Sponsored By: Carlisle Cullen (Spoiler: Not Really)
Time Vamping: 6 hours, but what is time to an immortal being?
What would you do if you had all the time in the world? Would you try to help people? Or would you play a video game?
I opted for video game, and I’m not unhappy with the choice.
Vampyr is not the game I thought it was going to be. I was expecting the ability to choose which kind of vampire I’d be evolving into, be that the monstrous Nosferatu model, or the posh Count Dracula type, and everything in between. This is not that game. That game already exists, and I won’t insult your intelligence by naming it because a) you already know what it is and b) that title takes forever to type. Seriously, all this talk online about Steam curation and not one person has proposed a ban on games with that take a whole tweet to name. #thestruggleisreal
So no, Vampyr isn’t a spiritual successor to the vampire game: with the second title: and the third title. It’s a stock-standard action RPG with some vampire lore mixed in.
And I am okay with that.
You play as a newborn vampire who happens to be a doctor who invented a revolutionary blood-transfusion technique, (they named it Vampyr because On-The-Nosferatu didn’t have quite that same ring to it) and you’re out to find the monster who did this to you. Before you can do that, you have to do a bunch of side quests for people who drop their H's like bard abbots – or not, if you decide to go the full Vlad and just drink everyone.
Depending on the choices you make, this could have been a very short game, except it’s an RPG, which means who you can eat and when is determined by what the protagonist of the game would call "maths." See, you can’t just bite anyone who strikes your fancy. You have to subdue them with a dialog prompt that makes them follow you to some dark corner where you are then given the option to eat or release them. It’s kind of like sport fishing, really. You might snag something good, or you might wind up with someone who needs to grow a bit before you feel comfortable bringing it on the boat.
Which is where the game wanders into perverse incentive territory. Eating people gives you experience points to spend on leveling up your character, but eating them too soon means you get less experience than if you’d spent some time getting to know them better and doing their loyalty missions. Basically, it’s a BioWare game in reverse: The more you do for a character, the more incentive there is to kill them.
Delving further into that territory, I should note that the more you get to know the denizens of a given neighborhood, the less you’re inclined to like them. They’re not nice people. Many of them are thieves, some of them are murderers, and just about all of them are plain obnoxious. The developers created a system where the more a character is worth, the less you care about them. This is a problem, because all of the dramatic tension inherent to the character relies on you, the player, not wanting to murder everyone.
Mechanically, then, the developers added an enforced morality system to provide you with a reason that the writing fails to provide. The game is broken up into neighborhoods that have a handful of people wandering around in them, and each neighborhood has a “health” bar that’s determined by the total cumulative experience points of the non-vampires living in it. If you level a character all the way up, the neighborhood gets “healthier,” which means … not a lot, actually. If the health of a neighborhood drops low enough, the remaining people will abandon it, which means you won’t be able to play vampire Pokémon (Gotta suck ‘em all!).
And maybe there are some narrative implications, but let’s face it: You’re a vampire. There isn’t going to be a “good” ending.
It’s like an Ubisoft game, except when people say the ending sucks, they mean it ironically.
Will I keep sucking?
I may just see this one out to the end. The combat is engaging enough to keep me interested, and the option to become overpowered in an RPG is one of my favorite things about RPGs. Also, I like the fact that if I fail to select the right dialog option, and thereby seal off a questline, I can just eat the person, so it’s never a complete loss.
On balance, Vampyr is a well crafted game with some nifty ideas that appear to be executed well.
Is it the Dark Souls of Dark Shadows?
Vampyr has a couple of things going for it when it comes to the Dark Souls question. The combat is souls-ish in that it’s heavily based on timing your animations and countering rather than just slashing your way through everything. The only way it comes close to that old Dark Souls difficulty, though, is if you decide to not eat anyone. If you don’t feed, you don’t level up as much, and therefore you don’t become as overpowered. I spent a fair amount of time beating my head against the first boss before I decided to go back to base and spend some of my experience points. Depending on how long the game is, if I persist in not eating any people then I can see the fights getting much harder and making Vampyr a contender for the Dark Souls of vampire RPGs.
But since the difficulty is optional, I’m going to say that Vamypr is only optionally the Dark Souls of vampire RPGs.