Vampyr Review: Dracula Would Be Proud (Spoiler Free)
DONTNOD’s Vampyr has intrigued me since the first time I saw it two years ago at E3. There was just something about its setting and premise that tickled my fancy, and after finally getting my hands on it this week I can confirm that my intuition was correct.
Vampyr is an engrossing experience that puts a new spin on one of the world’s most iconic monsters thanks to the whole morality and District systems DONTNOD cooked up. These gameplay mechanics are borderline masterful, because they make player choice the main aspect of the gameplay versus combat, exploration, and other tropes featured in third person action-RPGs. That’s not to say that those mechanics are below average either, they just feel more run-of-the-mill than the morality and District features, which solely dictate how your experience will play out in terms of difficulty and narrative choice.
Vampyr is set in 20th century London just after WWI. You play as Dr. Jonathan Reid, who you come to find has been turned into a vampire at the beginning of the game. The mystery of who turned him sets off the game’s rather extensive narrative that sends Reid on a journey to discover more about himself and his new vampire abilities, while also trying to uncover who or what turned him and for what purpose. The Spanish Flu epidemic provides the backdrop for the dark adventure Reid sets out on, while also playing a role in the vampire mystery that is at the center of his quest.
Early on you team up with another Doctor, but one that is still human, so from the get go Vampyr offers a wildly different take on the blood sucking monster. This Doctor knows of his condition and as a man of science is intrigued, so he enlists Reid’s help in running one of the last open hospitals during the flu outbreak, while also helping Reid with his own self discoveries about his new lot in life. Reid isn’t just all bloodlust all the time and looking to embrace his new dark powers. As an intellectual he struggles with his fate, which plays into the morality system and how he interacts with NPCs in the various districts of London you traverse throughout the narrative.
This is by far my most favorite aspect of Vampyr, because DONTNOD has crafted a brilliant morality system that actually makes NPCs fully relevant characters that can affect your playthrough greatly. How you treat the NPCs also directly affects how difficult your quest will be. This is due to the fact that you can gain insane amounts of XP if you “embrace” the key NPCs of each district, and by embrace I mean kill them for their tasty red goo of life.
Like I said earlier, Dr. Reid is disgusted by what he’s become, so it’s really up to you as the player to decide what type of vampire he’ll be, which at times will actually make you feel morally conflicted. You can choose to be benevolent and only feed when absolutely necessary, or you can go full on Dracula and wipe out every NPC in the game permanently. Both choices will result in wildly different outcomes, so you’re always trying to balance Reid’s humanity versus his bloodlust.
DONTNOD also didn’t make the choice to wipe out a citizen NPC cut and dry. Thanks to the deep conversation system there’s a meta game within the game. Basically, each citizen NPC has a blood rating, and that rating dictates how much XP you can gain if you feed on them. Although, if you pursue deeper dialogue options, you can unlock hints, which in turn unlock new dialogue options, which in turn can increase the XP payout of the NPC if you feed on them. This dynamic makes talking to NPCs highly enjoyable and engaging, while also providing you with more reasons to explore the dark and depressing London that DONTNOD crafted.
You will want to explore too, because you never know who you will run into that can grant you a sidequest, or possibly a meal to increase your XP. Plus, you’re always trying to balance how you handle citizens thanks to how impactful they are on you gaining levels and new abilities. This game can get tough thanks to the other type of NPCs that are solely out to get you, which include vampire hunters and the skal, which are essentially feral vampires. So you have to always contemplate your actions everywhere you go. Will you wipe out some citizen NPCs to get more powerful to easily take on the forces out to get you? Even if by doing so you’re also going to make each district more deadly thanks to a chaos meter that comes into play? Or will you try to be more stealthy and keep the citizens alive and healthy to avoid districts falling into complete disarray, effectively making travel throughout them much more deadly.
In addition to the deep morality based gameplay, Vampyr also features traditional powers-based and melee combat. The combat system is functional, but can get wonky at times when battling multiple foes at once thanks to the targeting system. It just feels like you can get stuck into a tractor beam of death if you happen to lock onto an enemy while also needing to get some distance to avoid a kill shot. Although, for the most part, especially once you start to build up your vampire powers, which include awesome abilities such as being able to explode someone from the inside out, or to freeze their blood in place to stun them for an easy kill, you can become quite proficient at mixing Reid’s melee and vampire abilities together to become a Dr. of Death.
Vampyr is one of the first games in a long time that sucked me in and kept me fully engaged in all that it had to offer. Not even God of War could do that for me, so considering how critically acclaimed that title is, that should tell you a lot about how entertaining Vampyr is. It’s not perfect by any means, as there are a few technical issues such as the combat lock tractor beam, and at times some slow loading screens, but overall the complete package is well above average for the genre. It excels in storytelling and world building, which these days are two things I crave in any entertainment medium I get mixed up in. I loved Dr. Reid’s narrative, and how it perfectly intertwines with the key citizens in each district, forming a symbiotic relationship between himself and the other Londoners experiencing the tragic epidemic sweeping the city. DONTNOD may have very well crafted one of the greatest choice based morality systems in gaming too, which is why Vampyr’s world feels full of life.
If you’re a fan of vampire fiction, or just love a deep third person action-RPG, then look no further than the world of Vampyr!
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