VAMPYR Real Gamer Review

Vampyr is a decadent journey into the mind of a blood doctor turned newborn immortal. An enthralling tale from start to finish, Vampyr tests the morality of Dr. Jonathan Reid as he returns home from war only to find a plague-infested London filled with mysterious enemies and allies pressing influence upon his every move. In a unique position to find a way out of this epidemic, Dr. Reid will struggle to hold onto his humanity as increasingly powerful threats emerge to himself and the civilian populace. Within him a new war rages on, that of his desire to remain noble against his rage-fueled cravings to feed on the very innocents he’s trying to protect. Then again, no adult is completely innocent, are they?

The more you get to know the residents of each district, the more experience your character will gain if they are embraced and given their final kiss of death. However, you will also lose that resident’s quest offerings, some residents sell rare items you need, and dealing too many fatal bites to your population means the end of a district. Residents will likely die trying to escape as the epidemic consumes an entire segment of the city which will remain permanently damned. The long nights set a dreary stage for Dr. Reid who may sway between good and evil based on player choice, but ultimately keeps a relatively insightful perspective available for selection the majority of the time. It’s up to the player to decide the fate of this story, and you must live with the consequences of your actions.

Set in England during the year 1918 the story of Vampyr contains many interesting personalities including Lady Ashburn who reveals herself as a mentor and possible love interest of main character Dr. Jonathan Reid who is afflicted with ‘vampirism’ against his will and seeks to cure both the Spanish Influenza plaguing his community as well as his own ailment and that of the lesser, more animalistic vampires called the Skal.

Vampyr is an RPG at its core, with a combat system that becomes more fun as the game continues on. At the start it will feel like a delicate balancing act between stunning enemies to bite them, using vampire abilities which use up blood, and being careful not to run out of stamina. While the system isn’t perfect it does become much more enjoyable later on, and it’s great that Dontnod Entertianment has added combat to what would otherwise be a fantastic adventure game with dialog options and solid character backstory. The battle system is good, not great, but it’s a better game with combat than it would have been without it. It’s just enough to make you feel like a vampire but has room for improvement. A wider variation of combat moves, weapons, and skills would be great as well as a quicker introduction of the late-game’s variety of enemies.

Locations:

West End – a posh section of town in which the elites of the vampire and human worlds reside and collude for the greater good of London as a whole. Aloysius Dawson is the pillar of this community, and dreams of building a massive wall to keep the infected and the poor outside of the district in order to continue building up the West End’s wealth and safety, waiting out the rest of London’s demise.

The Docks – somewhere secrets dwell and nasty things lurk. Perhaps one of the original sources of many diseases due to the incoming goods received here. Priest Sean Hampton is the pillar of this community. Sean Hampton is part of more than one shocking plot twist which will challenge players to decide the fates of many lives wrapped up in his misguided attempts at protection and redemption.

Whitechapel – a rough and gang-ridden territory inhabited mainly by swindlers, hustlers, thieves, and thugs. The more innocent folks who get born into this area are traumatized into mostly never leaving their homes. But even they each have a dark side. Dorothy Crane makes her way here eventually becoming the pillar of this community in an attempt to heal the sick for free. It’s true that this place is barely kept together by Dorothy Crane who is also part of a large plot twist in which players are unexpectedly given hard choices to make.

Pembroke Hospital – the starting point of the game, a neutral territory between gangs, vampires, hunters, and typically free of hostile creatures in general (though there will lie dangers directly outside of its walls). This district is funded and maintained by Lady Ashburn, a vampire acquaintance of political power yet physical restraint and emotional compassion. Like Dr. Reid (our playable character), she does not believe in unnecessary violence against humans. She funds Pembroke Hospital as a way to try and keep London from sinking into complete chaos and appoints Dr. Edgar Swansea as the pillar of the community. Dr. Swansea is the member of a secret society of humans called The Brotherhood of Stole which has co-existed with the vampire species for centuries. It is here where Dr. Reid takes up his occupation as a surgeon and pathologist once again. Dr. Swansea hopes that you can not only be of great help to the hospital’s patients, but also potentially cure the plague that London is struck with.

Sidequests are offered in the form of investigations, which are easily missed depending on the conversations and trust levels you manage to reach with each district’s inhabitants. One example of how these start out simple but branch out quite nicely includes the initial request to find a lost assistant who helped a priest burn infected people alive in god’s name only to discover much more to the story than that. Many times in Vampyr, the results of an investigation provide choices to the player on how to handle the information gained. Rather than just simply achieving a “done” status, you must figure out how you want to handle each situation, estimating how you expect your findings will impact the world around you. Estimations will often be overturned by surprise outcomes, adding to the fun and uniqueness of the tale you are weaving with your actions.

Skills include special moves of defensive, tactical, and aggressive nature, most of which require blood to use, and body, blood, bite, and science upgrades to the character’s vampiric and human attributes. There’s also a set of ultimate abilities which have a long timeout but can come in handy if leveled up properly alongside the game’s progression.

Defensive Skills:

Coagulation – block targets blood in their veins, making them defenseless temporarily.

Blood Barrier – a shield made of blood.

Tactical Skills:

Spring – jump on top of a target dealing damage.

Shadow Veil – sacrifice stamina for a temporary cloak.

Autophagy – sacrifice blood to heal.

Aggressive Skills:

Claws – my personal favorite, a quick and powerful swipe forward which takes a good chunk of health from an enemy or even a boss if leveled up properly.

Bloodspear – scorpion-style “get over here” move which can be used from a distance to launch a whip or spear-like trailer of hardened blood that pierces an enemy.

Shadow Mist – places an area of shadow on the ground which enemies will take damage inside of once it explodes upwards, players must successfully guide the enemy into this space first. Sometimes boss fights or other enemies also use a similar skill.

Body Upgrades – Health & Stamina

Blood Upgrades – Capacity & Absorption Rate

Bite Upgrades – Damage Dealt & Healing Effect of Biting

Science Upgrades – Hold More Serums & Bullets

Ultimate Skills:

Rage – Become a beast which teleports from enemy to enemy doing major damage (if upgraded properly throughout the game). A great ultimate power to save for when you’re in trouble and need to finish off a fight before the brink of your downfall ensues.

Abyss – Create a shadow vortex to ensnare and damage all enemies who cross your path.

Blood Cauldron – Boil an enemy’s blood and make them explode for area damage effect.

If you push through the combat system’s many minor problems, an awesome game awaits. The main aspect of the game that will intrigue players is the decision-making process of who to kill and who to spare. There are so many graves, and in your repeat visits to the cemetery you’ll start to feel the vastness of your killing as new names emerge to fill the tombstones. There’s a lot of play time and replay value in this game given by the choices that can be made. If you play it slow and careful, only killing a few or trying to kill none of the innocent people you meet – the combat will be much more difficult and skill-based, but your character will be a generally better person.

There will be time to get to know each person while your mesmerize level increases (determining who you can hypnotize and eat), and the more you know about a person’s life the more experience points you’ll get when you end their life. You’ll also be punished in various direct as well as indirect ways with the risk of disease spreading faster in their district and eventually losing access to the district.

Being a blood doctor, your main interest is in curing disease. You’ll also get to make use of blood samples in the creation of serums to replenish health, blood (used for special attacks, aka Vampire abilities), and stamina (required to do just about anything). Your character can get afflicted while being attacked, limiting your health from regenerating all the way. This can be cured only by serums or sleeping which is how experience gets applied.

The game employs a pure auto-save system and with no way to save or load manual moments, players must live with their consequences. One time my PS4 Pro actually had some sort of error and this auto-save system saved 4 hours of progress that I probably would have otherwise lost. There’s not a lot of punishment for dying, since players come back to life ready to try again. You will not get your health serums back but you’ll still have your bullets.

Some mistakes cause permanent lock-outs of clues but seem arbitrary unlike the major decisions in the game, so every thread of communication should be taken seriously even though the player is put off guard by some informative conversations not having similar effects.

Crafting is also used to upgrade weapons, but most of the parts you need to get past the third and fourth (highest) level weaponry won’t become available until significant progress has been made. The game suffers from a bit of a slow start overall with players who push on being rewarded with an enticing experience, and those who give up early never really seeing the game for what it is.

One strange attribute of the game’s respawn system occurred to me as I ventured out in the early-game to meet new characters and find new locations. Enemies respawn when you die, so even if you travel very far or start a boss fight which you realize needs more leveling up, travelling back will require fighting all of the enemies you just fought on the way there.

This is a good looking game, and even though the art direction is fitting it also has an unfortunate side effect of getting you lost as districts and alleys blur together looking the same. This pairs with a problem in level design in which players are tunneled into narrow paths with often only a single or couple ways to get to a location in the open world. There’s lots of dead ends, and vampire hunters are annoyingly more powerful than a lot of the supernatural enemies. They’re located what feels like every fifteen feet with more awareness than your actual vampire enemies. Even though the humans you interact with constantly throughout your daily life barely ever suspect anything, these hunters instantly know of your nature even from a distance.

If you have to leave an area mid-quest the game’s pointer will not show you what building to re-enter but instead points to an underground or inaccessible location. This can be a major problem as so many of the city scenery feels maze-like, repetitive, swarming with enemies, and most doors don’t open. It feels very good and bad at the same time, since the affect of providing a disaster-stricken London with a unique setting for video games is achieved, the open world mechanics gamers are used to will be much harder to navigate in Vampyr.

Until players level up they’ll suffer through battles with poor targeting and artificial difficulty that doesn’t feel skill based. If you resort to just teleporting away from threats, a glitchy loading sequence will occur between areas in which an invisible wall stops the player, enemies retreat, and escape is granted. Thankfully, the game’s combat and navigation gets much better and you’ll get used to all of these issues and be able to enjoy an increasingly good game. There are some roller-coaster moments which feel like the game’s intrigue level goes up and down, but not worse so than other games.

A large part of the game revolves around treating people’s diseases. Blood samples and recipes / blueprints are used to make cures w/ ingredients gathered. The voice acting and writing are very well done, as well as incredible music that fits the scene, despite some critics claiming otherwise. From the despicable act of eating rats to facing strong foes with evasion and light attacks, the way of the pacifist is available. For those who cannot resist feeding, there are very surprising outcomes to your actions.

Players attracted to feed on people through the fact that experience is the only way to make a brutally hard game easier, defeat boss battles, and progress the fascinating story unless you’re willing to make this an extremely long game. Ironically players get more xp per feed after learning as much as they can about a person. This contradictory dilemma makes players more inclined to keep NPC’s around, denying themselves the XP of a feed as long as possible.

Beyond that, there’s also a loss of quests, item availability, and pricing changes, and in the most extreme cases territory loss due to feeding too much or feeding on the wrong person. Other characters can also be negatively affected by a feed in very unpredictable ways. Lore documentation is awesome in Vampyr as well, giving even more of a look behind Dr. Reid’s world.

There’s no clear-cut “good timing” to eat any innocent people. This whole system encourages a pure pacifist play-through but also makes the game’s main attraction a constant source of a certain unfulfilled feeling for even those who barely feed on citizens. I feel this is in perfect alignment with the game’s main character and helps you relate to him though, so it’s not without artistic reasoning.

FINAL VERDICT

Vampyr is a good game that’s so close to being excellent it’s painful. While we have hopes for a sequel or spiritual successor, it does feel like a one-off project that could’ve used slightly more time in the oven. With some minor improvements though, Vampyr could become an incredible franchise and I hope Focus Home Interactive and Dontnod Entertainment will pursuit its potential. That being said, Vampyr offered a ton of fun moments, very gripping story, and overall is one of the must-play games of 2018. Vampyr is certainly the best vampire video game made in a long time.

Vampyr features a unique and bold set of gameplay systems, allowing you to pick and choose who to help and who to hurt,  which districts to keep alive and which to feast on. Vampyr displays the bravery to use the autosave feature and it’s a better game for it. Playing a game where your decisions can’t be undone by a simple save load is far more thrilling, and I feel that people who re-load to see every possible outcome of each decision break the narrative of a game in a very cheesy way. The combat can be brutal, and not always in a good way, the game consoles us by telling the player “suffering is a part of the immortal condition… the pain will never stop.” There are a few very good plot twists, major decision making.

Overall, if you can get keep pushing onward in Vampyr, an incredible experience will eventually emerge. While not perfect, this title does contain many surprises. It also continues giving more and more content as it runs on, increasing in quality all the way. Even when an abrupt ending becomes expected, we are instead met with new locations, characters, and a revitalized purpose. Judgement will come, but for today – we fight. I highly recommend this game as a must-play of 2018 but strongly suggest tempered expectations and an enduring patience to push forward through the title’s struggles as a path for the reward of the Vampyr’s strengths.

OFFICIAL TRAILER

RGN Rating: 7.8 / 10 (Bronze Game)
Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Available On: PS4, PC, Xbox

Played On: PlayStation 4 Pro

Release Date: June 5, 2018 (North America)

Review Copy Info: A digital copy of this game was provided for free by the publisher for the purpose of this review.

One thought on “VAMPYR Real Gamer Review”

  1. Thank you for posting this. It was the perfect review to motivate me to now want to buy this game for sure!

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