Impulse – ‘A sudden strong and unreflective urge or desire to act.’
I was feeling it. The need to take the easy route. Walking through the streets of London and getting jumped by four very strong Hunters was’t pleasant. I was weak. I’d done well so far not to feed on anyone to ultimately maintain my cover, but my urges were growing stronger. Do I go back and feed on poor Tom Watts just to get an edge in battle? My impulses were driving me wild.
Welcome, to the world of Vampyr.
A ‘slight’ departure from their last style of game, DOTNOD brings you Vampyr; a tale of Dr Jonathan Reid and his journey to find his maker, all while trying to stop the rampaging sickness spreading throughout London. The game takes place in 1918 at the height of the Spanish Flu, the streets rife with the sick, and morale generally on the decline. You start the story face down in your own grave, awakening with an insatiable hunger. Everything is a blur and the only thing you can see is the one thing you desire… Blood. It’s not long before you find your first victim and sink your teeth into their neck, only to tragically discover that it’s your own Sister, who came looking for you. Shortly after, dazed and confused, you are chased off by hunters and forced to hide, trying to make sense of what just happened. It’s a heavy hitting start designed to really push the bleakness of your situation. It’s not long however before answers start to present themselves in the form of your first ally, Dr Swansea. He kindly offers you a position as a night surgeon at his Hospital, giving you the perfect cover for being a Vampire, in turn allowing you freedom to go about your day (night).
The main gimmick of this game is ‘consequence’ and everything you do will have an effect on your surroundings. It comes into focus early on as you walk around the Hospital and meet a whole host of people from Patients to Nurses, all who you can actually lead off to a quiet room, and drink their blood. You’re probably thinking ‘well that’s easy then, kill everyone and get more powerful’. While this is true, you do gain a lot of XP from draining citizens, it will also have an effect on the community. Each district has a health meter and you can see each individual inhabitant, where they are situated, who is the ‘Pillar’ of that community and also how healthy they are. As more of the citizens die off or become sick, the lower the state of the district becomes to a point where it could be pure chaos and very dangerous for you. And people do of course get sick. Luckily enough there a good doctor on hand to craft all manners of elixirs and potions to help ease peoples suffering. From common colds to pneumonia, there is a cure for most things and in doing will improve the over health of community.
You can gain insight in the lives of each citizen by simply talking to them. Each character has their own agenda a sub story going on and it’s up to you how deep you go. In uncovering their secrets and unlocking more dialogue, the healthier their blood becomes potentially providing a better ‘meal’ later on. This also keeps the district healthy too so once again the choice is yours. The first couple of hours can be a little slow with the script lacking in areas, but, as the story progresses, things thankfully pick up. You get to know more interesting characters and you are forced to make choices that have a great impact on the narrative, with a few plot twists thrown in for good measure.
The game at this point almost becomes a hybrid. Part ‘Town Management Sim’ and part RPG, where you, the fledgling Ekon (a type of Vampire), strive to get stronger so you can survive the Hunters, and achieve your goal. You could also throw some Mass Effect style dialogue choices in there with a dash of Bloodborne aesthetics just to polish it off. That’s quite the mix there.
As you would expect, the levelling system is quite simplistic in nature. Defeat the enemies, do the mission, drink the blood and level up. When you have enough XP, you rest, choose which skills you want to invest in and wake up the next night feeling stronger. You can take simple upgrades like increasing health and stamina, or you can spend your points on adding a little Vampiric flair to combat, turning your own blood into a spear to throw at your enemies or turning into mist to gain a tactical advantage. There’s also a whole host of weapons on offer, all found around the different areas in London. You can equip axes, swords and other similar weapons in your main hand to do the majority of your damage, and also include off-hand weapons such as steaks and guns to supplement you in the fight. The combat system itself does nothing new. You can attack, parry or dodge, akin to most third person action adventure games. If you’re used to games that do it better (like the Arkham games for instance), this initially might seem a little jarring. But, its only a slight adjustment. It won’t take long before dodging becomes second nature, and you are blinking behind your opponents to stun them with the steak so you can sink your teeth into their necks. You will also do well to not stray off the main path early game. Vampyr is open world but it really does steer you in one direction, making enemies you find off the beaten path, incredibly difficult. I walked around the wrong corner in my first hour and got one shot by a Hunter. I didn’t go back down that ally for a while.
The setting itself is wonderful. I haven’t been so enamoured by aesthetics like this since playing Bloodborne. As the ‘epidemic’ spreads, the streets are mostly quiet as the healthy stay indoors, with the only signs of life appearing in the main districts where people feel safe. 1918 London feels great (unless you are sick). You, the dapper doctor, smartly walking through the West End casually chatting up the denizens, really takes you back to that time. DOTNOD did their research and it shows. That being said (and it is difficult with larger games), I really would like to see what Vampyr would have looked like on a different engine. A slight graphical upgrade is needed just to give a tiny bit more polish to the character models (mainly NPCs) as when compared to other current gen games, they can come across looking slightly dated, which is a shame, considering the game is generally pretty. I say slightly however with a capital S.
It seems like an age since we’ve had a proper Vampire game. The last time I remember playing one (I enjoyed) was in the Legacy of Kain series. Even then it was only Blood Omen where you played the traditional vampire so the chance to jump in similar shoes was appealing. Vampyr seems to satiate that hunger quite efficiently. Vampires of lore are complex creatures, humans once mortal, given immense power and left to struggle with the transition. ‘Do I kill?’, ‘Can I justify it?’. You see these questions asked all the time in other media. The closest comparison I could draw was Anne Rice’s ‘Interview with the Vampire’, a tale of a man turned, trying his hardest not to kill innocents. To get the opportunity to do that here will be much needed for fans of Vampires, given them the chance to go through that struggle themselves and find out what they would do in that situation. It would seem here, that DOTNOD have handled it very well. You have the time to get to know people, live in (and manage) their city, deciding their fates. Each decision carrying immense gravitas on your surroundings.
Will you stick to your Hippocratic Oath, or will the lust for power drive your impulses over the edge?
Pick up Vampyr and find out.
Vampyr was reviewed on PC and is out on 5th June!