It is always exciting to see a developer try to bring fresh new ideas for a genre instead of retreading the same concepts that are popular but start to feel old by now. Vampyr is one such game that is a welcome change of pace in the current gaming market. Unfortunately as it happens with a new idea, the first execution can be incredibly shaky and the same is the case here with Vampyr, which suffers from flaws that drag down its overall quality.
There was a time when vampires used to be cool, but their popularity declined with time. Unlike vampires, it can be argued that zombies are still popular in fiction and we have seen plenty of games featuring them, so when Dontnod announced that they were working on a brand new action RPG featuring a vampire as the main protagonist and set in London, it felt like an exciting announcement because there was a lot of potential here to see how this idea can be executed.
Vampyr is purely a story-driven game that shapes the narrative based on the choices that you make during your journey. It also does a great job at building its world that gives a sense of desolation and desperation due to the widespread sickness with the Spanish flu and mythical monsters that roam around in this fictional deception of London. The main character is Jonathan E. Reid, who himself appears to be victim of a Vampire attack that results in his death and eventual reincarnation as a vampire.
The main story begins with his resurrection as he finds himself on the pile of rotting body corpses which are the result of Spanish flu. As you gain control, you are immediately forced to drink the blood of a human which turns out to be Reid’s sister. This sets the precedent for the rest of the game as you begin to learn more of his past. Reid makes it his mission to save the other humans who might be a victim just like him and sets of a journey to accomplish his task.
Dontnod are famous for their work on Life is Strange, which was a purely story-focused episodic game. The writing in Life is Strange was easily the highlight of the game so naturally, there were some expectations when starting with Vampyr. It seems like the experience that Dontnod has gained so far has indeed carried over to Vampyr, but sadly they don’t seem to have much experience when it comes to creating an engaging combat system and this shows up with the combat being serviceable at best.
As a vampire, you have the ability to basically decide the fate of the characters that you will meet during the story. This mechanic needs to be explained in detail because it is confusing at first. Since the game is divided in a set of different districts, characters that you will encounter in each district act as its population. You will encounter new characters in each district and can get quests from them or sometimes learn useful secrets about other characters. These characters depend on the choices that you will make during the story and their fate is tied to the condition of each district. If you kill most of the humans, the districts can easily spiral into chaos which in turn will have an affect on the difficulty of the game. There is a meter to keep track of the stability of the district and it depends on factors like the health of each individual.
The weakest aspect of the game is easily its combat system. There is a certain janky feel to the game in the way it plays out. The way your character moves, how the combat works out, it never feels like a great and polished experience–but it still has a certain charm, especially if you level up enough to get powerful weapons and skills. Combat is a mixed bag at best since it involves a stamina meter just like in the Souls series. This always felt like a baffling choice to me because it seems to be entirely inconsistent. In the start, you will be barely able to dodge and perform a full attack combo with this stamina, but it is possible to upgrade it as you gain more experience points.
Speaking of the leveling system, this is another strange design choice for me. The game encourages you to keep the citizens of each district safe yet it is not possible do so since by killing them and drinking their blood, you will gain experience points that can be used to learn new skills or upgrade your existing ones. This also levels up your character hence making it easier to deal with the higher level enemies that the game will frequently throw at your character. They might be easy to take in the start but as you progress further in the game, the level gap between your character and the enemies will only increase thus forcing you to kill more humans in order to survive.
The morality system is interesting. Since you can basically kill anyone during the story, it makes you carefully pick your target. If you want to be the good guy, you should just kill the bad NPCs. It is possible to find out more details about the target that you have in mind in case you have any doubt. This is done by talking to others that might have a relation with that NPC. There will always be someone who has ties to your target and will drop a hint or two about them. This can lead to new conversation options being unlocked thus sending you down another rabbit hole to learn more about them.
Killing a human can result in certain choices being hidden in the game since it is possible that the fate of one character is directly tied to another one. As you uncover more details about a particular NPC, you will be able to learn their backstory or motivations that helps you better understand their position, and this results in more experience points being rewarded if you eventually decide to kill them. Talking with others is not the only way to do it since you can also locate special items or notes that might reveal new details about that NPC.
Vampyr does a great job at building its world. There are notes scattered around locations that expand on many of the mysteries surrounding the game. The writing is generally solid but the conversation system doesn’t really feel like it offers much for the dialogue choices. You will be repeating the same questions to a lot of NPCs that can result in different answers but often times it feels useless. Since you have to basically explore each conversation in detail in order to uncover any secrets, this can get old quickly.
Vampyr doesn’t appear to offer much for its visuals. The environments are drab and fog is commonplace. It might be a design choice but I didn’t really find the world appealing to explore. The performance of the game is also rather inconsistent and while I tested it on a PS4 Pro, I did notice an occasional stutter and incorrect frame pacing that were annoying to experience in the game. Another nitpick is that the save system doesn’t allow manual saves and instead the game tries to take matter in its own hands with autosaves. This feels like an odd choice for an action RPG.
Vampyr Review (PS4)
Game Reviewed on: PS4
Game description: Vampyr is an action role-playing video game developed by Dontnod Entertainment and published by Focus Home Interactive. It was released for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One in June 2018.
Vampyr is an ambitious action RPG that manages to sell its basic premise really well. It offers good world building and lore but a weak combat system gets in the way of its compelling story and characters.