When we saw Vampyr last year at E3 we came away from the presentation impressed by how the Action RPG from Dontnod Entertainment and Focus Home Interactive blended vampiric lore, action gameplay and ambiguous moral choices. Taking on the role of Dr. Jonathan Reid, a physician who has swore to do no harm, you must make difficult decisions on who, if anyone, to feed on in order to increase in power. We had a chance to see the gameplay again and find out how much it has progressed in a year.
The demo began in a hospital that serves as sacred neutral ground between vampires and the guard that hunts them in 1918 London, that is beset at the same time with a terrible outbreak of the Spanish flu. After speaking with a doctor there you are tasked with finding the location of an individual who has left the hospital, and madness and murder seem to have followed him. This is a core mechanic of the game, as every NPC has a name and a story and is a potential target to be healed or fed upon, and interacting with each of them will be how you unlock clues to better learn about them, their contributions to society and the various quests and tasks they may have for you. You get the sense that a lot of the gameplay will revolve around making your way through the streets, talking to everyone to learn their tales and that should make fans of deep narratives feel hopeful.
Once you set out, Jonathan can make use of a vampire sense that allows him to sense blood trails and detect the emotional (hearbeat) state of the NPCs. This version of London is completely open to you to explore and discover its various secrets and hidden areas and you can navigate however you please, including using vampiric skills to teleport to hard to reach elevations. As you progress you will run into packs of vampire hunters, and staying out of their way will keep you from combat. Get too close and they’ll issue two warnings, after which they will attack.
Once in combat, you’ll be making use of a variety of melee and ranged weaponry as well as vampiric abilities. Your weapons can all be upgraded via crafting by using items you loot from your travels, and you unlock new vampire abilities by leveling up through killing foes, completing tasks and feeding on people. Combat plays out in a Bloodborne like fashion, although I’ll take pains to say it’s not a direct comparison, only a general framework. You can gain the advantage on foes by stunning them when their back is turned and also feed on them to regen health. It all works well and it’s fun to see the weapons and skills work together and in the case of the skills some of them are a lot of fun to witness in action, such as a petrification skill that lets you do damage to a foe by hardening their blood.
However, killing foes is not the best way to level up in the game. That distinction goes instead to sacrificing citizens. To find who to feed on you bring up a menu in the game that shows you the citizens in the district, some of which are unknown and must be discovered. In the gameplay demo we were unraveling the mystery of an unsavory man who lost his mother’s necklace. Upon investigation we discovered he had lost her necklace while murdering others and was remorseless. Speaking to his mother, we learned that she was a caretaker for an orphan as well. When choosing who to feed on for leveling, we had to make a choice between these intertwined people. The natural choice was the murderous son, but upon inspection his health was poor and his blood would not give a large XP gain. The noble mother however was in good health and her blood yielded much more power. In tragic for her, but good for us fashion, taking her life was the path of power. This was a weighty choice that carried tremendous emotional heft and is going to make for some really memorable moments.
Killing the populace for food has its drawbacks as it allows the districts to descend into a state of being overrun by diseased beasts. You can finish the game with every district in London gone to hell but the streets will be full of these deadly Skals. This is the choice you must make, between power for yourself or stability of the city. It’s an intriguing extra layer of morality that you must choose between and gives Vampyr a philosophical bend that few games have. The consequences are real and that’s a wonderful thing, even if it calls into question our desires.
The atmosphere of Vamypr is heavy. It’s a gloomy descent into our base urges and really presents you with the tough choices of a murky life. A game like that will live and die by it’s narrative and the dialogue we’ve seen so far is well crafted and engaging; you want to know about these people. Rounding it out is a combat system that serves the story, not overshadows but it certainly holds its own. If the rest of the game is as we’ve seen, Vampyr has some strong sleeper potential.
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