Dontnod Entertainment is a modern-day example of a studio rising from the ashes to become a relevant name in the gaming industry. After Remember Me‘s mixed reception, the episodic teen drama stories in Life is Strange were met with monumental success, leading to a lot of growth for the French development team.
The developer’s latest project, Vampyr, is one that should inspire interest because of its intriguing setting and unique gameplay mechanics, but its pacing and bland combat woefully bring down the overall experience.
What Is It?
Created using the Unreal Engine, Vampyr is an action RPG set in London during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. The game begins with your character running around the streets of London, fleeing people hunting you, until you run into a girl who’s actually your sister. After an embrace, you bite her in the neck, effectively injuring her.
You later find that you’re actually Jonathan Reid, a renowned doctor specializing in the new technology of blood transfusion, who gets recruited as a physician in the local hospital to help out with all the people being checked in as a result of the pandemic. The fact that you’re a vampire further complicates things.
Why Should I Care?
Vampyr does have a central plot to it, but the bulk of your time will be spent talking to the locals, treating patients, and from there you’ll essentially be playing god and deciding who lives and who dies… the way a vampire would.
You have access to a chart showing all the important NPCs you’ve met and each of them has an indicator of the amount of experience you’d gain should you choose to suck their blood. They’re always amounts drastically higher than the experience you’d get when killing random enemies. Should you choose to bite these humans, not only will you have a whole lot more experience points to play with and upgrade your vampiric abilities, there’ll also be a fair share of repercussions both in the way characters interact as well as how “dangerous” the area you’re in ends up being.
The temptation of feeding on your peers ends up being quite high because the game’s combat takes a bit of time to get used to, as some of the early bosses can be pretty challenging unless you turn your Dark Souls skills on–I found myself slashing enemies and running away a lot.
Like most RPGs, you’ll find loot that allows you to upgrade some of the weapons you come across, but the game doesn’t really make an effort to show you how some of these mechanics work. While all of this should be self-explanatory to veterans of the genre, the actual menus don’t really cooperate. I was already about 10 hours into the game before I really made an effort to upgrade my gear, but I didn’t realize I had to change gear from the equipment screen. If this function was also available in the inventory or items screen, it would’ve been less complicated, so it’s weird that it was done this way because aside from this, the menus are pretty easy to navigate and understand.
As far as actual combat goes, it essentially plays like a hack and slash, but you also have a stamina and blood meter to pay attention to in addition to your health. When you damage an enemy enough to stun them, you’ll also be able to bite them, which replenishes your blood as well as gives you enough time for your stamina to fill up to continue to use whatever melee weapons you have. The meta of creating your own combos with these abilities makes the combat more strategic. Bigger enemies and bosses will obviously require you to use more of your wits, as you’ll spend a lot of time running around the screen planning when to get your hits in and avoid getting hurt. Of course, as you get further into the game you’ll have more abilities at your disposal so you can diversify your combat style.
It’s worth noting that we also experienced quite a bit of input lag despite all the gameplay being offline, but that might just be pre-release hiccups.
The problem with the game’s action sequences is that they’re few and far between, and when you’re actually out killing things in your path, it’s not interesting enough to feel like any there was any real payoff.
The game’s ebb and flow typically follows Dr. Reid’s work as a doctor, researching blood from inhumans he takes out and socializing with the hospital staff. From there, you find that you have to go to some other town, interview the locals, go into a dungeon, and repeat. While there’s nothing wrong with this formulaic approach, nothing about any of this is particularly interesting, and all the conversations you enter into are just too long. The main thing you get out of these conversations are prompts to unlock even more pieces of dialog from other characters. As great as the writing may be, it just comes off as boring because of how long you’ll be sitting listening to the dialog.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Vampyr has a lot of great features and ideas, which is an impressive thing to say about any game in this genre, but it just doesn’t hit home on aspects that make a good action RPG truly engaging. The story was fine, but bad pacing highlighted by long-winded conversations bring down the enjoyment, and when you eventually get to the game’s action-based gameplay, the payoff just doesn’t feel like it was worth any of the grind.