There aren’t many modern RPGs out there that venture into the world of Vampires; some may include Vampires within their world, but few focus on them. It’s a shame really as they tend to be quite morally gray creatures and would fit quite within an RPG universe. Vampyr by Saber Interactive aims to rectify this travesty with an Action RPG set in an early 20th century London, with the aim of creating a deep world with meaningful choices.
Will they succeed, or are they biting off more than they can chew?
DOCTOR, DOCTOR, I FEEL LIKE A PAIR OF CURTAINS
The game cannot wait to throw you into the vampiric world: it starts off with a brief yet stylish cutscene before dumping you onto the docks, newly reborn as a vampire. Our stumbling protagonist doesn’t even have the time to remember who he is, since all he can see is darkness and a distant heartbeat calling to him. After an unfortunate incident, vampire hunters become hot on your trail and you need to escape their clutches. It’s an intense opening but it really sets the scene for what to expect and serves as a great tutorial.
Once the dust settles, the real meat of the story begins. You play as Dr Jonathan Reid, who has returned home from the Great War. He doesn’t get the best of welcomes though, as not only is London ravaged by an epidemic, but he also gets attacked by vampires and dumped on the docks; an ironic fate, perhaps, considering that he specialises in blood transfusion. After surviving his attack, Dr Reid promptly snags a job in the local hospital courtesy of Dr Edgar Swansea, where he is free to pursue his investigations into who turned him into this undead creature. As you can imagine, he’s not particularly happy and wants to find his maker. There’s one problem though, he has no idea where to start and London is currently suffering from a severed epidemic that has resulted in many areas being quarantined off. Considering the current pandemic, it’s quite an interesting setting – especially with graffiti talking about wearing face masks (despite not a single character in the game ever being shown in one…). Dr Reid snags a cushy job in the local hospital courtesy of Dr Edgar Swansea, where is is free to continue his investigations into what the hell is going on.
It’s an interesting set-up, made all the more appealing by the current pandemic. Quarantine areas are present in each neighbourhood, there’s talk of keeping groups of people isolated, and there’s even graffiti talking about wearing face masks (despite not a single character in the game ever wearing one…)! Dr Reid is, of course, a Doctor so he also has to contend with the wellbeing of his patients and other civilians within the city. Some people have medical problems that need to be dealt with, via medicine or advice, although others may require other assistance. Very rarely do they ask you to actually help them, especially given that many problems are not medical in nature, but our Jonny offers to help out anyway.
DOCTOR, DOCTOR, YOU HAVE TO HELP ME OUT!
Chatting with people is always a delight, due to the wonderful personalities they are endowed with. There are very few one-dimensional characters in the game, so you are always intrigued as to who they are, what they get up to, and what connection they have with other people in the city. One particular highlight is the Ambulance driver, Milton; he’s seen so much in his time at the hospital, that he’s basically stopped giving a fuck about anything. Another is a patient that thinks she’s a vampire, which is a little adorable considering your own situation – except for the fact that she has raised the attention of the vampire hunters who are currently monitoring her. Everyone has their own stories, and most have situations in their life that you can help out with. Some parts of the conversation are unavailable at first until you find out more information, through either conversations with people or from things you find around the city. I’m not usually into dialogue heavy games, but this world is genuinely fascinating and you really want to know more about all the characters. Talking can also benefit you within the main quests too, as finding out crucial information can enable additional choices with the “pillar” characters – NPCs who are vital to both the story and the neighbourhood they are part of.
As the story opens up, you will find yourself heading to the other districts within London to further your quest, but wandering around the streets isn’t so safe. The Guard of Priwen, the local vigilante vampire hunters, are everywhere and they will attack you on sight. There are also other creatures of the night lurking around too, typically the Skals – which are the beastly offspring of vampires. As such, you can expect to be engaged in combat with relative frequency throughout your adventure. It can be a little jarring since enemy encounters are pretty much in every place not containing non-hostile NPCs. It doesn’t help either that the latter seem to be largely unaware of what is going on around the corner. You will meet characters who are unsuccessfully trying to warn others about the existence of vampires, but then around the corner will be an 8 foot tall wolf beast and a squad of vampire hunters. It comes across as rather silly and can really break your immersion.
DOCTOR, DOCTOR, CAN I HAVE A SECOND OPINION?
The nonsensical placement isn’t the biggest issue with the combat though; the combat is the main problem with the combat. Quite frankly, it’s just not that good. You have a basic weapon to attack with, and a secondary weapon that deals minimal damage but is able to stun (yes, even firing a shotgun point blank at a human vampire hunter doesn’t deal much actual damage). Stunning an enemy will leave them open to be bitten, which again does minimal damage but increases your blood meter – which can then be used to activate one of your vampire attacks, which themselves are largely not that great. Coupled with a very wonky camera and you don’t have a very pleasant experience. It’s not exactly bad, but it’s just not very fun – and there’s a lot of it too.
What makes matters worse is that the game is designed so that the combat is intentionally difficult, with enemies often at higher levels than you. The game actively tempts you into feeding on important NPCs in order to gain a hefty chunk of XP that will help you get stronger and make combat easier. I will admit that it is an interesting system, but it’s completely undermined by the game’s biggest flaw: the loading times. Not only does the game take a very long time to load when you initially start to play the game, but dying and reloading your save results in an equally long loading screen. After multiple deaths in harder areas, you will be ripping the throat out of any NPC that even looks at you in a funny way. I suppose that makes the game successful with its temptation, but when the cause is down to frustration borne from endless loading screens, you can hardly say it is down to good game design.
Loading is a huge issue with the game, and it’s not only present at startup and with death. Entering a building will also result in a long loading screen, as will exiting it, which can often make you debate whether it’s even worth bothering to investigate. Not that you can ever escape the loading, since sometimes just turning around a corner can result in the game stopping to load a little bit more. It’s not only a constant annoyance, but it’s also a lengthy one. The world of Vampyr may be quite big, but it doesn’t seem like it’s big enough to warrant so much loading.
It’s a shame that these technical issues mar the overall experience, as the game has a genuinely great setting. The dreary, rat -infested streets of London are as wet and miserable as in real life; with the epidemic ravaging the places, there are many areas sealed away due to quarantine that you have to find a way to open – or away around. Accompanied by the dramatic violin music, it really sets the scene for this gothic tale. Whilst there may be a distinct lack of visual identity to each area within London, it never proves to be too disheartening and it all fits the mood and never really got boring. Areas are brought to life instead by the inhabitants within, and you will be identifying places with the people who live there rather than any particular monuments. The small scale of the map helps to prevent you from getting bored with the location during the run time of the game, but it also stops you from getting completely lost – even if you take an inevitable wrong turn, you won’t be too far out of the way.
Considering the setting, the characters, and the story are the real highlight of the game, it is quite fortunate that the developers saw fit to include a Story Mode difficulty. Whilst the game may recommend the normal difficulty to you, I would certainly recommend this easier mode. I played on the normal difficulty and found the combat reduced my enjoyment of the game; there were too many combat encounters that wasted lots of time, and the harder encounters resulted in having to endure the game’s obnoxious loading times. Story Mode, however, changes everything. Combat is way easier, so you now have the option to avoid fights or get involved in easier and quicker fights. It may remove the incentive to feed on your friends, but given how well developed the NPCs are, you can use your own judgement instead. Sometimes feeding on people can result in positive things happening, so there’s a case to be made from making your own decisions and will ultimately lead to more enjoyment with the game.
BUMPING IN THE NIGHT
As you gain experience, you will be able to upgrade yourself with abilities that can help you in combat.
A BITE IDEA
Things can be tricky early on knowing just what to do. Here are some tips to get you started:
Vampyr has a fantastic narrative filled with layered NPCs that are a joy to interact with, interesting quests, meaningful choices, and stellar voice acting. However, it is let down by a myriad of technical issues and dire combat. For anyone out there looking for an RPG focused on Vampires, I would highly recommend this game – but play it on Story Mode difficulty so you don’t have to worry about the unenthralling combat or having to reload after an unexpected death.