Vampires are always a curious case to tackle in fiction these days. From the 1922 horror classic Nosferatu to the recent Twilight series, these creature's of folklore have taken on so many different Incarnations over the years that you never know what the end result might be.
So when developer Dontnod announced their next game would be a gothic RPG set in post-World War 1 London and would be inspired by Anne Rice novels, my interest was piqued. Vampyr is all about the seductive nature of these creatures and allowing players to affect the game's world.
At E3 this year, I was able to see a fairly lengthy demo for Vampyr where the developers showed off some gameplay and set the tone for what was to come. In Vampyr, you play as Dr. Jonathan Reed, who embodies the heart of what the game is all about. You see, while Reed is a doctor that wants to protect the people of London, he's also a vampire and the temptation to feed is always there.
In the demo, we were tasked with tracking down a serial killer and putting an end to their misdeeds. Sounded easy enough - find an awful person and feed on them, putting a stop to their crimes while also giving you the morally gray opportunity to feed on them. While it sounds like you're killing two birds with one stone, things aren't quite that simple.
In Vampyr, all NPCs have what's called "blood quality" and that resource is important to how you level up and acquire more skills. It's not an RPG where you can just grind out enemies in battle to level up. In fact, combat yields very few experience points. The best way to level up is to find an NPC with high blood quality and feed on them.
After some poking around, Reed found the serial killer and he was rather open about his crimes. Only trouble is despite his honesty, his role in the world wasn't known to us yet, so we didn't know how his death would affect those around him. In Vampyr, London is divided up into districts and everyone in them comes to rely on each other.
You might not want to feed on a particular NPC because he's a dock worker supplying his district with medicine for example. If you kill the wrong person, you might collapse a district where it could be taken over by gangs or other dangerous folks. So before dealing with this serial killer proper, further investigation had to be done.
Trudging about through the slums lead Reed into some combat scenarios. People in Vampyr are well aware that vampires exist in their world, and all manners of folk will want Reed dead upon first sight.
Combat itself is a pretty standard action RPG affair where you combine ranged and melee attacks depending on your position on the battlefield. There's also vampire abilities that act just like spells, one example being "coagulation"; which will freeze an enemy in their place until Reed hits them.
The combat was probably the least interesting thing in the demo. If you've played a 3rd person action RPG in the past few years, you've seen everything the combat in Vampyr has to offer already. Not only that but enemies seemed to soak up a ton of damage, that "squishy" feeling you often get in games like this.
After some more exploration Reed found the serial killer's mother, who knew of her son's crimes but protected him from the authorities all the same. The developer from Dontnod narrating this demo informed us that a boss battle with the serial killer was coming up soon and we needed to level Reed up in order to take on the challenge.
Remember though that the way to gain experience in Vampyr isn't really through combat, but by feeding on NPCs with high blood quality. Low and behold, the mother had very high blood quality and feeding on her would result in a lot of experience.
The only trouble is, while she protected her son, she hadn't actually done anything bad herself. Sure, she is a bad person for allowing her son to do evil things, but that doesn't quite make the act of feeding on her any less morally questionable.
This dilemma is what Dontnod want the heart of Vampyr to be. It's up to the player to decide who to feed on and depending on the situation, things may get a little uncomfortable.
My biggest take away from Vampyr was how well it weaved existing vampire mythology into gameplay mechanics. The idea of gaining experience through feeding on NPCs, while making the player think about the corresponding blood quality is a great way to tie in certain moral decisions. No matter how justified you might think you are to do so, robbing a person of their lifeforce is what vampires do; the act never really feels less monstrous.
While I thought things like combat were a bit iffy in the sense that it looked squishy, overall my impressions of the game were positive. My favorite take on vampire mythology is the romanticized nature of these perfect creatures who get to that point by literally stealing the life force from humans.
This is the route Dontnod is taking with Vampyr, and if it's done properly in the final product, they just might have a special game on their hands.