Video Game Reviews

Vampyr: Exsanguinated

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Vampyr is an action RPG developed by Dontnod Entertainment (creators of the Life is Strange franchise) and published by Focus Home Interactive.

The story follows Dr. Jonathan E. Reid, a renowned surgeon from turn-of-the-century London, who wakes in a mass grave and discovers that he has been transformed into a vampire. Determined to see the light of day, and get revenge on the creature that turned him, he begins to study his affliction. During his quest for knowledge, he is pulled into the shadowy world of the supernatural, where vampire castes vie for power and zealotus hunters prowl the night in search of fledgling vampires to kill. In addition to his more corporeal foes, he must also battle the growing hunger within and decide if blood is more important than his Hippocratic Oath.

An amazing naming opportunity was clearly missed.

Honestly, I got this game for free on the Playstation Network, and still never really felt the compulsion to play it. The only time I looked up reviews they were mediocre, skewing toward slightly good. 

Well, I recently found myself with some free time. So, I decided to give this game a shot.

The results were… mixed, to say the least.

Vampyr is definitely an interesting game, but, like its protagonist, it seems to be torn between two worlds. And, not unlike Johnathan, the game suffers by being pulled so roughly in two separate directions. 

Now, I will admit that part of the issues I was having in the game were, in fact, my own damn fault. I made a decision early on, and stuck with it even to the detriment of my playthrough. This is mostly because I’m a stubborn bastard, but also because I’m an incredibly stubborn bastard.

Anyway, in order to best understand the dichotomy between the two aspects of Vampyr, you must first understand those aspects. So, let’s just dive right in. 

Tooth And Claw

The combat in Vampyr is… passable at best. 

It works, for the most part, but never really does anything to set itself apart in any meaningful way. Basically, it commits a cardinal sin of gaming: it’s boring. It’s just so relentlessly standard that it’s hard to even get excited about writing about it.

…because writing is so thrilling otherwise

You get melee weapons with which you can do basic combos and attacks. You have ranged weapons, so you can slightly damage anyone outside of melee range. And you get some vampire powers—like claws or invisibility—that give you a little more flexibility in the way you approach combat.

Unfortunately, none of that matters. Most combat is so straightforward that you really don’t really need to get too tricky. Sure, it’s nice to be able to do more damage, or turn invisible, but most of the fights I experienced were a lot of mashing the attack button and dodging at the appropriate moments. 

There were a couple of cool things added to combat that spiced things up. For instance, there were priests carrying crosses that stun you with blinding light, and other enemies who could see you even when you turn invisible, but these didn’t seem to change combat in any meaningful way.

A second layer of complexity added to fights was that certain enemies were resistant to specific types of damage, but again… that wasn’t that important. It was, however, nice to be able to kill something slightly easier. 

For the most part, though, these resistances didn’t factor into my attack strategies.

It felt like combat might have been the last thing added to the game, and no one really cared if it was great or not, as long as the game shipped on time. I can’t confirm if that’s true, but you’d be hard-pressed to convince me otherwise.

Interview With a Vampire 

My favorite part of Vampyr is basically everything that happens outside of combat.

You see, a good portion of the game is spent actually being a doctor/investigator/busybody (or, at least, as much as you can be those things in a video game about vampires). 

Despite your character having an MD and serving in the war as a doctor, you spend most of your time acting like a private investigator. 

Basically, you do a lot of talking. 

This is a tedious process, especially in the beginning. However, it’s totally worth it because everyone has a secret, or set of secrets, to discover, and to uncover those secrets, you need to talk to everyone all the time. This means that the majority of your time outside of combat is spent making small talk.

In spite of the repetitive nature of this investigation aspect, it all becomes worth it when you finally get the scrap of info you were looking for and bring it back to someone who’s been stonewalling you for several hours.

What really kept me engaged with this particular aspect of the game was how much more alive the world felt while I was running around chatting with people. Sure, it was tedious, but it was also informative. Each conversation was a brush stroke in a much larger picture, and trying to see the bigger picture is what held my attention long after other aspects of the game had proven less-than-entertaining. 

Unfortunately, once you’ve depleted your dialog option in a specific location, you have to brave the tepid combat to make it to your next batch of interviewees.

Wheel of Morality

The morality of Vampyr is a little childish when compared to the complexity of it’s investigation aspect.

Basically, anyone you can talk to or investigate, you can also eat… 

And the game really, really, really wants you to eat people. 

It’s constantly like, “Dude… see that guy over there that you just spent three hours talking to and getting to know? Well, you should probably eat him because he’s full of delicious, delicious, experience.”

Knowing them makes it harder

It does this constantly, and with good reason. That reason being that Vampyr is at least three orders of magnitude harder if you don’t eat anyone. Sure, you get experience from killing enemies, but you’d have to kill about a hundred enemies to give you the experience you receive from eating one hobo.

Unfortunately, that “hobo” was an NPC you could have gotten information from, and killing him not only removes him from your investigations, but it also contributes to the decay of the area in which he lived. 

Basically, the more people you eat, the stronger you are for combat purposes. But if you take it too far, you could really ruin the other aspects of your game. So, you really need to get every piece of info you can from someone before drinking their blood. 

The worst part about the whole system is that you can’t just drink a little blood from someone to slake your thirst. Nope, any time you choose to feed on someone you murder the shit out of them.

This is where I may have been too stubborn for my own good: I chose not to kill anyone on my playthrough. 

Of course, at the time, I didn’t know exactly how much this would hamstring me. I only started to realize it once I was around level fifteen, and all of the enemies were several levels higher, making each fight into a laborious chore instead of a welcome obstacle.

Daybreak

Overall, Vampyr is a perfectly serviceable game. It’s milquetoast combat is offset by an investigation system that has a surprising amount of depth. The characters manage to breathe some life into the game, even if a few on the periphery border on being completely two-dimensional (probably so you’ll eat them). And the environment conveys a  sense of oppression that you could probably only otherwise get in real turn-of-the-century London.

Unfortunately for Vampyr,  none of these elements meshed enough to matter. So, I’m giving it an unenthusiastic 5/10. It was good enough not to be bad, and bad enough not to be good. 

Vampyr just kind of exists at this point…which is fine, I guess.

I had a joke here… something about the game telling me to murder people all the time… but it sort of fell flat when I realized that most games are encouraging me to murder people all the time. So, I just left this explanation here instead.