We as people, have a tendency to limit ourselves, and subsequently form bias towards – or against – certain types of games, films, books, or other forms of entertainment. At times, we end up cultivating an immeasurable amount of hype within ourselves for creations which are destined to fail, only because we favour their setting, premise, or the studio behind it and sooner or later, comes a point where we all burn ourselves supporting a project such as the recently released Agony, which despite of our hopes and dreams, turns out to be nothing more than a dud.
While we confine ourselves to prison-like tunnels, while following games which are heading for a collision course with failure, we also often ignore games which are likely to succeed, games such as the recently released Vampyr. That’s because such titles, with Vampyr in particular, fail to capture our attention due to an outlandish and frankly uninteresting premise, a setting which has failed to attract interest in the past, or a studio, which we deem to be disappointing.
When I first heard about Vampyr, I have to admit that I didn’t view it in a favourable light due to my above-described bias towards the studio behind the game, Dontnod, its setting, and most importantly its premise. And now, years after the initial announcement, I am happy to say that I was dead wrong about Vampyr, as the final product which Dontnod has crafted, and Focus Home Interactive has published, might just be the biggest surprise of this generation.
At first sight, Vampyr appears to be a title set within Victorian London, just like Sony’s Order 1886, and while the prior does feature a heavy dose of fantastical undertones just like the latter, it is much more grounded within reality than the developer has led us to believe. Vampyr takes place in a post World War I London, which is ridden with an epidemic of what appears to be Spanish Flu. If that is not enough, this majestic if eerie metropolis is also in grip of a wave of gruesome, and chilling murders. And the protagonist, Doctor Jonathan Reid, is dropped right in the middle of this chaotic, and quite frankly daunting monster of a city.
Dontnod rendition of early 20th Century London, while heavily relying on Victorian themes, is clearly much more complex and advanced, than anything we have experienced before and while the world of The Order 1886 was clearly much more visually impressive, then it has to be underlined that such was nothing more than a string of hallways and corridors, whereas the world of Vampyr is completely open. In addition to that, the world of Vampyr is not a static environment, and it evolves both visually and mechanically, as the player progresses through the game.
In the beginning, you have a chance to experience parts of London which are stable and relatively healthy, but as you finish the tutorial, and are given a free reign over Reid’s story, you begin to come across areas which are infested with numerous forms of vermin and other monstrosities, as well as thugs, gangsters, and vampire hunters. And while the difference in population is the most distinct, it is not the only thing which separates the districts of the in-game London. As all in-game areas also differ visually, and change depending on your choices.
When you first enter the district of Whitechapel, you’ll instantly notice how grim and dirty it is in comparison to other areas. However, depending on your choice, which you have to make at the end of act 2, you can turn the heavily disturbed part of London, into one which has completely succumbed to chaos. If you decide to do so, then Whitechapel will turn into what could be described as a war zone, as from that point on, its streets will be riddled with debris, fires, and a multitude of corpses, and all nearby buildings will be bordered shut and splattered with blood and entrails of both vampire hunters, and vampires themselves.
When playing through Vampyr, you’ll always feel like every single choice that you make matters, and the longer you play the more apparent this feeling will become. Throughout your playthrough, you can shape both Doctor Reid, and the city of London to your personal desires and that’s because all in-game choices are tightly linked to both your character’s development, and the state of the city. While the vast majority of choices is limited to you killing in-game NPC’s, who provide you with blood, which is in-turn used to upgrade your character, then it has to be said that such limitations, in the long run, work in Vampyr’s favour.
Most RPGs such as Mass Effect, or even The Witcher 3, use their NPCs as narrative devices when at their best, and as audio-visual backdrops when at their worst. However, within the world of Vampyr each and every NPC does not feel just like a tool, but a genuine, living, breathing, human being. At times, you will not only have to decide whether or not it is worth to sacrifice one of the NPC’s just for a bucketful of blood, but also if it is worth to murder a friend, companion, or an ally, who you have grown fond of – just to upgrade your health or one of your skills.
On your journey to the truth, you will surely grow fond of numerous in-game characters, as they all possess unique personalities, quirks, and back-stories, which will resonate with the vast majority of the players. However, while being excellent at interlinking its world with its inhabitants, Vampyr also provides one with challenging combat, which lies somewhere in-between Dark Souls and the Arkham series. And thorough its sheer difficulty, which scales rather rapidly, Vampyr – sooner rather than later – will force you to make difficult decisions in order to make some significant progress.
At its core, the combat of Vampyr is simply magnificent as it provides one with the excitement of the rapid and heavy violence of the Arkham Knight, with the nerve-racking elegance of Dark Souls III. However, in order to maintain that level of quality and excellence, you will have to make some difficult choices, and devour a plethora of the in-game characters, as without certain upgrades, especially those to special manoeuvres and leeching, you will struggle massively, and have to resort to cowardly tactics just to get by. Sure, Vampyr, just like the Deus Ex series allows one to avoid fighting altogether, but unfortunately certain, more difficult encounters cannot be avoided, and those who will choose the more peaceful path will struggle against all scripted fights, and especially the ones against bosses.
Stealth has clearly been implemented for all those who do not wish to fight each and every mob and hostile, and those simply want to move to the next checkpoint and enjoy the story.. However, Vampyr has clearly been designed with its excellent combat at its forefront, and Dontnod wants you to make those difficult decisions, and it wants you to feel empowered, and suffer due to loss of companions, and even friends. While being forced to erase genuine personas out of the game, you will soon learn that most sacrifices are worth their price, as you begin to craft Doctor Reid to your liking and desires.
Just like any RPG, Vampyr allows you to create and form builds, which in turn give you an option to play it the way you, and you alone want to play it. And the combination of immensely rich arsenal of weapons, and weapon archetypes, in conjunction with streamlined yet satisfying upgrade system allows one to create equipment set which will suit your character to a tee. If you want to play a tanky character who swings a massive barbed-club, then you are free to do so; if you want to proceed as a balanced brawler who combines his vampiric abilities with brute force of a machete – then you can do so as well; but if that’s not your style, you can adopt the glass cannon approach, and play through the game with minimal health, optimal damage, and an immense array of deadly vampiric abilities supported by the rather exciting bone-saw.
Vampyr, in my eyes, is simply excellent. And it might be a sleeper hit, which may take many – just like me – by surprise, and while it is a title of immense quality, and incredibly high entertainment value, then it has to be underlined that it is not entirely perfect. Visually, it checks all the boxes, but certain objects such as doors, can look a little underwhelming at times. In addition, all in-game animations, which are presented outside of combat have a robotic feel and look to them, and at times, it is hard to concentrate on a heart-wrenching story, when it is told by Rosie the Robot Maid, with human skin stretched over her.
Without a shadow of a doubt, Vampyr has its flaws, but all of the above-mentioned imperfections are so few and far between that most will simply either not notice them at all, or give them a free pass. However, there are certain blemishes on Vampyr‘s facade which unfortunately cannot be overlooked. But those boil down to rather odd in-conversation camera angles, which at times disallow one to look at both characters at the same time – as the game intends, and the title’s introduction. Bizarrely enough, Vampyr‘s opening segment is marred by texture and object pop-ins, erratic frame-rate, and screen-tearing, which are all funnily enough absent from the remainder of the game.
Ultimately, the only term which can be used to describe Vampyr is ‘sleep hit’. As most – including me – did not expect this particular title to be as satisfying, and as impressive as it is. I don’t feel like I am crossing the line in saying that Vampyr is clearly the best title which Dontnod has ever developed, and most definitely the best game which Focus Home Interactive has ever published. If you are looking for the next big RPG to scratch your role-playing itch, then you don’t have to look further, as Vampyr has been crafted especially for you, and if you happen to also be a fan of the Soulsborne series then you’ll simply be in heaven with this particular game – even with all its slight imperfections.
+ Captivating Story
+ Incredible World Design
+ Meaningful and Thoughtful Implementation of NPC's
+ Exciting and Immersive RPG Experience
- Some Low Quality Animations
- Introduction is Eerily inconsistent