Post Game Review
(CAUTION MODERATE SPOILERS)
Time to kill the review boys! Vampyr is finally released and is a solid vampire-based action RPG from Dontnod. While it doesn’t break break any new ground in terms of action mechanics, it explores a rarely offered consequence fueled narrative that shapes the game based on the player’s ethical choices. It is a breath of fresh air in the save scumming era we all live in and are guilty of abusing from time to time. And while that mechanic may turn some away, I think it is good to have a game which makes you feel the repercussions of your actions without the quick retcon of a save state to rely on.
Overview: Interview With the Vampyr
Vampyr follows the dark tale of Dr. Jonathan Reid, a prominent-and convenient-specialist in blood transfusion techniques who has just returned from his time as a surgeon in World War I. Set in 1918 in London, England, Dr. Reid returns home from the bloody conflict only to find that London is in great turmoil and heavily affected by the Spanish flu epidemic. He awakens from a malady only to find he is being hunted for being a vampire, or leech. After escaping, Jonathan murders his sister accidentally once his first case of blood lust sets in. This guilt drives the protagonist through a bloody swath of revenge against he one who turned him. During this tale he contends with vampire hunters, other vampires, and their various subspecies. All the while, you’ll have to decide whether to hurt the local populace to gain strength or to help and save them at the cost of being weaker throughout the game.
Mechanically, Vampyr controls as any other action game with a mix of light and heavy attacks supported by defensive and offensive skills. It uses resource management in the way of a blood and stamina meter to control how often you can use your supernatural and physical talents. The blood mechanic is implemented well and it can range from annoying to easy based on how well you level up blood related passive skills. Your life bar, and your enemy’s, can also be temporarily shortened with certain attacks. This will cause you to rely on the skill autophagy or in game bite mechanics to restore your maximum life. Take too many attacks from poison or fire and you will soon find yourself only being able to take one or two hits before death since your max life is severely reduced.
Skills themselves can be combined in combat and used as range attacks, interrupts, and as defensive measures. The limit on active skills means that you need to find a palette of skills that works for you and the difficulty of your encounters. These skills can be changed with a break in the action if you are patient enough, but I didn’t really find that to be too necessary. By the end of the game I had developed long string attacks which felt good to pull off so DMC,GOW, or fighting game fans will likely enjoy the combo potential to be had in Vampyr.
The leveling system, reflective of current action/RPG hybrids, is done very well. Skills are divided between active and passive and each one adds a very noticeable boost to Reid’s abilities. Gathering enough experience to level however is where Vampyr sets itself aside from other games. Experience itself is gained in four primary ways, combat, healing the sick, advancing quests, and feeding on citizens. Combat experience is minimal at best. Killing an enemy, no matter how easy or hard it is, nets you 5 xp. Healing people can range between 25 and 100xp and quests are variable. The fastest way to gain experience is by feeding on the NPC citizens which gives you not only thousands of xp, but access to powerful weapons, money, and items that make the game way easier.
This brings us to the citizen mechanic. Within our tale are four districts which contain roughly 16 or so citizens each led by one community pillar. These citizens hold quests and dialogue options for Dr. Reid to utilize which helps in dealing with the pillar. How you deal with each community pillar heavily influences the story as well as the ending and how your game plays out in terms of district status. If a district turns hostile, from a lack of medical care or by the death of important members, you will lose access to non violent portions of the city, shops, potential quests, and enemies will be more present.
The difficulty itself is governed by your choices as you will likely be under-leveled if you elect to play a good path. This does not make the game impossible however and seasoned action game veterans may want to choose this path as it is the only way of choosing a hard difficulty option. I chose this path and did not regret my choice except on maybe one boss fight throughout the game. In this Vampyr is somewhat unique and I really hope that the difficulty by morality outline makes its way into another game.
Dialogue and story are the other half of the game and you will spend a lot of time talking to citizens to advance their quests. And while I absolutely loved the dialogue parts, I felt they were often too clumped together. It sometimes amounted to an hour or so if if you listened to the voice acting all the way through. And though it conflicts with the quarantine and curfew elements of the story, I feel the progress of the game would have been smoother if you could spread out the conversations and combat into shorter interlaced segments. Since you need hints to get the options you want for the pillars and other quests, you don’t really want to skip anything and you feel forced to talk to everyone as soon and as thoroughly as possible in case something happens to them. Again, I love story and dialogue games as much as action games but blending the two will always be a tricky balance and I feel this is where the game suffers the most.
Controls are smooth for an action RPG and leave little to be desired. I really wanted more active abilities to use and felt that it could have been an option, but I think the lack of active abilities was a difficulty design choice and not a limitation. Using your vampiric dashes feels good and they can be chained and utilized in a combo to joust your opponents which is useful if playing a good vampire. You will however spend more than one moment with your back against a wall or other form of barricade so a little adeptness will be required or you’ll go face down fast. Some of the control mechanics, particularly exploration really reminded me of the PS2 Blood Omen 2 titles and sequalsand it’s very possible that it was a bit of borrowed inspiration.
The graphics are what I would call above average but nothing to get excited about. In all honesty, I prefer this level of texture and rendering because it typically allows more objects and small details to be shown and this this is definitely the case with Vampyr. I found myself constantly stopping to examine portraiture, wreckage, and graffiti in a gloomy atmosphere. Enemies moved smoothly and were visceral at the right times. The details in the Ekon, Skals, and Vulkod were well rendered and gave off the right kind of vibe for fighting each opponent. Some citizens had an amazing amount of details while others were middle of the road. This instance of London was gloomy where it needed to be, and even when you couldn’t enter a building, there was aa good amount of detail to be seen through the windows. I didn’t notice any glitches or effects during my play-through.
So this is where I always over analyze because music and sound is important to the atmosphere in the game. On this Vampyr absolutely gets high marks. The sounds are well placed and most have the desired effect where it is needed. From the wispiness of the teleport to the wails of an Englishman who has just been bitten in the neck, each sound is crisp and well timed. Some of the skill noises could have been more impactful but otherwise it left little to be desired. The voice acting is solid and convincing though the occasional mixed or dropped accent will be apparent for those who have an ear for such things.
In this category however, music is where this game deserves accolades. Composed by Olivier Deriviere, of whom I became a big fan of a few years back, the score of Vampyr never fails to set the right tone at the right moment. Many of the tracks are reminiscent of vampire films and his judicious use of the cello at just the right moments is remarkable. In other segments, the sounds, music, and instrumentality of an early 20th century London make the game come to life during exploration. Olivier is one of the few individuals I will by an OST from without hesitation and he does not fail to deliver here.
In a few words, Vampyr is simply a well needed return of the classic vampire action/RPG game. The mechanics are appropriate and well thought out, although the action is occasionally to close to the areas where Dr. Reid is attempting to appear in human guise. However, this will only offend those who tend to immerse themselves when playing. In it’s complete form the controls, sound, music, and visuals come together well to paint a dark picture, which I feel doesn’t get enough exposure in today’s market.
If you are old school, this will be the closest thing you’ll get to another Legacy of Kain. And if you are a fan of dialogue games like heavy Rain or Detroit, you will enjoy the committed aspect of the irreversible decision making process that is Vampyr. Action/RPG fans will find this to be a good time killer or one and done, but may not want to go through the process of multiple endings despite the obvious replayability factor and multiple endings. Pure action junkies or individuals who like to load after a bad choice may want to avoid this one though.
I would personally give Vampyr a 4.1 out of 5 (82%). The atmosphere, action, mechanics, and story they manage to put together is quite enjoyable and they add just enough unique elements to keep it from being too predictable. Some might feel this is a touch generous but I’m rating Vampyr for what it is and that is a complicated hybrid that not everyone will be into. I think with some pace revamping-pun intended-they could have a good series on their hands if they choose to continue with this story line.