Developer Dontnod Entertainment are well known for their brilliant award-winning game, Life is Strange, which came out just over three years ago. Whilst we await the sequel to their emotional and engaging adventure game, they have released a game very different yet complete with all of the emotion and deep storytelling of their previous work. Vampyr is a beautiful masterpiece in so many ways, the storytelling, the music, the choices, the overall atmosphere… From the moment you start playing the game, you’ll be mesmerised and unable to stop until you have found the cure to the vampire epidemic which is currently plaguing London in 1918. However, the game isn’t without its flaws and annoyances – even so, nothing stopped me putting over 30 hours into my first playthrough from start until completion.
I will keep my review as spoiler-free as I can. I will describe events which happen up until the first Act begins, if you don’t wish to know these (the first 10-15 minutes of the game), then please skip to ‘Gameplay‘
Doctor Jonathan E. Reid was a talented surgeon and researcher who was widely admired by his peers. During the great war, he enlisted as a military doctor – partly to test his progressive theories on blood transfusion and organ transplantation. While stationed in Rouen, Reid contracted a fever, which would later become known as the Spanish flu, which forced him to return home, to London. The disease fully hit Dr Reid upon his return and he was unable to make it to the nearest hospital as he collapses and he feels the life draining from his body. The last memory he has is of a strange figure muttering a dark poem whilst approaching his weak and drained body.
London, 1918. Doctor Jonathan Reid awakens from his slumber, just like any other day, only this time he has awoken from Death itself. Unable to recall initially what’s going on, where he is, or how he ended up there, all that Dr Reid can think about is his indescribable thirst for blood. Luckily for him, he spots an unaware victim in the mist, a woman who just happens to be searching this mass grave for something of significance and dear to her. Unable to hold this urge any longer, Dr Reid embraces his hunger and drains the young lady of both her blood and her life with one swift bite upon her neck.
You quickly recover your composure and also obtained some of your poor victim’s memories as you sucked the life out of her. The lady was, in fact, your sister and she had been searching all of London for signs of you as she had feared you dead when she found out you had returned to London with the Spanish flu. Troubled by this tragic event, you declare to yourself that you would never take another life and you would seek out more information on this curse. However, before you know it, vampire hunters are onto you and chasing you through the side streets of London as you gracefully dodge them using the powers you have seemingly obtained.
Before long, you encounter a mysterious Doctor Swansea who is in charge of the local hospital. You discover that he is currently well aware of the vampire epidemic, as everyone else seems to think it’s the Spanish flu, and he is secretly working on uncovering its origins and producing a cure. You join the doctor on his noble mission and vow to help those in need and pain, instead of succumbing to your thirst for the warm, juicy taste of blood.
So, as a Blade-like rogue vampire who can only patrol the streets at night, it’s your duty to cure citizens of their fatigue, headaches, and colds across four highly detailed areas of London whilst also fighting vampire hunters, undead Skals, High Priests, other vampires, and more who linger around the streets at night in search of their prey. The question is, can you resist the urge to feed on the weak and stay strong for your sister, as you find the cure without giving in to temptation? Or, will you use your almighty powers to mesmerise the simple-minded, and over-trusting, citizens of London as you drain their life in order to build up your skills faster?
Just remember, you’re choices are set in stone – there is no going back and there are no do-overs. What is done, is done, and you must face the consequences of your actions…
As you may have gathered by now, this game is about as far from Life is Strange as you can get, in terms of the story, setting and atmosphere. However, our protagonist would love to have Max’s special ability to turn back time, as in Vampyr it’s quite the opposite – your choices are set and there is no turning back. Everything autosaves as soon as it happens and you can’t save manually into multiple slots. I’ll explain in detail below how this all works, but for now, the general mechanics.
If you’ve ever played a Souls game or even The Surge, then combat will feel very natural to you. To those who haven’t, then expect it to feel a bit clunky at first until you’re used to it. You can equip up to four weapons at a time and swap them on the fly with the D-Pad. However, double handed weapons take up two slots, clearly, and you can only have certain weapons in each slot. Basically, in one hand you have the ability to hold a club, saw, blade or similar; and in your other hand, you have a stake, needle, guns or similar.
So, using the Square button you attack with your main weapon, which usually is the main ‘damage’ inflicting attack as it drains the enemies ‘life’ – which once it is empty then the enemy dies. Using the alternative attack, the Triangle button, you thrust the steak into the enemy or shoot away at them in order to either reduce their stamina or make them bleed. I’ll talk about the blood in a minute, but if you reduce their stamina to nothing then it opens up the ability to drink your enemies blood to reduce their health and increase your blood and health. So, the best way to engage in most fights is to alternate the attacks to both weaken the foes and allow you to recover your powers when needed. However, it isn’t as easy as it sounds in most cases…
Blood within battles isn’t purely for food, you don’t seem to actually suffer any consequences for not drinking blood from what I could tell, but you do gain a massive advantage for having the blood of your enemies running through your veins. Well, you can also pick up rats off the floor and drink their blood for the same effect, but let’s keep this mysterious and horrific! I’ll touch on the RPG mechanics in a bit, but you can unlock special attacks which require Blood in order to work. Attacks such as shooting out a needle of congealed blood right into your foes direction, or summoning claws to fiendishly cut through those who oppose you. The best ability of all though is the ability to instantly heal yourself by sacrificing the blood within you. This is quite literally a life saver for when you run out of medication and need to top up your health mid-battle.
Another set of attacks you can use within battles are not dependant on anything but time. For example, you can cause a single enemies blood to begin to boil within them as they walk around, having it explode a few seconds later causing damage to those around them and the host themselves. This grants you not only with a weaker opponent but also an influx of blood which can be obtained for the above. Another attack in this category which I used quite often has you vanishing and inflicting attacks on numerous enemies whilst also draining their blood and inflicting pain. These attacks require a 99-second cool-down, but other than that, they don’t cost anything to use them.
The main crux of the combat though is your stamina meter, everything, other than walking, uses your stamina. More times than you would care for, you find yourself slapping around an enemy and then Beep. Beep. Beep Beep… What’s going on? Oh yeah, you’re out of stamina so you won’t attack or dodge and everytime you press the attack button a really annoying noise, which can’t be turned off or down, happens. As such, it’s imperative that you increase your stamina meter as soon as possible if you want a better chance of living, and if you want to avoid that annoying sound. Beep!
Combat is a tricky one to put an opinion on. There is a lot of combat within the game, thanks to the re-spawning enemies, so you will end up in a pattern of sorts as you fight the same enemies multiple times. The game does combat this by introducing new opponents and higher levelled foes as you progress, but there is a slight bit of monotony within the game if you don’t decide to branch out and swap around your weapons and skill set. Which brings me onto…
The Skill Tree:
What would an RPG be without a skill tree? Thankfully Vampyr has a lot of things to chose between, so many in fact that I was often overwhelmed and unable to decide what I wanted to invest my experience into. You have your standard ‘increase max health/stamina’ options, the above special blood and timed attacks, increasing ‘how much health/blood you obtain while biting an opponent’ etc… You also have another choice of attacks, one of which has you teleporting to an enemy and smacking them in the process, and you can also increase the number of health potions and bullets you can carry.
Each of these items isn’t a simple ‘buy with XP and it’s active’ though, each item has its own mini-skill tree where you can invest more XP into various branches to sacrifice one thing for another. For example, you can have instant health in exchange for blood, with no regen, or a smaller amount of blood instantly but X amount of health will regen over a few seconds as well.
The game gets rather deep with its customisations of Dr Reid, as it allows you to pick and choose what trails and abilities you would like as you mould the good doctor into your own image. The way the experience is spent is also a rather novel mechanic. As you’re a vampire and you can’t go out during the day, you must rest within a safe zone. As you go to sleep, you get to spend all the XP you have accrued during the current night and then proceed to the next evening for more late-night adventures.
How do you gain XP, I hear you ask? There are a few ways but the most common is completing chapters, side-missions, and/or devouring on innocent (or not so innocent) citizens of London. Which brings us too:
The Citizens of London:
What is done, is done – nothing can be undone or changed. That’s something you have to keep in mind whilst playing Vampyr. The world is populated with many interesting and unique characters outside of the cookie-cutter enemies. Just like Bully from a few generations ago, every single NPC within the game which you can interact with has a personality, backstory, purpose, agenda and life. As you approach and talk to each one, you learn about their life in London, get to ask unique questions, unlock ‘hidden’ questions by talking to other people and completing quests/finding items, and most importantly you get to see what their health is like.
Now, why is their health important? It’s important for two reasons, you’re a doctor and you’re a vampire! As a doctor, you can inquire with each person to see if they are healthy and if anything is currently affecting them, things like the common cold, a headache, or fatigue. If these symptoms are left un-attended to then the region will decrease in its health status and creatures will become more powerful, as well as there is a possibility of the person dying. So, you can create medicines and cures for these people and heal them each day – the result of which will be made clear after your regular sleep in a safe zone. As a vampire, the healthier a person is, the more pure and rich their blood is, should you wish to feed on them. So it’s in your best interest to cure them as a vampire in order to get the most experience as you suck them dry!
Another way to increase the richness of someone’s blood (and also the experience you receive) is to complete side missions and find out more about the person in question. Every character has unique side quests which are similar to The Witcher 3, in that they aren’t just fetch quests, they are usually to do a specific thing which has its own backstory and interesting tale surrounding it. An example of one, which is early on, is you come across a dead body and they cause of death seems like a medical error. So you must investigate who did it and what happened followed by either telling on this doctor or siding with the one in the wrong in order to gain favour with them instead.
Also, when I said “find out more about the person in question”, these are basically secret questions which you don’t know initially and are represented by a padlock. For example, there is a patient in the hospital who sends you to find something of theirs after you find out they were trying to kill themselves. Upon finding the item and reading it, you can question the person on the contents as well as their relatives. This makes your bond with them stronger and their blood purer. This brings me to the one issue I have with the blood – you never really had an urge or thirst for it. You could quite happily go through the whole game and not drink a drop of it, other than for healing. Dontnod missed a great opportunity of having your character lose his will or starting to disobey your commands if he hasn’t fed on something. Instead, all blood seems to do is power up attacks and provide small bursts of health in battle.
The City of London:
The overall setting of the game is really cool, from it’s dark gothic alleyways to it’s old, abandoned buildings – it’s all highly detailed and spot on in terms of its aesthetic design and look. The only thing I saw which didn’t seem very time appropriate was a guy in the West End, near a church, who looked like he was wearing modern clothing. Other than that, it all looked spot on. The map itself isn’t huge, but it’s basically a maze with many, many doors and gates locked off as they are ‘locked from the other side’ – which is both annoying and clever. It’s annoying as in the beginning, you will find a very restricted map, with no fast travel, where you are going the same routes over and over in order to reach your destination. Yet, later on, you are on the other side of those gates which remain open once you first unlock them – this means shortcuts and new pathways are opened up to you the further you progress.
The streets are populated by whatever enemies you have uncovered, so vampire hunters, priests, werewolf-like creatures, vampires etc… who will respawn whenever you either enter a new loading-screen area or you die. This can get a bit frustrating if you have worked your way through the sewers to kill a beast, only to find out you’re too weak and you die. Then, you turn around to get out of the sewers and suddenly everyone has respawned. Especially if the reason you wanted to leave was to get some potions.
The citizens which I mentioned above are confined to a few areas, the hospital, White Chappel, the West End, and The Docks. However, once you reach these areas, they are quite dense with activity as you have about 10-15 citizens in each area. My big issue here though is that you can’t ‘track’ people. Okay, using your vampire-vision, you can see through walls as you see the person blood running through their veins, but that has limited visibility. It would have been nice to have the game guide you to a person or show them on the map ala Harry Potters magical map style. I think I must have spent about 2-3 hours during my 30-hour playthrough just looking for people because they wander around in their area.
One of the other issues I had was in relation to its trophies – it’s also the reason I haven’t started my second ‘Blood-Thirsty’ playthrough yet (as my first playthrough I refused to drink anyone’s blood and obtained the trophy for doing so). A few of the trophies relate to collecting all of the different types of weapons and finding all of a certain type of collectable. I wouldn’t have an issue with this but, just like everything else, you can’t go back once you’ve gone forward. Basically, once you reach the final chapter of the game, you can no longer proceed to look around London for the things you missed. As such, I now need to play the game again in order to get the chance to try and find everything. This isn’t a big issue, but it would have been nice if the game allowed you to go back to London purely to find the other items upon completing the game.
Another issue I had was with it’s ending in general. Now, don’t worry – I won’t spoil anything but I’ve hidden it to be on the safe side.
As I was playing the game without sucking anyone, you obtain a lot less experience, as each person gives you about 3k XP points yet you’re lucky if you end a day with 2-3k when you’re not eating people. Yet I ended the game as a level 25 vampire with all level five weapons (the ones I was using). As such, the end boss was a joke – with the weapons I had, I was able to take them down on my first attempt with very little issues. In perspective, before going up against them I fought a werewolf-style beast on the street, which was level 34, and that killed me 4 times before I beat it up – it was more of a challenge than the end boss.
Not only that, the ending itself was a bit of a disappointment for me. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t bad, and I can see a sequel possibly coming (which is great), I was just left with an ‘is that it?’ impression.
Graphically this game is gorgeous – from the torches of the vampire hunters reflecting on the wet ground and the enemies faces to the many blood splatters left upon the floor as you devour your foes, it looks so good. The artistic design, the time-period correct environments and clothing, the real-life places within the game, and the sense of dread and terror really build the game’s character and soul. Every time a character got up close to the camera I would quickly press the share button on my controller in order to capture the image. I have placed a gallery above, click the arrows on each side to scroll through some of the images I took during my playthrough. The only graphical error I had was one vampire hunter coming at me in the T-pose and I fell through the earth when I was killed by a creature. So, two instances in 30+ hours isn’t bad.
Sound wise I love this game. Graphically the atmosphere is spot on but as soon as you add the music, it goes up to the next level. The soft, subtle music builds tension, character and suspense as you crawl around the dark streets of London at night – although it’s probably less dangerous in the game than it is in real life at the moment! The voice acting is perfect, it’s all easy to understand, clear, professional, and matches the characters looks and personalities. There was one voice that was a little strange, but I’ll let you find out who they are! Other than that, the sound effects, the ambient sounds, the screams – all top-notch… Except for one. Beep. Beep. BEEP! Seriously, the ‘I’m out of stamina, so I’m going to annoy you with this irritating Beep noise!’ was rather annoying. I got used to it, but please, let us turn it off/down!
Overall then, If you haven’t guessed it, I loved the game. The story had me hooked and intrigued, and although it was kind of predictable, the story did take a spin after the predictable parts occurred – as I thought I was at the end yet I was merely halfway through when something happened. The combat was okay, it does get a little repetitive if you don’t mix up the skills and weapons, but it’s a solid mechanic and it’s easy enough to learn how to correctly handle yourself. The interesting part is how #AllLivesMatter – if you let someone die or you suck the life from someone, then the next day that area will be affected by people less willing to talk, an increase in enemy patrols, or the merchant charging more for life-essential items. I’m used to this mechanic being in adventure games and certain story-based games, but for it to appear and work so well in an action-RPG orientated game was really cool to experience and play through.
What I would say is, don’t go into the game expecting a ‘Souls’ level of difficulty, even though the combat is similar, similarly, don’t go into the game expecting it to be a breeze like Sherlock Holmes (as it reminded me a lot of the Frogware games). It lies somewhere in the middle where the combat is a little easier yet the enemies scale along-side you and keeps you on your toes whilst you are searching for clues and answers everywhere in order to solve the many mysteries. If you do die over and over again, go kill some random dudes on the street, go do a side quest then rest and level up, or even just use a different weapon or modify your current weapon set. Just don’t give up and you’ll eventually get through it. The story is worth it, even if the ending is a bit meh.
Vampyr is a brilliant game from Dontnod Entertainment which exceeds in its storytelling, atmosphere, music, and design. Will you embrace the hunger within yourself and devour all of the citizens in order to make yourself stronger, or will you remain mentally strong and resist the urge as you investigate the source of the strange epidemic? It may take you a while to become accustomed to the controls if you’ve not played a Souls-like game before, but once you’re used to them then the game becomes a lot more fun to play.
There are many interesting and unique characters to meet, lots of side quests to work through, and tonnes of places to visit as you wander around early 20th century Victorian London in the dead of night. I had a few issues with the stamina bar running out too soon and making a noise, and a few spikes of difficulty, but nothing impacted the fun I was having and nothing will stop me from recommending this to anyone who likes adventure, action or Souls-like games.
- Very interesting story with a few surprises
- The combat is solid once you get the hand of it
- The living NPCs are amazing, every life matters as you decide who should live and who should die
- The music and the overall graphical setting of the game fully immerses you and works perfectly
- Every smain and side mission is different, with it's own story and character - not just simple fetch quests
- The loading times upon death and moving to new areas is quite long
- The aspect of the 'blood' could have been used better as you never really had an urge or thirst for it, it was only used for special attacks and healing
- The ending was a bit 'meh'
- The combat could be seen as repetitive and monotonous if you don't mix it up and experiment with new weapons and skills.