VAMPYR Review: DONTNOD Crafts Their Best Game To Date

written by Derrick Smith

Let me just start off by stating that Vampyr is the best new IP I have played so far in 2018. Why such a bold claim you ask, well, based on my more than 40 hours of gameplay, which has been supported by an addictive evolution system, engaging narrative, a top fantastic voice acting within an intoxicating and foreboding universe, developer DONTNOD has truly outdone themselves with their latest project.

There is so much to admire about Vampyr, while the game does leave room for improvements to be made, the overall production offers an experience which kept me thinking about its story and possibilities even between my play sessions. I simply could not stop playing Vampyr, it’s that good!

Vampyr is a compelling narrative-driven RPG based in a historical London setting, maintained by an entertaining vampire themed pulse, allowing players to fully live out their vampiric fantasies.

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The year is 1918 and London is unfortunately being dealt a deathly hand of the Spanish Flu which has swooped in like a devastating biblical plague. Players take on the role of the renowned doctor Jonathan Reid, who has just returned home from the war.

As the story initially takes shape players awaken in a pile of corpses with an extreme lust for blood and the first person you see becomes your undeniable first meal. Unfortunately for Jonathan this delicious entree is none other than his very own sister, Mary. Filled with regret, Jonathan sets out to discovery his progenitor while utilizing his new found abilities in search of a cure for the Spanish Flu and the immortal curse he did not ask for.

Whether approaching the experience as a methodical blood-sucker in an attempt to properly balance the scales according your own morale compass or choosing to be an unstoppable beast at every turn, Vampyr offers a rewarding process. There are no right or wrong choices, however all of your choices can and will have consequences and repercussions, negatively and sometimes positively affecting the lives of those within its universe.

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Because you are a vampire or Ekon, as the game likes to refer to your kind, this complete Vampyr experience is spent with Jonathan going about his business in the cover of night. This chilling London playground is themed as a hopeless and depressing canvas filled with restless yet interesting characters as you explore its mysterious surroundings looking for answers. On his quest to learn of his origin as an immortal Jonathan is confronted by a variety monster hunters, Lycans and other high leveled Ekons which attack on sight.

From dilapidated crime infested, disease plagued burrows, to the affluent West End, maintaining London’s most wealthy and powerful patrians, Jonathan’s intrigue takes him on an arousing journey. All the while, Jonathan is evolving into a more formidable Ekon and the elite have taken notice. As an Ekon Jonathan has an attractive skills tree filled with incredible vampiric attributes supported by active and passive skills. These skills are dangerous claws, bloodspears, shadow mist, shadow veil, blood barriers and invincibility. Even still, what is known as Jonathan’s ultimates such as rage, abyss and blood cauldron are for when you truly want to flex your powers in devastating fashion. With other skills which also compliment this arsenal of carnage, Jonathan’s evolution as a vampire is a compelling one. One that might cause the player to forego their moral integrity of preserving the life of the so-called innocent citizen for the benefits of becoming a more powerful vampire, as the blood of citizens is the fastest way of gaining valuable XP.

Jonathan can literally feed on any citizen in the game and by doing so he gains XP allowing him to grow in power much quicker than by simply roaming the streets of London engaging in combative confrontations.
Each of the depicted districts of London are maintained by a pillar individual or someone who is the most influential. This person is surrounded by other citizens supporting their own unique personalities and connections to this pillar individual, making up a well developed cast of characters as you delve into their lives and perspectives on the Spanish Flu and so on. Impressively, these characters maintain their own narratives and exclusive story integration’s, which feed your reasoning to feed or not to feed.

All citizens have narrative secrets which need to be discovered and by unlocking them each characters XP or blood value is increased. Unlocking these secrets reveals interesting truths, ultimately you soon learn that most characters are not as pure as you might suspect.

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Each of the districts maintain an overall health score indicator which is altered by the current health and remaining survivors of the specific district. Thankfully, Jonathan is a doctor and able to craft remedies to heal citizens in an effort to increase a given districts health. Yet, the balancing act of killing for valuable XP while trying to maintain healthy districts can be tricky. If too many citizens are killed or suffer from the disease, which can be initiated by a common cold or fatigue that district can be overrun by hostiles, making it unsalvageable.

The combative gameplay of Vampyr plays out much like games such as Dark Souls, Bloodborne and The Surge, yet as you grow in power and rank the combative encounters are more manageable. So, if you approach Vampyr from a less aggressive bloodlust position, slowly increasing your XP, the enemy encounters becomes far more challenging. This means boss battles will certainly keep you on your toes.

While Vampyr may not win any visual awards, what you have here is an impressive usage of a graphics engine and artistic level designs supporting an alluring yet haunting universe, which fascinates the player to maintain balance while placing all the pieces together.

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As much as I enjoyed Vampyr it does have some flaws. For example, load screens after death or upon entering new levels or environments can be too long of a wait, which can break up the games momentum. In addition, while I certainly enjoyed the narrative with most citizens, there were some rather lengthy dialogue exchanges that went over too long, and if ever there was another citizen standing in proximity of the conversation they would move around as a malfunctioning robot or sorts, however this occurrence was quite rare.

In this critics professional opinion Vampyr is DONTNOD’s best game to date. As mentioned before, even while I was not playing I was often compelled to think about the games characters in relation to Jonathan’s existence and Ekon origin. Despite its imperfections, Vampyr is an exceptional new RPG that certainly deserves a sequel.

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