Dontnod might be better known for the fantastic decision based story Life is Strange but the French developer treads new ground with the action RPG Vampyr.
Set in early 1900’s London, you take control of Doctor Jonathon Reid, waking dazed and injured after an attack you find yourself the newest recruit for the vampire club, you stagger forward with the thirst for blood filling every inch of your veins and promptly take your first victim. Trauma aside this didn’t go unnoticed and you’ll have to make haste as you evade your new-found pursuers.
The next hour or so plays out pretty well, slowly introducing you to the games mechanics and minimal menu’s before you find yourself working the night shift at the local hospital as cover for your vampirism ways, being a high-profile doctor in blue transfusions is obviously helpful all-round but someone’s killing the locals and every night more bodies turn up dead. On a quest to find out what happened to you, it’s also your responsibility to clear up the streets and stop each district from falling into complete chaos.
In true RPG fashion you’ll obtain skill-points to unlock new abilities and enhanced health and healing, to ‘level-up’ you need to rest, and resting brings on the next day, upset the wrong person, taken a bite out of a few too many necks, or gone out of your way to help locals and each district you visit will see its own health adjust dependent on your actions, the more good you perform, healing patients, helping your new-found friends and taking out any stray vampires, will all help to raise the districts health, but if you let greed get the better of you and feed off the innocent, you might get a major XP boost towards your new powers, but the health of the surrounding area will start to diminish and with the Spanish flu only half of the onset of deaths you’ll want to at least make an effort to keep people alive.
Vampyr’s unique twist on narrative excellence, mediocre combat and light RPG elements all combines to make a pretty impressive package, there’s clear borrowings from the ‘Life is Strange’ way and throughout the game characters, their scripts and the voice acting is all of the highest quality, within minutes of entering the hospital I’d already pin-pointed a few I wanted to help as much as possible with one in particular I was eager to take down a dark alley and sink my teeth into.
The core story, it’s twists, turns, characters and various environments are all very well done, I found it far more inviting and accessible than many RPG games even from an early stage, but purists might be disappointed at only basic systems for skill-trees and crafting, the main emphasis is on the people you meet and the conversations you’ll have with them. There was only a handful of times where I felt a character seemed uneasy or unrealistic, with incredibly strong showings at all other times.
There’s even a pretty healthy range of enemies ranging from your standard ‘mobs’ to various vampires, beasts such as the Skag and anti-vampire groups hunting you down, each react and respond differently which means you’ll have to be careful around every corner.
Sadly encountering these enemies was (for me) one of the weak points of the game, the combat is a fairly simple mix which feels more like early Assassins Creed rather than anything in the last decade, it’s a lock-on system where you’ll have to dodge and attack in succession, fairly repetitive at times but while it isn’t the strongest part of the game, it’s not terrible, I just felt it seemed a little off-pace for the rest of the game. Micro-managing your health, stamina and ability gauges gives a little extra excitement, but once you work out a solid technique, you’ll find yourself relying on it time and time again.
Thanks to the reliance more on the story and presentation, the combat never really became a problem. I didn’t enjoy it as much as talking to people and working out their little cryptic clues to unlock more narrative options with other NPC’s, so it’s probably best I wasn’t forced into a fight every 30 seconds.
One major highlight is how well everything else merges together, there’s no difficulty setting, you can just walk around taking any NPC you’re advanced enough to mesmerize and the pile of XP will quickly get you levelled beyond any sort of challenge, but the aftermath will be an even darker, more depressing scene as London falls into chaos, but challenge yourself, gaining XP almost solely through quests and defeating enemies and while a little more difficult it’s far more rewarding. Few games give such a great balance between difficulty and reward while keeping both tied to the core story and gameplay consistently and Dontnod have worked wonders here.
Graphics and sound match the overall presentation. O.K, so there’s the odd camera issue, a few too many loading scenes as you cross into a new district, and the facial animations sometimes look a little too automated, but these are far from problematic, on the Xbox One X, it’s graphically impressive, loading times are short enough to maintain some immersion and the camera issues are few and far between. There’s very little to complain about with regards to the sound with the voice acting and overall audio delivery one of the many high-points,
It’s hard to be too critical when Dontnod have tried quite a different approach to RPG’s or their own narrative systems and they deserve credit for doing a pretty grand job of merging the two areas with multiple systems that tie them together such as the NPC’s, your experience and the world around you.
I’m sure some fans of Life is Strange might see Vampyr as being a little too RPG-like, and Fallout purists will probably hate the ‘lite’ options for crafting, skills and progression, but anyone looking for something in between will find plenty of enjoyment with Vampyr.