Back in June 2018, Dontnod Entertainment and Focus Home Interactive released Vampyr upon the world, a dark action-RPG game in which you take the role of a newly-reborn Vampire. Now, thanks to Saber Interactive, you can also experience this unforgiving and blood-thirsty choice-based adventure game on the Nintendo Switch – albeit with a few compromises here and there.
Seeing as I’ve already reviewed the game in detail over on the PlayStation 4 (which you can check out HERE), this review will be more of a summary of the story and mechanics as I focus on what’s changed since launch and how the game performs on the Switch in comparison to my PS4 Pro.
Launching just in time for Halloween, let’s see if the game as good as I remember it being and if the Switch version is worth picking up for a double-dip…
**All images are taken from the game playing in portable mode on a day-one Switch**
The protagonist in Vampyr is Jonathan E.Reid, one of the best blood specialists in all of London who served in the great war as a military doctor. Unfortunately, whilst serving he contracted a deadly strain of the Spanish Flu, resulting in him being sent home and discharged from service. However, due to the severity of his condition, his time on this Earth wasn’t long-lived as he took his last breath before reaching the hospital. Strangely enough, the last thing he recalled before he died was a shadowy figure approaching him, the sound of a poem being recited, and then a sharp pain before endless darkness…
…or so we thought. Dr. Reid opened his eyes, got to his feet, left the pile of bodies he was disposed of within, and began stumbling along the pier as if nothing had happened. After instinctively draining a loved one of their blood, in order to regain his composure, Dr. Reid becomes hunted as he runs through the streets of London looking for somewhere to hide. Before too long, and noticing the sun burns his flesh, he realises that he’s been reborn as a vampire, a dark angel of the night. Seeking answers, he tries to track down his revivor, only to be led to Doctor Swansea, the man in charge of the local Hospital.
With help from the Doctor, a secure hideaway within the upper floors of the hospital, and the determination to find his ‘master’ to see if the curse can be lifted, he now has free-reign of London as he sets out to either help or feed on the citizens who live there. Although only a handful of people believe that vampires are to blame for the recent deaths within the town, vampire hunters and general thugs have gathered on the streets to hinder his progress. Thankfully, he’s hungry – so just think of these as ‘walking snacks’.
Oh, word of warning, in case you’ve not heard about Vampyr before, your choices matter and are set in stone – killing the good citizens may seem fun, and rewarding, but it’ll have dire consequences as you progress. This is a game that perfectly moulds together a choice-based system and an action-RPG into a truly memorable experience that begs for multiple playthroughs.
Since its release, Vampyr has changed its combat mechanics in a couple of ways. Instead of a single difficulty, which increases gradually based upon the area you’re in and the level of the enemies you approach, the developers have now given us three difficulty settings. The new ‘story mode’ is for those who want to experience the awesome story but feel the combat is a little too hard – you’ll find you can take down most enemies with a few hits and very little skill. The default difficulty is the same as the launch PS4 edition, akin to the Souls franchise and The Surge – stamina-based slow attacks that need to be timed perfectly along with dodging and defensive positions. Finally, there’s a hard mode which is the same as normal, only harder.
Personally, I’d recommend playing the game on at least Normal for your first playthrough as the ‘story mode’ isn’t just an easy setting, it basically takes away all the strategy and fun of the combat. Also, you can’t change the difficulty once you start the game!
The game received a lot of flack over its choice of combat style when it launched last year, many people found it too difficult and unforgiving. However, despite absolutely sucking at pure Souls-like games, I thoroughly enjoyed Vampyr and managed to complete it pre-launch with little issue. However, after playing through the Switch version on normal, the overall experience seems much easier and forgiving in comparison to my initial playthrough. So, if you like the concept of this combat but you find games like Dark Souls too hard, Vampyr may actually be a good way to get into this particular fighting style.
You knew it was coming, you can’t have a game about vampires and violent beasts without a touch of the supernatural thrown in there. As you play through the game, kill enemies and make various permanent choices, you’ll gain a bunch of experience points. Seeing as you’re a nightwalker, you must sleep during the day (there’s no day-night cycle, it’s just always night when you’re awake) – sleeping via any bed you find will give you the option to spend your recently obtained experience on a number of passive and active abilities. This is where things get really interesting…
Depending on your character level, you’ll have access to a number of skills and abilities which you can invest in. You can opt to increase your health, drain more blood when you bite enemies during combat, unlock various attacks such as a blood spear and blood claws, or give yourself some defensive abilities to help keep yourself ‘alive’. Unlike a standard skill tree though, each ability or skill has multiple upgrades you can purchase (again, based on your level), with some even branching into a choice of additional features or effects. It’s very deep and allows you to fully customise your Dr. Reid.
The demonic abilities, such as the blood spear and claws, are an amazing addition to your arsenal but they come at a cost – blood. Unlike your physical attacks, which are delivered with weapons such as knives, guns, stakes, and swords, these unholy and devastating attacks are comprised of the blood of the fallen. As such, you must drain those you fight in order to charge them before use. How? Well, you’re a vampire so take a guess… Enemies have two meters, health and stamina. If you attack them with a stamina-draining weapon, like a gun or a stake, it’ll reduce then shatter, leaving them open for you to dive in and suck them hard.
Your choices matter
Despite being a game heavy on its combat and exploration (as the map you play on is rather big), the developers have also placed a strong emphasis on the game’s narrative and ever-changing story. In a way, the game is a lot like The Outer Worlds, every choice you make, every person you decide the fate for, and the state of the region, affects the story and the direction the game goes in. Aside from the vampire hunters and random thugs and beasts you see on the streets of London, there are a few self-contained settlements of people who all have their own personalities, lives, agendas, and purpose. For example the hospital you arrive at shortly upon starting the game. Everyone within the building is unique and special in their own way.
Almost every person has a secret, or at least some personal information which you’ll unlock by either talking to other people about them or completing side-missions and discovering information on the quest-giver. The more you unlock and confront the person, the higher quality their blood becomes. Did I forget to mention, you’re a vampire. So, the game can go one of two ways, either you help people resolve their issues and heal their illnesses by giving them medicine you craft yourself, or you level up your abilities and lead them into a secluded alley so you can end their pain and suffering in order to feed your thirst.
If you decide to be good and save everyone, as I did last year, then the merchants will give you good deals and each settlement will be friendly and welcoming to you through the game, but you’ll obtain experience much slower. Should you devour all of the living people within an area, in order to feast and boost your experience greatly so that you can obtain new abilities much faster, then be prepared to not only deal with higher prices but also the much deadlier consequences it brings. As the game autosaves every time you make a choice, whatever you choose is permanent and there’s no going back once you’ve succumbed to the taste of blood.
Just like with your experience, you won’t know what your actions have done until you go to bed. You’ll be shown who’s alive, who’s ill, how the district has changed, and the fates of those who you refused to help in time. This, to me, was an awesome mechanic as although you’re not timed, if you see someone in trouble or hear a scream in the distance, you know you need to save them before you sleep and level up if you want to save them, otherwise they’ll probably get eaten overnight! The question is, what kind of person will you be? A good or bad vampire?
Okay, before I get into my issues with the Switch port, what are my overall thoughts on the narrative? For me, Vampyr was one of my favourite games of 2018, it had a very interesting story that always kept me intrigued, whilst also offered a decent challenge in terms of combat. The Switch version is the same only I’ve not had any issues with the combat this time around – either due to constant updates and balancing or the adjustments to make it a little easier. That aside though, the narrative you’ll follow, the people you’ll meet, the revelations you’ll uncover, and the creatures you’ll be forced to fight against, are all very interesting and far beyond what I initially expected when the game was first announced.
As the game came from the brilliant minds at Dontnod, you automatically know that the story itself, and the dialogue, is going to be second to none and a great experience to play through. However, combining that with permanent choices and Souls-like combat, it’s a combination that sounds odd yet works really well when packaged together into a dark, gothic adventure.
Also, as I touched on in my PS4 review HERE, the actual layout of London and the variety of buildings is another aspect I was highly impressed with. The game isn’t open-world, but it isn’t linear either – it’s akin to The Surge in that you initially only have a few routes to explore but you can open up alternative routes for ease of access later on by unlocking gates. This allows you to get around London much faster and bypass a lot of respawning combat areas – there’s no fast travel in Vampyr. I’m also impressed that the buildings don’t obviously get cloned all over the place – I loved The Sinking City but that game had a lot of cloned buildings as the same shop appeared on pretty much every street.
*Comparison image below – you may need to ‘click’ on mobile to view*
Worth taking a bite on the Switch?
First things first, I have no tools or methods of testing anything I’m about to talk about – it is all based on what I can see and how I felt whilst playing the game in portable mode (and a little in TV mode).
The Switch edition has been heavily compromised in order to get this massive adventure to run on the weakest device of this generation. Saber Interactive has done a great job as it can’t have been an easy task. First of all, the resolution. I’ve put a comparison image above of the PS4 Pro (at 1080p) and the Switch (which is a 720p image but the resolution isn’t as high as that). As you can most likely see, the Switch version doesn’t look great as the texture quality, the reflections, the shadows, the lighting, and the general clarity is much lower than on the PS4 – as well as the resolution.
Now, I only play my Switch in portable mode but I did try this in console mode as well – it was a little better but still not a great way to play on a 1080p TV (it must be even worse on a 4k tv). However, in portable mode, due to the smaller screen, it was presentable and it didn’t look that bad. As such, I’d say Vampyr is best played in portable mode.
In terms of performance, the Switch struggles. It’s okay on the streets of London and when there are only a few enemies, but if you add fire, more people, detailed interiors, or particle effects on the weapons, there’s noticeable framerate issues. It’s a shame as Vampyr starts out feeling solid and a great way to play, but then it starts to buckle and you can feel it – even if it’s only about a 5fps drop. Also, there are a lot more loading points in this version over the PS4. For example, leaving the hospital to go onto the road towards the next location, it has to load – unlike all the other platforms. However, just like Monkey King: Hero is Back, these interrupting loading segments are only a few seconds long. The initial load when you start the game is pretty long though.
If you’re yet to experience the dark and gritty world of Vampyr, the Switch is a great place to sink your teeth into it. True, this version is vastly inferior in regards to the visuals and suffers from a few performance dips here and there, but after playing in portable mode for a few hours, you’ll become accustomed to the compromises which were necessary to get this brilliant game on the system. With a few new difficulty options and the ability to either join the dark side or not, you can roleplay your own story which changes based on your actions and desires throughout the game. Multiple playthroughs are a must as seeing London thrive or suffer are two very possible outcomes.
Whether you’re playing Vampyr in the comfort of your own home or whilst you’re out stalking your prey, it’s an experience you don’t want to miss out on – especially if you like games where your choices and actions actually make a difference to the world.
- - Brilliant story with lots of excitement throughout
- - A great emphasis on replayability with its permanent choices which change the world
- - Satisfying combat which has been made a little easier this time around
- - The music and voice acting are spot on
- - Every mission and quest are unique and not just a simple fetch-quest
- - The visuals in this version are compromised greatly, making it the ugliest version to play
- - There are some framerate issues in both portable and TV mode
- - A number of short loading segments which aren't on the other consoles
- - I still feel a revamp on the 'blood' mechanic would have made it more exciting, making you drink blood in order to not succumb to your inner urges
- - Standard loading times (to get to new areas and starting the game) is even longer than the long PS4 loading times.