Vampyr Hands-on Preview – Charming, Yet Rough Like A Vampire’s Fangs
London is steeped in macabre, tragic and gross history. It's literally built upon a battlefield, mass graves and lost history. Its ancient winding alleyways and looming buildings housed the shadows of serial killers, corrupt kings and secret societies. As a result, I can’t think of a better setting for DONTNOD's upcoming Vampyr.
While not as visually striking as Yharnam and its impossible gothic vistas, Vampyr’s shadowy London feels like a character in itself. Getting to play for about two hours last week, I was able to explore some of the blood-soaked bedrooms and empty streets as newly recruited vampire Jonathan.
The spirit of an action adventure RPG is felt from the beginning, which unfortunately was a little at odds with the more dramatic story the developers were trying to tell. A lot of games have issues marrying their story and gameplay but it felt like Vampyr was rushing ahead of itself a little bit. Having awoken from a mass grave with no memory of his death, Dr. Jonathan Reid is almost immediately pursued by hunters trying to stamp out the vampire menace.
Without hesitation, however, Vampyr has you grab a weapon and kill several hunters within the first few minutes of the game. As a tutorial, it works fine but it didn’t feel exactly natural at this early stage of the game. Soon enough, Jonathan feels in more control of his situation and the combat suddenly begins to feel more in line with the story, but it certainly took a little while to forgive it.
As for the actual combat, it's frantic and fast paced. Perhaps a little messy. Vampyr wants to feel a bit like Bloodborne with more abilities, but it isn’t quite polished to that level, at least not yet. Carrying a weapon in each hand meant dodging, not blocking are the way forward, but hacking and slashing seemed as effective as utilizing any particular tactic - at least in the early stages.
The abilities are on offer almost immediately and you can begin customizing your playstyle straight away. I went with greater health recovery and an explosive mist that damage a few enemies in close range. Other options included a form of invisibility and ranged attacks amongst others.
Where Vampyr really stood out was in its NPCs though. Not many actions games put so much attention on the supporting cast but Vampyr’s feeding mechanic plays a huge role in your playstyle and your eventual ending.
To gain a huge experience boost, you must feed on the healthy, which isn’t easy when the Spanish Flu is sweeping its way through London. So the characters you can meet have a huge impact on the community, for better or worse. Feeding on these unlucky souls means affecting all the others in big or small ways, and it's up to the player to determine whom to spare.
The developers are quick to point out that you can complete the game without needing to feed, but like Prey, this automatically means resisting a lot of interesting advantages the game tempts you with. Without feeding you can upgrade your equipment to help in combat but it doesn’t sound nearly as fun as killing the occasional poet to gain the ability to teleport.
The dialogue was a little hit and miss. While some conversations flowed well and added a lot of subtext to character motives, others felt like exposition dumps that could do with one or two more revisions. Nothing I’ve seen in Vampyr was bad, it just wasn’t quite as refined as I expected.
There are a still a few things a little rough around the edges in Vampyr. And with only a few months before release, I’m not entirely sure the team at DONTNOD have enough time to get everything as polished as it could be. But perhaps this roughness is just some pointy fangs sticking out. My experience with Vampyr was a fun one and I’m looking forward to getting to play more, even if it means feeding on a few less than savory characters to do it.