DFTG Reviews Vampyr – An Alluring Tale Of Death And Self-Reflection, Hindered By Its Combat Mechanics

Vampyr promises to be a narrative-focused game with an emphasis on decision-making and to that end, the title certainly delivers from the very start. Players assume the role of renown surgeon Jonathan Reid, driven by his thirst for blood while simultaneously at odds with his conviction to care for those in need. To maintain Reid’s cover as a medical professional, the player must make the decision to save lives or take them. The weight of your decisions will affect an entire community of people. Each district you visit may dwindle or thrive depending on your actions – do you choose to heal the sick to aid in the catastrophic epidemic sweeping the country, or feast upon them?

The voice acting in Vampyr is fantastic, which lends phenomenally to the storytelling that Dontnod Entertainment is renown for. Vampyr is an experience that tells the story of a diverse cast of characters and a heart-gripping story of tragedy, death, and danger. As you venture along the main questline, you’ll find yourself at odds with some, while sympathetic of the plights of others. More often than not, players will find them reassessing their own ideas of what is deemed right or wrong. Taking place in a completely different era overwhelmed by a plague, is it right to judge those doing what they can just to survive? Perhaps you’ll take your place in society as judge, jury, and executioner? Regardless, the choice is yours to make and if going rogue sounds alluring – it’s a path you can most certainly take.

Dontnod’s latest entry is meant to be experienced with patience. It is meant for those who enjoy watching a story gradually unfold and carried along by its words. The studio succeeds in creating another beautifully-crafted world to invest in, and most certainly not for the faint of heart. There’s blood, gore, and endless death and suffering and your decisions as Dr. Jonathan Reid can spell a disastrous future for London, or a hopeful one.

Story & Progression

Without much in ways of spoilers, players begin on the East End of London, England during a crushing outbreak of the Spanish flu that continues to take lives by the dozens everyday. You assume the role of former soldier and renown surgeon, Dr. Jonathan Reid, dealing with the aftermath of war. Newly transformed into a sentient vampire race called Ekon, Reid seeks to find those responsible for his rebirth and the death of a beloved family member. In order to do so, he must bid the favors of those higher on the food chain while simultaneously upholding the Hippocratic oath…or not.

The first handful of hours are particularly linear in terms of story and pathing, which is expected given the game’s emphasis on narrative. There are small areas that are explorable, but they’re mainly passageways and alleys. Suffice to say, there’s an unlikely chance you’ll get lost following an inkling down a mysterious path, especially since some missions are resolved only after entering an instance. Once you venture outside the first major part of the game, the world is yours, but be wary – everyone is out to get you.

However, the consequences of one’s actions are anything, but linear. A mistake of taking away the only healing solace of a deteriorating and impoverished district, or failing to care for the staff at the only operating hospital will further that area’s descent into madness. It also makes exploration a more dangerous task between missions as vampire hunters are more wary of trouble.

You’ll find yourself in dialogue much of the time, getting to know the citizens of 1918 London. It can be a tedious process since dialogue progression is required to move on with certain missions, but some conversations and interactions are completely optional. To know which is optional and which is not – you must either play a game of guess and check, or speak to all citizens and hope they will eventually lead you down the right path.

At times, your purpose in the world of Vampyr feels obscure as you follow quest after quest for the favor of others. Some missions will accomplish nothing in your search in finding your maker, but it will eventually lead you to someone who holds a clue. Born into a world completely ignorant to the Ekon underworld and face-to-face with a vampire hunting cult, deceitful aristocrats, mindless Skals, and a covert Ekon organization – nowhere is safe unless you play your cards right; that or kill your way through.

Gameplay, Graphics

This is not a triple-A game and neither does it boast a budget of that caliber. At the very least, it doesn’t come off as such. To place this on par with current generation games such as God of War or other motion-capture animated titles like Horizon Zero Dawn or Detroit: Become Human will set you up for disappointment. The facial animation is sub-par in comparison, but it does well enough to make up for that in its superb writing and voice acting work.

For instance, sticklers of face animation and movements may find that there’s a certain lack of polish and finesse as the body movements and face animations feel rather awkward and clumsy. It plays as well as titles released approximately 5 years back, which is an unfortunate aspect considering the capability of technology now. However, as a person that can see past the awkward gestures, stiff movements, and floating eyes, this is a feature does not take away from the phenomenally-written and well-told story. It just isn’t as immersive as sensationalized in teasers and trailers.

The combat system is deceitfully challenging and can be even more so for those who choose to walk a saintly path. Players that choose to abstain from taking a human life will find themselves frustrated at the challenge in lacking experience or levels to complete a mission. The desire for human blood gnaws at Reid’s instincts and thus grants experience for an easier time facing enemies. Taking lives is no walk in the park for that matter as draining blood from a citizen equates to a life lost and deteriorates the health of an area or those in relation to the person killed. An unhealthy community is vulnerable to the onset of the Spanish flu and the symptoms that follow. Consequently, more enemies will populate nearby, making your travel ultimately more challenging than necessary. Either path you choose will bear obvious pros and cons, but neither will make the game easier.

As for the other RPG features of Vampyr, the skill tree is straightforward and features both passive and active skills that affect aggressive, defensive, and tactical combat styles. Weapons are few and far in-between, but those found can be upgraded in safe houses with resources found all around the world of Vampyr. Grease, springs and various metal components can be discovered in trash bins, crates, and dead bodies that litter the streets. Medical ingredients can be crafted into healing elixirs for colds, anemia, fatigue, and other ailments to help treat inhabitants.

Mechanics, Controls

As with most new games, it’ll be worth your time to get accustomed to default key bindings as the tutorial stage of the game is fairly limited. The controls will take some getting used to, but nothing to take away from the gameplay experience; that is unless you’re sensitive to movements and motion sickness. You may find yourself running into walls and inanimate objects often, despite having adjusted on the lowest end of the sensitivity settings. With that being said, holding “Q” allows casual walking.

Vampyr can improve when it comes to gameplay mechanics and combat. For instance, if the player is in the midst of an auto-attack and the enemy is suddenly stunned, an “F” action button will appear (for PC). Pressing it will then cancel the next auto-hit animation and prioritize the action button animation instead. This may result in a glitchy slide, turn, or spasm. Dodging is a bit of an enigma as the player will get trapped within movement animations, so taking damage is inevitable. One on one combat is easy, but taking on mobs or a boss? Not so much. Be prepared to get tactical or flee when the going gets tough. 

As easy as the fights look in the trailers, players must take blood reserves, stamina, and health into account. Since all three resources are finite and replenishment comes slowly, it’s wise to spend them with some amount of forethought during boss battles. This game is no hack and slash romp through the park, requiring some resourcefulness and planning for more challenging engagements. With that being said, enemy encounters gradually become easier as you level up skills and increase the aforementioned maximums. There will be several moments of frustration and death is inevitable. Well, sort of death since Reid is a vampire. Also, get used to dodging while minding your stamina.

As a side note: if you’re a fast reader, it’s going to take some slowing down. Unfortunately, pressing a button to get to the next bit of dialogue is a no-go. In fact, pressing a button or clicking the mouse will result in an entire section of dialogue completely cut off and moving onto the next. So, you either listen to the dialogue between Reid and another character at true pace, or not at all. Those that don’t mind will get a true feel of urgency or lack thereof when moving along the main storyline.

Sound

Composer Olivier Deriviere does a phenomenal job in creating an original soundtrack that lends itself well to the macabre atmosphere of Vampyr. The soundtrack is a wonderful and ambient accompaniment that succeeds in creating that constant sense of apprehension and fear of danger. The shrill of cello and violin, daunting low notes of the piano, the slow and sudden tempo changes all contribute a solitary moment of peace or the increase in heart rate the next. In all, it is a perfect partnership of music, animation, and setting that succeeds in capturing raw, unadulterated emotions – melancholy, anguish, distress, or passion. Bravo.

The quality of sound effects are satisfyingly realistic. Whether it’s the droplets of water disrupting surface tension a few feet away, the background noises of infected citizens groaning in pain, or the opening and closing of a metal gate off to the side. Vampyr’s sound design adds another layer of depth and immersion to the game not unlike the game in its entirety.

Bottom Line →

This is not a fast-paced game by any means. If you don’t mind taking your time in progressing through the linear storyline and optional side quests, it’s a single-player game that may be worth your while. The combat is an exciting and challenging experience at first and after a few dozen deaths, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment. Even so, there are several improvements to be made in regards to controls, gameplay, mechanics and character movements. The game will need a few patches to resolve the numerous issues on that end, but they’re all relatively minor in comparison to the big picture.

Overall, Vampyr is a challenging action RPG that focuses on the narrative of Dr. Jonathan Reid during the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918 London. Experiencing his turmoil, confusion, and journey remains at the forefront of the entire game and each person he meets adds another complex layer to his story. You play diplomat, errand boy, medical professional, an agonized and grieving son and brother, all in hope you’ll find an answer to this mysterious new existence. Reid will wander until he finds the meaning to this newfound life and how he chooses to help those around him is entirely up to you.

[8 out of 10]

Hoi Duong1799 Posts

Hoi is an elusive figure at DFTG, whose favorite past-times include chillin' in the Fade, reading manga, watching anime, collecting novelty items, and gaming.

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