Karma systems, choice-based dialogue systems, narrative driven stories. All these elements have been present since decades, introduced in many different forms and settings. When combined together with the RPG genre, they offer players a unique way to traverse games and build their own story in the world around them. Vampyr presents a similar system in an open world Victorian vampiric fantasy, but by containing such elements, player’s decisions impact their game in a more meaningful way.
We are Jonathan Reid, a doctor who wakes up in a pit at the brink of death with nothing but corpses and leeches around him. He feels dizzy and can barely walk, and the only thing he desires the most is to cease a new thirst that has arisen within him. Blood is now a fuel for Doctor Reid, and it leads to the death of his sister in the very first minutes of the story. Driven by revenge, anger and sorrow, the doctor starts looking for help in districts around London. But the thrist never goes away.
All characters in Vampyr have their own stories. Nurses are trying their best to cure the poor during the Spanish Flu, even if that leads to going through any means necessary to achieve their goal. Fathers are forced to get involved into street gangs, attacking shopkeepers for money recollection to make their bosses happy and, at the same time, provide food to their family. You can also find bishops who believe the only way of getting through this grim period of time is to cleanse the city from its impurity.
For every NPC, there’s a biography with every detail we know about them. These hints unlock more dialogue options that showcase the background of everyone in each district. Conflicts, lies, romance, betrayals. Playing with Reid feels more like being a detective than a doctor, trying to complete a puzzle for each person by gathering information or doing side missions called investigations, usually linking more than one character, which involves moral choices at the end about how we want to solve the matter once we have enough evidence to bury either of the parts involved.
Why do we bother doing this? Depending on the way you think and act in the game, it can be a preparation for dangers to come, gathering experience or new weapons along the way. Helping someone might lead to new information around the world, about what’s happening in the streets, or perhaps to knowing more about those who are like you. But in Vampyr, listening to your thirst will make the game easier by giving you a ridiculous amount of experience points to spend in new vampiric skills.
Just keep in mind that erasing someone from the face of earth forever leads to direct consequences the following night. And people around you will never forget your actions.
This is a kind of karma system that I haven’t seen since probably Fallout 3 or the first entry in the Fable series. Reid has the power to decide who is the villain of the story, while slowly turning into the most fearsome character himself in the process. This moral component is left for the player to play with, and Vampyr can be completed without killing a single innocent soul. But, when things started to get hard during my playthrough, I decided it was finally time to feed on some characters to boost my experience just enough.
“They deserve it”, it’s what I told to convince myself. And Vampyr never judged me, it just showed me the consequences of my actions. But the characters knew about my doings, and I got to see how the loss of who I thought irrelevant meant in a district.
Through the game’s crafting system, we are able to create syringes that can cure over a handful of sicknesses in each character. This leads to them being in better health, which ultimately means more experience if we decide to embrace them afterwards. Talk about a professional secret between doctor and patient.
The combat in Vampyr isn’t as polished as the dialogue and choice systems, but it managed to do enough at all times. You can use close and long-range weapons, from hatchets and clubs to revolvers and shotguns, perform two different attacks (one meant for damage, and the other to stun enemies) and dash your way through each encounter. But it’s the vampire abilities that attracted me the most: a spear made entirely of blood that can pierce through more than just one enemy at the same time and devastating giant claws are only a few.
In order to use them Reid will need blood, represented as a third bar apart from health and stamina. This can be obtained by stunning enemies and biting them, pausing the action for a few seconds while we see our blood replenishing. Upgrading your passive abilities can get you even more blood capacity, greater damage when embracing or an improvement in stamina, among others.
I can’t help myself but think that there could have been so much more variety in combat in terms of vampiric abilities and weapons, as I mostly relied on using a two-handed weapon that had a high stun rate to keep my blood up and only but a set of the available abilities. One great feature is the possibility of doing a skill reset, granting a new chance to try to experimenting with new moves.
Vampyr’s atmosphere is one of the highlights from the very first moment. Streets are usually being patrolled by hunters and hostile vampires, but it’s in the empty corners and dead ends that the game shines the most. This, along with the soundtrack composed by Olivier Deriviere, makes walking through the city a delight that can almost be compared with a horror game.
But while the decisions of Reid shine through his story, the characters around him weren’t compelling enough. One in particular, which I won’t spoil, seemed to have served solely as a plot device, and whenever they were starting to have a certain line or I began to comprehend their motives, a sudden change interrupted the moment and took me to a different direction. This conflict seemed pointless, especially considering how even the citizens have their own stories to tell every time in perhaps a more conservative, but meaningful way.
The creators behind Remember Me and Life is Strange created an interesting setting in which to dive in, introducing a different take for vampires thanks to Reid’s back story and the world’s intriguing atmosphere. Vampyr is beyond ambitious considering the past portfolio of the studio, and while it falls short in some of its ideas, presents a unique experience that sets a new ground for what a Karma System can actually mean.
A copy of Vampyr for PlayStation 4 was provided by Focus Home Interactive. Make sure to visit the official site for more information.