Review – Vampyr
Dontnod Entertainment has made a name for themselves by creating heavy narrative-driven titles such as Remember Me and Life is Strange. While these were beautifully told stories and emotional journeys worth experiencing, none of these games have really offered much in the way of actual gameplay. Dontnod recently took a bold step forward into new territory with their latest title, Vampyr, which not only offers a deep storyline, but a somewhat dynamic combat system for their first action-adventure RPG.
Vampyr takes place in London in 1918 during the first World War, in the midst of the Spanish Flu epidemic. You play as protagonist Dr. Johnathan Reid, who awakens in the middle of a pile of corpses who were unlucky victims of the flu epidemic. Uncertain of what has happened to you and controlled by an insatiable hunger, you take to the streets in search of answers.
Along the way you’ll meet many interesting characters who all have their own backstories and observations about what is going on with the people around you, as well as the area you’re in. Speaking with these NPCs opens up new dialogue options with other characters, as well as hints into numerous investigations Dr. Reid will conduct throughout Vampyr. You don’t necessarily need to uncover every answer to every investigation you’ll come across, but if you’re looking for the richest experience Vampyr has to offer, you’ll want to fully flesh out everyone’s personal quests.
The map of London in Vampyr is broken up into districts. Each district has a level of overall health that determines how many NPCs are sick and how many creatures are roaming the streets. If you take the time to heal the sick people (you are a doctor after all) and keep the district’s health up, less vampires will be out in the open, trade items will be cheaper and in more plentiful amounts, and more quests will be available to you. If you let the district’s health go unattended and if it falls completely, monsters will overrun the area and people will either die or go missing.
Now, Vampyr is unique in a few different ways. First of all, you have the option to feed on any of the NPCs you encounter, as long as your Mesmerize level is high enough. Naturally, you’ll increase these levels through game progression. Feeding on an NPC gives you a huge XP bonus that you can use to increase your powers. Be forewarned though, feeding on a character instantly kills them. This brings me to the next unique trait in Vampyr: if an NPC dies, it’s permadeath for them and you’ll never be able to finish their quests or receive their dialogue hints regarding other people.
To some of you, this might not be a big deal, especially if you’re planning on going through a bloodthirsty rampage through London. If you’re trying to get the fullest story or go through a pacifist run, then this is critically important to remember. Every decision you make has a consequence. Many are small and just affect the narrative a bit, but some are huge and alter the game significantly. Choose wisely!
My biggest problem with Vampyr is its pacing. The beginning of the game is very dialogue-heavy, and most of it is fairly uninteresting. I understand that they need to introduce you to the different people in the game, but when you spend the first few hours talking to everyone about their depressing life stories, it doesn’t exactly result in the most riveting of gameplays. Once you start going on more missions to the sewers and other districts, the game starts to finally pick up the pace. After unlocking more hints about various characters, their stories become much more intriguing. The combat sections and discussion sections needed to be broken up a little more for better fluidity.
I have to say that after pushing through a lot of the dry conversations in the beginning, I found that a lot of the characters had fascinating levels of depth. When trying to decide who to feed on, I tried to choose the people I felt were the biggest jerks or most dangerous. However, Vampyr did a wonderful job of creating complex characters that start off seeming one way and, upon further investigation, you end up sympathizing with. Nearly everyone is a sorry soul trying to survive in such harsh and ever degenerating world.
The combat in Vampyr could definitely use some work. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just that the game wasn’t difficult to the point where you needed a lot of the bigger moves. I was originally going to do a pacifist run, but decided to feed an a couple people to gain enough XP to purchase some to the stronger powers so I could get the truest feel of what Vampyr had to offer.
The advanced moves had some awesome animations, but I still found myself mainly relying on dodging, quick strikes, and healing myself. As long as you level up your health, stamina, and blood capacity, there’s not much necessity for the higher vampiric powers. This is one area I think they could have improved upon: truly putting the player in the position where they have to enter the morally gray area of needing to feed in order to survive. As it stands, a pacifist run in Vampyr isn’t that difficult of an achievement.
While the combat animations were done very well, the character animations were all over the place. Most people, especially Dr. Reid, are very stiff and stilted, or just straight up fidgety. I was reminded of the animations in Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect. While the character designs are decent enough, they tend to move around like puppets. I got distracted many times while talking to people because their mouths weren’t syncing up with the audio and they were swaying around like they were drunk the whole time. Considering only one character in the game was suppose to be drunk, I felt the gyrating around was an odd animation choice.
In a game so heavy with dialogue, good voice acting is key to successfully selling the story you’re trying to weave. Fortunately, Vampyr does have some very strong acting for the most part. There were only a couple of characters that borderlined on the absurd. The music is another high point for Vampyr. The instrumental score was mainly dark and brooding: appropriate for the moodiness of the game. During battles, it intensifies to further convey the dangers you are facing.
Vampyr is a bit of a slow burner, but if you can get past the boring beginning, you’ll be rewarded with a fun and unusual take on the vampire genre. It does have its flaws, but I’d still highly recommend giving it a playthrough, especially if you like games that focus more strongly on character development and deep stories. I’d love to see a sequel (they definitely left it open for one) where they can build upon the foundation they’ve laid and iron out the kinks. If they can do that, they’ll have something truly special.
The environments are very well done. The character designs are pretty decent, but the NPC animations are either stiff or simply ridiculous.
The combat can be pretty fun when you have more creative moves at you disposal, but its lack of difficulty will have you mainly dodging and striking.
Very good overall voice acting and a musical score that appropriately ranges from somber to fervent.
The beginning goes by at a snail’s pace, but then it picks up and brings an interesting experience to a creative new take on vampire lore.
Final Verdict: 7.5
Vampyr is available now on Xbox One, Switch, PS4, and PC.
Reviewed on Xbox One.