Admittedly, I’ve never had a desire to obtain eternal youth and drink the innocent from their necks at the expense of eternal damnation. But upon delving into Vampyr, I swiftly abandoned my fleeting sense of morality in exchange for unparalleled might. It’s fun to be a vampire, and despite a few minor nitpicks, DONTNOD Entertainment’s ARPG prevails in fulfilling its bold ideas.
You inhabit the role of Dr. Jonathan Reid – a renowned military physician exalted for his sophisticated theories on blood transfusion. The year is 1918, and having returned home from The Great War, you awaken in the decaying streets of London battered, harboring an insatiable thirst for blood. How have you come to bear this curse? Why were you chosen to walk among the abhorrent creatures of the night? These questions fuel Reid’s quest for answers in the midst of repressing all manners of evil and a harrowing epidemic plaguing the city.
Beyond my affection for gaslit London and brutal combat lies my faith in DONTNOD’s ability to develop compelling characters and a captivating narrative. Vampyr’s story is brimming with characters complete with varying personalities, backstories, and motives as they struggle to survive in the forsaken city. The weary citizens consider your presence a light in the darkness, and you’re capable of being that hero if you so choose. However, the game’s difficulty is intrinsically bound to the decisions you make as a newborn vampire; inherently challenging the urge to enhance your powers and will to assist those in need. DONTNOD excels at presenting an engaging cast of characters who not only support the main story but offer intriguing side stories of their own.
I’m impressed with the diversity of the sizable cast. Whether saint or selfish douchebag, each character’s issues interconnect with others, making every decision profound and permanently impactful. If you desire to slay the vampire hunters, vicious skals, and other malicious atrocities roaming the streets with minimal hardship, you must feed upon those you’ve come to know intimately.
Each character possesses a unique blood quality offering experience dependent on their health and social status. Experience gained is invested in an extensive set of vampiric abilities that aid you in the fight against your adversaries. The more you slaughter the innocent, the more powerful you become. However, your actions result in a myriad of consequences. Quest lines can vanish, the economy will crumble, and the region itself will plunge into chaos. On the other hand, killing certain individuals may contribute to the greater good of others. Progression in Vampyr is a moral balancing act, and it’s thrilling to determine who you’re willing to end as their nuanced stories unfold; made all the more rousing by the predominately strong performances across the board.
Abandon Morality, Ye Who Lusts for Blood
My previously concealed moral ambiguity began to reveal itself the further I progressed. Combat’s akin to the Souls series, and I’d be remiss to deny how often I initially fell to the blades, guns, and flamethrowers of The Guard of Priwen; not to mention the other bloodthirsty miscreants scampering the streets. I don’t take kindly to defeat, so I quenched my frustration with the blood of Pembroke Hospital’s finest. Therein lies the greatest feature of Vampyr’s design. Here I am mesmerizing a gentleman I’ve come to heal in his time of need, but in my severe desperation, I’ve decided to end his life for my benefit. Naturally, I felt like a monster the first time I embraced an innocent civilian, elevated by the eerily beautiful choir that chants during every heinous act. But as my abilities increased, I couldn’t get enough. Seldom do my desires align with those of a fictional character I’m playing as. Jonathan needs blood, and I need the kickass power he gains from consuming it. The promise of this premise is what initially attracted me to the game, and it unequivocally delivers from start to finish.
The main story’s a slow burn, but it maintains a steady pace. I have a moderate interest in the bloodsuckers, and getting to know Vampyr’s primary cast of characters and DONTNOD’s take on the supernatural beings is a delight. From a vampire priest to a physician allowing trustworthy vampires to feed on his dying patients, each character is splendidly complex. Jonathan’s evolution serves as an excellent conduit for the player from beginning to end, as your decisions determine the course and outcome of the story. There are a few interesting twists and reveals along the way, and upon reaching the conclusion, I can only hope that DONTNOD blesses us with a sequel. Side missions leave a little to be desired, as they typically boil down to finding specific items, information, or people and engaging in a tussle or two while you’re at it. However, many of the more monotonous missions are seasoned with intriguing storylines.
Though combat doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the genre, it feels great to engage in and can be approached in a multitude of ways. Balancing your health, stamina, and blood capacity is essential, and you can enhance Jonathan to compliment your playstyle. The vast array of light and heavy melee weapons at your disposal can all be upgraded over time with collected crafting materials, and all offer perks that manipulate their effectiveness. Sidearms range from daggers to a series of firearms, further contributing to the customization. Couple your weapons with malevolent superpowers and combat encounters feel intense and challenging. I fondly admire the fierce and unrelenting nature of the enemies. Winning a fight is incredibly satisfying, especially when you’re significantly under-leveled.
Jolly Good London!
Vampyr’s London is presented as a semi-open world that initially feels linear but begins to open up as you progress through the story, and the linearity doesn’t undermine its allure. Illuminated by the glow of gaslight and cloaked in fog, the Victorian architecture and wretched streets of early twentieth century London are ominous and haunting. Scattered throughout the city are loads of crafting materials to loot, a plethora of hideouts to discover, and events in which to participate. But some of the more interesting items include letters and trinkets that reveal the multifaceted history of the game’s characters and factions. London’s ultimately an extension of the story’s themes and is a lot of fun to explore as it begins to reflect the choices you’ve made throughout the game.
DONTNOD has triumphed in crafting a graphically elegant experience as well. Character animations are solid, but the visuals shine in the details. From the grime on buildings to the way light reflects off wet surfaces, Vampyr’s a far cry from the art style seen in Life is Strange. Enriching the visuals is a killer soundtrack composed by Olivier Deriviere and Eric-Maria Couturie. The combination of synths and a cello blends into an ambient, peculiar sound that beautifully eclipses Jonathan’s journey. The overall presentation is atmospheric and grimly enveloping, maintaining a persistent sense of dread, sadness, and mystery.
My only gripes stem from minor performance hiccups and the absence of fast travel. In rare instances, the frame rate briefly dips when entering new areas, and I’ve experienced an audio bug where a particular sound effect, like the slash of a sword, will repeatedly trigger, even when not in combat. Thankfully, Vampyr manages to maintain a silky 60 frames per second on PC and never drops below the 40’s. As much as I enjoy exploring London’s nooks and crannies, running from one end of the city to the other grew tiresome by the end of the game. Overall, Vampyr’s a well-polished experience, and its design and narrative significantly outweigh my nitpicks.
Witnessing a studio succeed beyond what their audience expects of them is always a pleasure, and DONTNOD Entertainment has done just that with Vampyr. Whether you’re intrigued by the idea of stalking London as a bloodthirsty vampire or expressly fancy a rock-solid ARPG, consider sinking your teeth into this gem.
***PS4 code was provided by the publisher***
- Great narrative
- Incredible progression system
- Fun combat
- Gorgeous setting
- Minor performance hiccups
- Side missions are a bit unvaried
- Lack of fast travel becomes tiresome