Vampyr is the latest project by the studio behind Life is Strange, Dontnod Entertainment, and after years of development, the vampire RPG set in open-world 1918 London is almost here. With promises of consequences of your vampiric actions, can Vampyr do the one thing that most games fail to do; make you feel bad about killing?
We’ve spent hours talking to infected Londoners, battling Ekons and embracing our vampiric side in Vampyr, and here’s our review.
Pricing and platforms
Vampyr is set for release on PS4, Xbox One and PC tomorrow, 5 June 2018, and those interested can pre-order the game from a number of retailers. You can head to Amazon (£40.99), the PlayStation Store (£49.99), the Microsoft Store (£49.99) or GAME (£40.99) - those that pick up a physical copy from GAME will also gain access to the Hunters Heirlooms DLC. If you want to pick it up on PC, you can also head to Steam (£44.99).
Those in the US have similar options; as well as the PlayStation Store ($59.99) and Microsoft Store ($59.99), you can head to Amazon ($59.99), Best Buy ($59.99) and Gamestop ($59.99) to pick up a copy of the game ahead of launch.
Vampyr takes place following the Great War, in 1918 London. As well as being devastated by the first world war, the citizens of London are caught in the midst of an epidemic; the Spanish Flu is spreading rapidly among citizens with… interesting effects. While Government officials try to contain the infection and maintain order, ancient Vampiric societies, occult scholars and vampire hunters all try to take advantage of the chaos and compete for dominance.
One man looking to change that is Dr Jonathan Reid, a talented surgeon and new-born Ekon after catching the Spanish flu while stationed in Rouen. But while vampires need to drink blood to survive, Jonathan’s medical background mean it’s not quite as simple as that. Jonathan wants to help people and cure the epidemic that is plaguing London, turning its residents into vampires of all shapes and sizes. He took an oath to heal those in need, after all!
Vampyr is an open-world RPG comprised of four districts – the Hospital, the Docks, Whitechapel and the West End – and while it’s smaller in scale compared to other open-world games, the omission of a fast-travel mechanic really helps make the world feel large and varied. You’re forced to go it on foot, exploring the dark, mysterious alleys of London and taking on any dangers that you encounter.
The main focus of the game is on choice: whether you’re deciding how to respond to a question, or whether you’re deciding if you should feed on one of the 60 citizens available in the game, the consequences will be apparent. There is a temptation to kill the citizens that you come across, as you’ll level up faster and make combat and other elements of the game much easier, but there are consequences too.
NPCs (non-player characters) in the different districts have relationships with one-another, and by feeding on a potentially important character, you could lose out on valuable quests and have a knock-on effect on other residents’ moods and actions. It’s more than that though; each district has a rating, and when that rating drops below 50 percent (due to death and illness), the district becomes unstable. At that point, citizens will begin to go missing and vampires will begin roaming the streets, making it much more dangerous for everyone involved.
If you do decide to take the plunge and kill, or, ahem, ‘embrace’ someone, you feel the importance of the event. Classical choir music created by BADA nominee composer Olivier Deriviere intensifies, the screen goes red and you hear the dying thoughts of the person you’ve just killed. It’s an incredibly intense, emotional few seconds, and is one of the greatest mechanics in the game.
Gamers usually want to become as powerful as possible – especially in an RPG about vampires – but the impact that death has, along with the characters dying thoughts, are enough to make you feel something for the characters and plant seeds of doubt in your mind about whether you’ve made the right choice.
But unlike most games, you don’t automatically gain XP upon feeding on citizens and taking down dangerous vamps. You’ll collect your XP and much like in Final Fantasy 15, you’ll have to rest to absorb the powers of fresh blood and upgrade your powers. It’s not as simple as that, though; every time you sleep, you’ll see the effects of your actions across all four districts; infected people will become critically ill, and citizens you didn’t save the night before go missing, bringing the district’s rating down.
If you snooze several times in a short period without going out into the world and healing its residents, you’ll find all four districts falling into chaos sooner rather than later. It’s a balancing act between healing and killing citizens, as well as levelling up. Don’t do it too often is our advice!
The temptation to constantly level up will be there, though. You’ll come across several types of Vampire on your travels, and as you progress through the districts, they quickly become more powerful and difficult to beat. Alongside Ekons, the immortal beings closest to the traditional Vampire stereotype, you’ll come across Skals most often; the most basic kind of vampire, most are victims of attacks and are feral compared to other entities on the vampiric family tree. You’ll also come across Ichors; mutated, poisonous vampires that spread the epidemic and attack anybody that comes close, and Vulkods. Vulkods are powerful, primitive, deadly, and are often mistaken for werewolves by humans.
It’s almost Dark Souls-esque in how punishing the combat can be, especially if you refuse to feed on citizens blood and upgrade your vampiric abilities (it is technically possible to complete the game without killing a single citizen!). But while you’ll find it punishing at times – especially during boss fights – it just makes you feel even better when you finally take the enemies down. Some vampiric abilities work well in conjunction with each other, allowing you to chain several abilities together for devastating effect, whether you’re human or vampire.
It’s down to you to experiment with what works and what doesn’t, and the different styles of combat used by the various enemies you encounter should keep you on your toes.
Alongside your vampiric abilities, you’ve got a range of melee weapons available. From swords to bludgeons, stakes to guns, there’s a weapon that suits your individual play style. All the weapons and other items that you come across as you explore London can be upgraded from workbenches found in your hideouts, so you can continue to improve and add unique attributes to your weapon of choice.
Citizens aren’t just for chomping on though; branching conversation trees provide hints about the various characters you come across, and can provide interesting side quests that provide more background information on the story, the area and more. You’ll see how the residents are related to one another, and how killing one character could have an effect on several others in the area. You can also decide to heal sick people if you have the treatment available, though whether it’s to help the district’s rating or to improve the quality of their blood before feeding on them is down to you.
It’s a similar story with the main storyline. It’s engaging, emotional but, most importantly, it’s shaped by you and the decisions you make. Will you forgive, embrace or use your vampiric powers of persuasion to get what you want?
SHOULD I BUY VAMPYR?
If you’re looking for a story-focused RPG, Vampyr is a solid option. It offers in-depth conversation options, game-changing choices to make and an intriguing storyline full of plot twists and betrayal.
But it’s much more than that too; combat is satisfying, especially as you unlock new vampiric abilities and upgrade your weaponry, and the world feels more alive than most open world games. Every person you see has a name, a story and relationships with other characters in the game, and deciding to feed on them can have a knock-on effect on the community and availability of quests.
But it’s the way that Vampyr makes you feel bad for killing citizens that makes it impressive – I’ve never felt more guilty playing a game in my life.