After returning from the Great War, you, a renowned military surgeon, are faced with a dilemma you never thought was possible. A deadly plague is spreading through London, and somehow you find yourself in the midst of a supernatural world. Perhaps things happen for a reason. What will be your reason? As DONTNOD tells… “Cursed be the choice.”
From the creator’s of Life is Strange, comes Vampyr, DONTNOD Entertainment’s newest Action RPG, throwing us into a realm of vampirism we have never seen before. The game was published by Focus Home Interactive and released Worldwide on 5 June 2018. Interestingly enough, the developers considered placing the setting of the game in 1950s America, but fortunately opted to go for the more gothic and British setting, during the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic in London. Anthony Howell, who also voiced a character in the Dracula TV-Series, voices the main protagonist, Jonathan Reid. DONTNOD put a fair amount of effort into the game, even visiting the locations you are able to explore in the game, and doing field research on said districts. What is the result of all the effort?
A Story of Blood
The story takes place in 1918, and follows Jonathan E. Reid, a doctor and medical surgeon who specialises in blood transfusion, quite ironically. After the Great War, he travels back to England to visit his ill mother, only to be attacked by an unseen force and be left for dead. However, this was not an accident. Jonathan later wakes up on top of a pile of decomposing bodies, being awakened by an unknown voice to be reborn as a vampire. After some unfortunate event that takes places shortly after his awakening, Jonathan vows to find the one responsible for Jonathan’s new condition, and make them pay. This is Jonathan’s intention, and at first is thought to be the focus for the main story, but slowly the true story gets revealed the more you play. You start off with many questions, much like one would after your life gets “flipped-turned upside-down” into a world of supernatural creatures you first thought were only things of myths.
During your initial thrust into this new world, you meet two important characters; Lady Ashbury, who also happens to be a vampire, or rather an “Ekon” as she puts it. The other is a doctor, Doctor Swansea, who currently heads up an operation in Pembroke Hospital to assist many of the afflicted of London, but he is also part of a secret organisation who has been researching and involved in the world of Vampires. The Brotherhood of Saint Paul is full of mysteries as well, which you will be able to reveal more and more about during the course of the game. Unfortunately, the Brotherhood isn’t the only secret organisation in London. One such is called the Guard of Priwen, who are notorious vampire hunters, and are a constant agitation during the game. You later join Swansea at Pembroke Hospital to help with the patients, creating medicines to help cure any ailments that are worsening their conditions, while you investigate the mystery behind your unknown maker, and the cause of the epidemic.
The story is one that evolves as you play. It isn’t clear from the get-go, although clues get strewn about everywhere and once you get to the crux of the cause of everything, it all starts to make sense, which isn’t always an easy thing to get right. The way the story evolves makes sense. New revelations suddenly appear out of nowhere, but still within context, and questions start to get answered when you pay attention to what is happening around you and to the dialogues you get to take part in. If you skip most of the dialogue options, you will miss a lot of important details and feel like the game is incomplete, when it actually isn’t. Even though the game has quite a bit of hack-and-slash mechanics and a lot of fighting, that isn’t all there is to this game. The story goes quite deep, so deep in fact, that the Notes you gather as Collectibles will also carry a bit of info on the story of the game, although if you didn’t read them, you’ll get a decent amount of info out of the other NPCs that you can speak to. The notes will give even more lore which is quite fascinating to read, to be honest.
Take A Bite… Or Not
As is customary for a DONTNOD game, Vampyr is a game that makes you face moral dilemmas, specifically whether or not you should suck the blood of innocent Citizens to get stronger. Naturally, this is a vampire game, and player’s would want to explore this facet to the fullest, so they had to find a different reason beyond merely that Jonathan’s personal conviction is that he doesn’t want to give in to his new thirst and kill innocent people who are also trying to live their lives. The game has multiple endings, one being a true pacifist ending, and another being what could be considered a full-on genocide ending (this sounds familiar…), and a few more endings in-between. To get the pacifist ending, you need to kill NO ONE, except for the enemies that attack you and want your head on their swords or your tasty thighs… You’ll get what I mean in a moment… Basically any innocent civilian must be alive at the end of the game. Even one particular Citizen that doesn’t deserve to be alive, which makes no sense to me, because his future plans are that of corrupt morals, so I wonder where DONTNOD went wrong on that front. Then again, the specifics of the pacifist ending are a bit hazy, so to be safe, nobody under the Citizen category is allowed to be dead.
So what? That sounds easy, doesn’t it? What if I told you the game difficulty depends on how many people you “Embrace” (or rather, drain their blood). You gain experience a few ways, most notably by draining Citizen’s blood. Every Citizen has what is called “Blood Quality”, which starts out relatively small, until you converse with them and other Citizens in the surrounding to find out more about them. Somehow this increases their Blood Quality, because you find out Hints about their personal lives, and once you confront them about these Hints, you will be able to unlock more and improve their Blood Quality further, until you’ve found all their Hints. The higher their Blood Quality, the more XP you will gain. There are certain dialogue choices that will close off a Hint forever, unfortunately. Curing their illnesses will also improve the Citizen’s Blood Quality. Another less notable but effective method to gaining a lot of XP is by finishing missions, and the more thorough you are in the mission, the more XP it will reward you. This game discourages you to take the easy way out of missions, by giving small amounts of XP if you don’t complete the Investigation (this is what side-quests are called) to its fullest.
You are also able to gain XP through healing Citizens of ailments, although this only gives you +25XP per cure. What about killing enemies? No matter how strong they are, you will always, only, get +5XP per kill, except for bosses that is. In my pacifist playthrough, I frequently killed enemies multiple levels higher than me, and it did not earn me a single Experience Point more. The only reward you get is the satisfaction of knowing you are superior in skill to an enemy that is ten levels higher than you. If you don’t kill Citizens, you are basically playing the game on Extra Hard Mode and no matter what, you will always be several levels lower than the enemies in the game. Doing this however ensures you will get the harder achievements on your first playthrough, if you’re a completionist like me, and can then get the rest later on. The save mechanic is rather odd. There is only one Save Slot for your current playthrough, and another 2 for other playthroughs, and the reason for this is that DONTNOD wanted to give you a sense of “finality” to your decisions in the game, as the game autosaves after a decision, conversation, or even change of location, and yes, your decisions do have an impact on the course of the story and the way people act. The game focuses a lot on small details, which I quite enjoyed. (Such as the colour of Jonathan’s eyes, depending on how many people you have “embraced”)
Walking in Blood and Shadow
Once you’ve gained XP, you can spend them on skills when you go to sleep in a Hideout. There are quite a plethora of Active and Passive Abilities you can spend the XP on when you get the chance, and the more you spend, the higher you level up. The skills you use will get used during combat, obviously, but there is a catch. The Combat Mechanics is totally different from what I expected, and was actually quite enjoyable. You needed to strategise, because some NPCs would be resistant to certain types of attacks. The level of resistance is shown by one of two colours, either orange or red, orange being moderate resistance, and red being major resistance, meaning almost no damage will be done if you use, for example, a Shadow Ability on them. The attacks are split into four categories: Melee, Ranged, Shadow, and Blood. You get weapons that you are able to fight with as well, but there are certain Abilities that you gain that will fall into these categories as well. Ranged is the only one that doesn’t necessarily, and will only be achieved by use of a Gun.
Jonathan also has three bars that get used during combat. The standard health bar, along with a stamina bar that gets depleted when you run, dodge, or attack, and also a blood bar that you will use to activate abilities. One of my favourite types of weapons to use was a Barbed Cudgel, because it did a fairly decent amount of damage and applied Stun points to the enemy, even though it was relatively stamina-hungry. Once they’re fully stunned, you can drain your enemies of some of their blood and gain Blood Points if you’ve depleted some. You can even upgrade your weapons by gathering materials from enemies after fights, or buying them from Stores in different districts. You are also able to increase your Health, Stamina, and Blood capacity to be able to endure longer in a fight, and I would certainly encourage you to spend a majority of your points there if you do a Pacifist playthrough. Draining your enemies blood allows for a temporary break in the fight, which recharges your stamina while you’re sucking away at your opponent’s blood. What I found quite funny was how the poor guy’s fellow soldiers just stand around watching you drain his blood instead of trying to do something about it. I’d feel quite betrayed if that were the case. The fight only recommences once your opponent manages to break away of your hold.
Playing the game on a Pacifist playthrough was exceedingly hard, but still very enjoyable and rewarding. The one time, I managed to beat a Level 32 Boss, while I was a piddly Level 21. It took a fairly long time, because one hit from this monster took away half of my health, and I had to take advantage of his lumbering size by being faster than him and exploiting the abilities he was weak to, but when I eventually got him down, I felt like I could take on the world! That feeling was quickly killed when I had to figure out how to take out 4 Rogue Ghouls/Skals (lesser crazed vampires that want your tasty thighs) that were also around Level 30 and 31. My brain worked overtime to come up with a strategy on how to beat that situation, but I managed, and I needed to take advantage of the temporary respites when stunning and draining these enemies and using my Ultimate Shadow abilities. One last pointer, if you happen to see a citizen is in need of help, and you go to sleep, the following morning that Citizen will be dead. I once unfortunately went to spend a massive amount of XP I had hoarded while a Citizen was in need of my help, intending on going to help them once I was stronger, only to wake up and find out they were dead… I reloaded a backup of a Save I had made and made my way back there to help this citizen out.
Vampyr has a few flaws, like the very small bits of graphical glitches every now and then with certain NPCs hair or when an enemy gets spawned in and they stand around in a T-Pose, but it happened to rarely that it merely gave the game a bit of character in my opinion. Some people might find this annoying but I didn’t mind it too much, especially because it fixed itself after a while. Aside from this, the game is quite solid and very unique. We get shown a whole different realm of vampirism, and I must say, I enjoyed the twists of how the world of Vampires works when it comes to being able to create other vampires. I won’t spoil that for you if you end up wanting to play the game. Although, the characters also frequently take Biblical scriptures out of context, which may cause issues for some. The English usage was quite a treat as well, and as someone who enjoys linguistics, I could appreciate the proper use and concise communication that was delivered by many of the characters. The Graphic design of the game is unique; I loved running around early 20th century London’s streets, with this gothic surrounding turned dreadful as a result of the epidemic. The soundtrack was also masterfully done, and fits the game so well that it even helped with the immersion. As can be expected of Oliviere Deriviere, naturally. This game was creative, and I would recommend it, even with the struggles I had to endure. You can get your own copy, at the time of this review, for PC on Steam for R649.95, and PS4 and XBox One from BTGames for R825.00.