering 5000 XP bonus should you feed on her. During my playthrough, I fed on about 4 or 5 people, usually just enough to unlock some additional abilities to counter the high-level hunters and monsters that crossed my path.
As you gain experience and gather components for the crafting system, you can find sanctuary in what are called hideouts. These locations have a chest to refill your ammo, a crafting bench, and a bed. Crafting is very straightforward and you will craft medicine to help out the citizens of London, upgrade your collection of weapons, and craft medical syringes that can grant both health, stamina, or blood boosts during combat. Selecting the bed will allow you to level up Jonathan's vampiric abilities, but it will also cause the day to end, and I'll mention what that does shortly. While there are the typical increases to your health, stamina, and blood, you can grant Reid several enhancements to how he heals, bites, and attacks the various threats in London. Some of the cooler abilities like Shadow Mist grants you an AOE attack that causes red and black tendrils to spike up from the ground, causing some widespread damage to those that hunt in packs. It was the ability I sunk the most points into by far and one that often saved me from a violent end. There is a standard slash move that can drop an enemies health in seconds, or should you prefer more of a defensive setup, then you can cast a blood barrier to protect Reid from incoming attacks, or a cloaking ability to just bypass most encounters entirely. Several abilities have their own skill tree as well, allowing you to alter that ability even further. Lastly, there are Ultimate powers like the one I mention at the very start of this review. These are powerful attacks that have a much longer cooldown than your normal abilities.
When you utilize the bed in each hideout, you will then progress to the following night. This is where your choices of feeding or neglecting the sick come into play. Those that are sick may have their illness advance to the next stage. Headaches will become migraines and you will then need to craft the appropriate medicine to support the new illness, which requires harder to locate ingredients. If enough people are sick, the health of the district will drop, as it also will should you have fed on anyone during the night. I would usually attempt to get as much done and collect as much XP as I could before using the bed to progress. While you are never pressured for time or have any sort of timer forcing you to proceed to the next night, I just wanted to get the most out of each trip to the various districts.
As I mentioned before, "Euro-jank" games often lack fluidity and polish to their combat systems, and can often feel unfinished. While Vampyr's combat is anything but broken, it does show a lack of polish that I can't help but feel that more work should have gone into it. While you can swing wildly or flaunt your vampiric powers at will, you can target enemies to keep them in focus during your combat encounter. The problem with many of the battles here is in the space given to you. Large open areas can offer engaging and enjoyable combat, but the smaller areas like that of a dark alley or many of the game's interiors prevent the camera from cooperating fully. I would often get stuck on something in the environment because the camera would pick a bizarre angle to showcase the action and many of the threats you encounter can chop into your health bar significantly.
Combat itself also feels very loose and lacks the fluidity of something like The Witcher, or the Arkham games where you have several options of movement given to you. Here, you can dash, which uses stamina, or utilize your abilities like lunging to cross the gap between yourself and your prey. Despite the lack of polish given to the combat here, it never feels broken or made the experience poor in any significant way. As I gained more experience and unlocked more abilities and increased the amount of stamina and blood I had in reserve, the combat started to feel far more rewarding. If you base your opinion on the first few hours of combat, do know it gets considerably better as you put more time and effort into it.
During your stay in London, you will contend with various types of vampire threats, monsters, and human factions that are intent on taking you down. Each type of enemy will have various resistances such as melee, ranged, blood, and shadow. This causes you to shake up your approach since some attacks will do very little damage, whereas others can drop their health in seconds. You will encounter vampire hunters, lesser vampire's called Skal's, and giant beasts that resemble werewolves. Each of these enemy types will require you to approach combat in slightly different ways as while beasts and Skal's offer more of a melee focus, the human threat is largely based on those of weapons and items used to prey upon vampires. Periodically, as the story demands it, you will have boss encounters that range from thrilling to fairly decent. The battle in the graveyard is hands down the most enjoyable, but sadly, the final encounter was lacking in not only its difficulty but in its presentation, especially with the context behind it.
There are certainly moments where Vampyr is visually stunning, but it is rare to offer up that compliment when taking the whole game into consideration. While the environmental art direction is superb, several of the character models here drag the game down to an almost last-gen quality. The city of London is visually the strongest component of the game, offering up a wide variety of locales that almost always impress. Whether it is the run down and almost abandoned morgue, the dark and moody cemetery, or the various mansions of the rich, there is a drastic difference between the world that exists here and the citizens that inhabit it. Most characters are primarily composed of muddy to bland textures, and the animations for both movement and conversation are lacking at best.
Despite the character models being below average, the performances of those actors assigned to bring them to life are anything but. Vampyr has some incredible voice acting and it really allows these characters to become something more than just background assets that you can pass by on the way to your next quest. I kept finding out interesting things about each character from those who knew them, and the quality of the voice acting allowed me to get truly invested in them. While sure, not all of the characters are interesting and there are a few performances that don't quite measure up, but the large majority of what is here is solid and very well done.
While the whole of the story and its writing is rather good, the conversation system can often connect in a very awkward way, and this is something that generally plagues every game that has a dialogue system that isn't linear. If you chat up a character and they say something like ".. what with all these murders happening,", selecting the next linear tier of conversation will have a line that starts "you mentioned something about the murders?" as if this was a topic you were coming back to after asking something else first. It is these moments that break the natural flow of conversation and it's a shame that Dontnod didn't record more dialogue to improve upon a system like this.
I had a big audio issue during my time with the game, as my entire playthrough had skips in the audio during most conversations. I tried rebooting my game, uninstalling and reinstalling, but it never went away. It happened so much that I wondered if everyone in 1918 London suffered from stuttering their words. I eventually got used to it, but it's a shame that my entire playthrough was plagued by it. I also found several instances of words that were misspelled or that several lines of dialogue didn't match the words on-screen. There are also a few instances where the American and British versions of certain words were used in multiple places like Analyze and Analyse.
While those last few paragraphs can certainly seem damning, make no mistake about it, I really enjoyed Vampyr. Yes, it is the perfect example of "Euro-jank" and the game certainly has some minor to substantial problems, but the entirety of the game is extremely enjoyable and it comes down to the engaging story, the wonderful cast of characters, and the world that was created for them to exist in. If you can get past the clunky combat system and its mostly last-gen visuals, then Vampyr is a game that you can certainly sink your teeth into.