Review: Vampyr (2018)

Vampyr puts a refreshing twist on the traditional RPG where decisions really do have consequences.

In the latest release from Dontnod Entertainment, you step into the gothic atmospheric world of early 20th century London. Coming from the studio that brought us Life is Strange (2015), Vampyr puts you into the shoes of a renowned doctor who has recently become a vampire. Dr Jonathan Reid must come to terms with this new condition and fight the urge to drink the blood of his patients, all whilst using his medical expertise to save London from an epidemic. Vampyr forces you to maintain the doctor-vampire balance by making difficult decisions that will affect not just you but the world around you.

Vampyr’s protagonist, Jonathan Reid is a talented doctor whose research into blood transfusion has gained the admiration of his peers. After serving in the army during World War I, Jonathan returns to London where the war and the Spanish flu epidemic has left the city crippled. Upon his arrival, he is violently attacked and left for dead, but soon reawakens with a thirst for blood. With the help of a new friend, Jonathan begins working the night-shift at a hospital which allows him to hide his new identity in plain sight and put his medial knowledge to good use.

Vampyr is very much based around keeping London healthy, which of course becomes a problem when the doctor doing the upkeep is a bloodthirsty vampire. The game’s open world is divided into districts each of which have their own health rating, and as a doctor it is your responsibility to keep the citizens of these districts as healthy as possible. Whether you take the lifesaving doctor route or the path of the life taking vampire is up to you, but everything that Dr Reid does contributes to the overall health of the city.

The character of Dr Jonathan Reid is very apprehensive about killing and feeding on his fellow citizens but this is the easiest and fastest way to level up, as feeding offers much more XP than combat and completing missions. This is where district health ratings come into play. Each citizen you meet will have a different blood quality, and blood quality affects how much XP you will get from feeding. If someone has low blood quality, you will not receive as much XP by feeding on them than you would by feeding on someone with a higher rating. In order to increase a citizen’s rating, you would need to make them healthy by giving them medicine or by grinding to improve the overall health rating of the district they live in. The option to simply feed on citizen’s who already have a high blood quality is there, but the choices that you make in this game have consequences which is why choosing to feed on citizens based solely on the quality of their blood is not a good idea. Instead you must interact with NPC’s to learn more about them and the potential consequences of feeding. This becomes a huge part of the game that is probably more enjoyable than the story.

Before killing someone, you must first get to know them. Find out if they’re good or bad, who is in their social circle and who depends on them. The more you talk to them the more you will learn and, in the process, will improve the quality of their blood, giving you extra XP if you choose to sink your teeth into them. A morbid way of looking at it is that in talking to NPC’s you’re essentially preparing your next meal by interrogating them to find out the domino effect of them dying. The balance between keeping London alive and healthy and keeping yourself alive is a very interesting concept. They both bounce off of each other and you must take each into account when thinking about the other. The relationships you have with other characters is almost like a game in itself. Everyone you meet has unique and interesting stories that really reinforce the game’s setting. You can easily forget about the story and spend hours talking and getting to know characters. Luckily the game is fully voice acted, otherwise the amount of talking could very easily be off putting to some people.

Talking to citizens’ is also how side missions are unlocked. Side missions usually involve Dr Reid tackling mundane tasks that have nothing to do with the story. This is great for levelling up, but these side missions often take you to other districts that, level-wise, you shouldn’t be in. This isn’t so much an issue later in the game when you’ve had a chance to level up, but early on it can be very frustrating.

Usually with RPG’s you collect XP and level up as you go, but Vampyr does things a little differently as it is very similar to a turn-based game. Each night acts as your turn; you accumulate all your XP by completing missions or feeding on citizens, but to use that XP to level up and unlock new abilities you must go to sleep which ends your turn. The consequences of killing or healing citizens also uses a turn-based system. For example, if you give someone medicine they won’t recover until the next night, or if you kill someone their body won’t be found until the next night. You’re free to choose when your turn ends but it is important that you do as much as possible during the night so that you can level up faster. The levelling system is fairly straight forward. You can choose to level up passive and active skills. Passive skills are things like your health and blood level, and active skills are your aggressive, defensive, and tactical vampiric abilities. XP is much harder to get if you’re not feeding on citizens. The game doesn’t necessarily encourage you to feed but warns you that the less you feed the harder the game will be, so if feeding isn’t your thing it might be a good idea to upgrade your passive skills before anything else.

Vampyr has a very interesting concept and gameplay style that works very well but what lets it down is its combat. Fighting is a big part of the game but the clunky movements of Dr Reid means that combat is not very exciting, especially when fighting a tougher enemy boils down to the same loop of dodging and hitting over and over.

While the combat itself could be better, what’s interesting is the health, stamina, and blood level that you need to micromanage while trying to defeat your enemy. Obviously, you need to keep your health bar to stay alive and stamina to dodge and attack, but you need blood to power your vampiric abilities and the only way to get blood is to bite your enemy. It’s very difficult to defeat enemies without using your powers so biting becomes a very important part of combat that you need to juggle with attacking and dodging.

Vampyr has taken the traditional RPG genre and has given it an interesting twist. You have a responsibility to save the city from an epidemic and your actions can very easily make or break that. You’re encouraged to get heavily involved in the lives of every character which not only offers so much extra gameplay but does what very few games do and gets you personally invested in every story and really makes you think about your decisions.

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