Vampyr: More Man Than Monster

The game Vampyr is a role playing game created by Focus Home Interactive and DONTNOD Entertainment. When Vampyr was first announced, I was incredibly excited as it looked like an exciting game that let the player role play as a vampire, something I’d been wanting for some time. As soon as the release date rolled around, I ran down to my local GameStop and picked up a copy for my Xbox 1, drove home and fired it up. As the game started and I got my first taste of game play, I was thrilled; this game really put the player in the shoes of a vampire with all the cool powers you’d expect the night stalker to have. The expansive, but well set up and controlled growth tree allowed the player to develop their character in whichever way felt best to them.

I continued to gleefully sink hours into the game before I made the horrifying discovery that the game was rapidly growing quite boring and, despite the options it seemed to present, was if anything to simple. When I’m grading a game, I like to focus on two main factors, one of which has multiple sub-factors; quality and entertainment. The quality of a game is the factor that has multiple sub-factors; graphics, sound, game play, and, if applicable, story will all fall under the umbrella of the quality of a game and measures how mechanically put together the game is. The entertainment factor of a game is simply about whether or not a game was fun to play and to me is the more important of the two factors; players don’t mind playing poorly put together games if they are still having fun. Now that my criteria for reviewing a game has been explained, let’s delve into Vampyr and see what went wrong.
(Note: Grades will be based on a max score of 10 per category)

First, we’ll focus on the games quality, starting with the games graphics and sounds. As far as graphics went, they were good. Well done water effects, unique looking individuals, decent resolution, and well developed buildings played a large part in the games immersion. While playing, the game’s graphics did an admirable job of making the player feel like they were really walking through a early 1900s London that was slowly tearing itself apart. Alongside the graphics, the game’s sound also played a large part in immersing the player in the story. The pitter-patter of rain, ominous creaking, and well timed musical notes made the player feel the heavy atmosphere. This was a serious game and the soundtrack told you to take it seriously. Together, the graphics and sounds work together well and are a definite bright spot for the game.

Graphics: 7/10
Sound: 8/10

Next, we’ll focus on the game play, or how well developed the controls and interaction of the character in the game, and how it aided or hindered the experience.

First, as an rpg, Vampyr needs to have some elements of decision making, and it certainly does have many decisions for the player to make. The issue here though is that all the decisions are very similar; do you help this person, do you kill this person, do you cure this person, do you feed on this person. Almost all the decisions in Vampyr boil down to some combination of these four simple choices and, as a player, once you realize this, the experience loses much of its charm. As the lack of choice is presented to the player, the game loses much of its appeal and the player starts to feel like they just aren’t that important in the game.

Second, the combat in Vampyr is an integral part of the game that seems to favor more technically skilled players. When first starting the game, the combat experience is fun and exciting; you’re allowed to carry and wield a variety of weapons to compliment your vampiric powers, from simple knives to shotguns and even surgical tools. Each weapon has different effects and stats, so the player should have different uses for each allowing for the development of complex strategies to defeat your enemies. At least in theory, that’s how it should work. In reality, combat is entirely reliant on the player’s ability to use their dodge button, with the specific weapon used playing little to no role in determining the outcome of the fight. Since combat is so reliant on the dodge button, it loses fluidity as the player often stands around, waiting for the enemy to make a move before dodging and launching a couple quick counter attacks, followed by more waiting to dodge. While this system feels fun at first, it quickly grows old, as each and every battle plays out in almost the same exact way. The strength of the dodge button is best on display during boss fights. These fights that represent key moments in the game’s story are supposed to be epic struggles against other terrible creatures of the night, but they are often easier to win than the random mob encounter the player will find just walking the streets. The reason boss fights are so simple is because the player only has to focus on dodging the attacks of one enemy while the random mob encounters will often pit the player against multiple enemies, which means there are more attacks coming at the player per second, increasing the difficulty of dodging attacks.  When the epic boss fights of a game are less interesting than random mob encounters, its combat system is in dire need of improvement.

Finally, we shall look at the leveling aspect of Vampyr, and how well it is developed. When examining the leveling tree for Vampyr, I must say, the creators did a good job putting it together. It offers players different play paths, such as increasing their health and health regeneration to become a more tanky character or improving their range of attacks and damage to become more of a glass cannon. The player can choose from a range of special moves to tailor the combat game play to whatever feels most natural and I must applaud this aspect of the game. Unfortunately, actually leveling up your game character is an issue. As with most rpgs, defeating the enemies you come across will grant the player some experience points that they can spend when they rest their character to improve his abilities. However, a major difference Vampyr has from other games of the genre is that combat is not the main way to gather experience; if a player wants to level quickly, the best way to do this is to feed on the citizens of London. While this may not seem like an issue, since the player’s character in the game is a vampire, the game punishes the player if they choose to feeds on people by lowering the overall health of the district the citizen you fed on lives in and if the health of a district falls below a certain threshold then all the side missions and characters that aren’t essential to the games main story line will disappear and the player will no longer be able to access them. The game punishes the player if they don’t feed by giving them so little experience that they will be under leveled while playing the game and punished the player if they decide to feed by removing access to game play content. No game should offer its player and unwinnable catch 22.

Overall, Vampyr’s game play is at first, quite interesting and fulfilling, but quickly loses much of its appeal as its simplicity and poor design are revealed.

Game Play: 4/10

The last of the sub-factors of a game’s quality is story, and as a story driven, single player game, Vampyr needed this to be one of its strong points. Unfortunately, Vampyr’s story can at best be called passable. As mentioned earlier, the game offers the player many choices that on the surface play a part in the games outcome, however, this is all an illusion. The game only has three possible ending and those endings are all tied directly to the number of people the player decides to feed on over the course of the game. In essence, the game is trying to present its story as a tree with many branches for the player to choose from when in reality is a railroad track that only goes one direction. This straight line story design in itself is not inherently flawed; in fact, many games are able to create very compelling stories built on a railroad. Vampyr is not one of those games. Because the developers spent so much time and effort creating the many “choices” for the game, the overall story suffers. It is clear to see that the developers were trying to create a gritty, serious story that had real questions and weight to it, but by giving the player so many pointless choices, the story loses much of the impact that it needs to feel successful.

Story: 5/10

Overall Quality Score: 6/10

Now that we’ve discussed the technical aspect of Vampyr at length, we can focus on the most important factor when reviewing a game, its entertainment value.

Vampyr, clearly has many flaws in its technical aspect, and unfortunately, these flaws are felt while playing the game. While I would have given Vampyr a fairly high score for entertainment after my initial couple hours of play, now that I’ve spent more time with it, I’ve come to realize that score would be inaccurate. A story that is close to being engaging but that ultimately falls short, a combat system that is fun at first but quickly grows stale, and a no win situation for developing the main character quickly had me struggling to find a reason to continue playing. If I had to give a reason why I still put a couple more hours into the game, it would be because this is the best Vampire themed rpg I’ve ever played. There are moments where what the game was supposed to be shine through the muck and the game becomes truly enjoyable and exciting. As a player, it’s those brief moments when you get to feel like a real vampire stalking the streets that give this game its value. In the end though, you’re often left simply feeling like a man among monsters.

Entertainment: 6/10

Overall: 6/10

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