Ever since Vampyr was announced way back in 2015, I’ve been fascinated with the game. The more and more I saw about its story, the way the world is connected, and how every player action can have either a positive and negative effect on the game just seemed like an interesting way to develop a world; and much like the game’s protagonist, Doctor Jonathan Reid, I had a thirst, a thirst for more.
Little did I expect that I’d instantly fall in love with the game even though there are several aspects that I wouldn’t usually be drawn to. While Vampyr is being described as a role playing game, it’s much, much more than that. There’s Souls-like combat, there’s choice-based narrative, there’s even a very loose city management aspect to the game, and much more.
This is a game that has not only grasped my attention like a blood thirsty and withered vampire in the dead of night, but has invoked emotion and a feeling of responsibility for people of whom I’ve never met.
In Vampyr you play as a new born vampire named Jonathan Reid. As soon as you awake, the game throws you deep into the chaos of a Spanish Flu epidemic where everyone is on edge, including vampire hunters who have a keen eye for spotting blood-thirsty “vermin”. After being given chase you find salvation in the most unlikely of places: Pembroke Hospital. Fortunately Jonathan’s reputation precedes him and is instantly welcomed as the newest member of the medical team. Though this isn’t the most peculiar part of the game.
The most peculiar part is the ‘tip’ offered at the beginning of the game which reads something like “the difficulty of this game is determined by the amount of lives you take”.
In Vampyr, you’re given the freedom to explore your surroundings as you take on the main story. Getting to know each of the games’ NPCs rewards you with clues which unlock new dialogue options for other characters within each borough of London. The more you learn about a character, the deeper you can get into their story as well as exploring more about other characters and even push the game’s story along a little more.
This is one of those things I wouldn’t normally take part in. I’m admittedly the sort of player that’ll get straight to the point and ask questions later. I’ll follow the main story path and largely ignore any NPC I’m not being instructed to talk to. In Vampyr however, I couldn’t wait to find a new unknown character for me to get my claws into… literally.
Remember that little game warning? Well in Vampyr, XP is earned through the consumption of blood from the characters and enemies in the game. At first, I found that just following along with the story and engaging in combat (which often involves sucking blood) offered me enough XP to get to a level on par with those I was up against, but then things started to get tougher, and tougher, and tougher.
That’s when I started to feel really uneasy, because I knew what I had to do.
Vampyr has a very unique way of handling how you level up your character and earn XP. While it can be earned in combat, the most lucrative way to gain XP is to sacrifice one of the NPCs which form a part of the district’s community, but doing something like this has massive consequences on the entire district as a whole and can ultimately render the entire place uninhabitable and accessible you’re not too careful. Yes, the story will continue but it won’t be easyy, plus you’ll lose access to some of the games very few merchants.
So here I was, a Level 12 vampire being set upon by Level 18 vampire hunters and other creatures. I knew what I had to do, but I only had a limited choice as each character can only become mesmerised if you’ve achieved the required mesmerise level which tends to rise once you’ve completed an act. Being at 2 at this point in time I had to decide from a few unwell patients at the Pembroke Hospital or some very sick people over in Whitechapel.
I ultimately set my sights on a patient suffering with Cotard Syndrome who believed she was a vampire herself. “Easy,” I thought. “She thinks she’s a vampire, so surely she’ll be happy that I’ve taken her life as a vampire myself…” Then I noticed that she wasn’t alone in her corner of the ward. Another gentleman, who had suffered facial injuries during the War was also in hospital suffering with chronic pain. As it turns out, he and the other patient had forged a close bond as she nibbled on his skin which allowed him to feel something other than the pain behind his scars, and of course helped her quench her desire as a vampire.
So here I was. Wanting to take one person’s life to benefit my own knowing that she’ll be leaving someone behind who she’s helping. Granted it’s helping in the most bizarre way possible, but helping nonetheless.
My choice? I was able to mesmerise them both and poetically end both of their lives so they’d be together in death. Or at least that’s how I justified the situation. Though it’s hard not to mention that once you take their lives, you hear their final thoughts which are each as heart-wrenching as the last as you’re reminded of exactly what you’ve just done. Oh, and the haunting music which gradually gets louder and louder as you walk away from the body is the final nail in the coffin, as it were.
In order to see whether I’ve made the world around me collapse, I must rest in order to level up Jonathan’s skills. The following night I’d know just how my actions affected the world and honestly, it wasn’t good. The district itself was already suffering from many of its inhabitants falling ill and now with two less patients it seems we were boarding the critical mark.
This is where the game’s city management aspects come in. In Vampyr, Jonathan can develop cures for some if not most of the illnesses, whether it’s fatigue, a cold, bronchitis, or sepsis. During the course of the game, many of these NPCs will suffer in some way, shape, or form and will overall deteriorate the district. It’ll also deteriorate the XP which can be earned by sacrificing themselves. At one part of the game I found myself spending an hour or two making cures and dishing them out to members of the community. Once I rested I managed to raise the quality of a number of districts, but I also did little in the way of progressing the story or my own XP.
One place where this game does slightly veer off praise wagon is its combat. Vampyr could be described as a souls-like in terms of the way the game has the player constantly watching their stamina bar and having them unleash a few small attacks before dodging away to safety. It’s a frustrating mechanic, and was often the cause of my downfall when I found myself completely out of stamina stuck in between a group of hunters who relentlessly pummelled me into the ground.
They say practice makes perfect, and at some points I’d got the swing of things, that was until I was attacked by what I would describe as a “heavy move” which either has you being chomped upon by another undead, or being served on a spike by an Assassin’s Creed-style wrist blade. These moves are the only ones incapable of being interrupted for some reason, and often catch you even when you dodge at the right time.
Some Vampire hunters also come armed with a manner of projectile weaponry which for some bizarre reason can penetrate brick walls and even chance trajectory. More often than not I unfairly met my death after being hit by a stray fire arrow while dodging out of its way or dodging into a bit of the environment I couldn’t quite see.
That being said, combat in Vampyr makes up a round 40% of what this game has to offer in terms of gameplay as there’s an incredibly complex and compelling story on offer as well as the game’s investigative mechanics and world management. The last time I was this invested in a story was with the Life is Strange series, which of course, is developed by the same developer behind Vampyr: DONTNOD Entertainment.
The Old Town of London is also breathtaking despite being incredibly run-down and dark. You wouldn’t be wrong to think that a game which is based solely at night couldn’t look beautiful, but every nook and cranny of Whitechapel, the West End, and the Docks has had an incredible amount of detail added to it. Even buildings that are inaccessible still manage to look lived-in.
Overall Vampyr has the action, story, and replayability you’d want from this sort of game. The story, while slightly far-fetched at times, is compelling enough to want you to move it along and find every little detail you can. The game’s incredible sense of responsibility is also overwhelming. Having to choose from people you’ve helped, or learned so much about, in order to gain XP to progress is a tough one, and knowing that an entire district you’ve tried to develop into good could collapse if you choose to kill the wrong person… It’s incredibly tough.
Vampyr is an absolutely breathtaking achievement of both narrative-driven story telling, visual prowess, and gameplay. Sure, I found aspects of the combat to be frustrating, but the sense of relief and achievement I got while delivering the final blow with only a smidgen of stamina left was incredible. I want to explore this game some more, and I honestly think this won’t be the last time I play through this game.