This Week I Played Vampyr

Vampyr is a dark and gritty game that combines the action stealth of the Assassin’s Creed franchise with the mind-bending mysteries of a David Cage game. Set in London during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918, Vampyr is a dark and moody mystery. You play as Dr. Jonathan Reid a medical doctor and veteran of the First World War. Sometime before the start of the game, through unknown means, you are turned into a Vampyr.

From the start of the game Vampyr makes it very clear that while your character thirsts for human blood, you do not need to kill people. This creates the most interesting difficulty system I have ever encountered. Very early in the game, you are told explicitly the more innocent people you drain of blood, the easier things will be for you.

To be effective in Vampyr you’ll need experience points to buy skills and abilities with. There are very few ways to gain experience points. The most common method is completing missions and investigations. You also earn a small amount of experience by defeating enemies. Draining civilians of all of their blood, and therefore killing them, is a way to earn massive amounts of experience. Doing this can be very tempting because combat is very hard.

The enemies in Vampyr have many options to make your nights on the streets of London a total nightmare. Depending on what they are, as they may also not be human, enemies can reduce your maximum health pool through either fire or draining your blood. That combined with the games love of deadly opponent mixes means you’re normally up against a bruiser while a crossbowman with a torch is trying to drain your health. These deadly encounters constantly tempt you to drink the blood of the innocent to buy more skills to increase your chances of survival. Or it would be tempting if the game didn’t have some serious problems.

Unfortunately, Vampyr’s tempting experience and difficulty mechanic is ruined by a few poor design choices that ultimately led me to abandon the game. There are two major problems. The first is that combat revolves around the idea that you lock onto an enemy. This keeps your character oriented towards them and therefore any attacks you utilize that involve lunging or pouncing will head toward your target. This in itself is fine. It works well. The problem is that you change lock targets by moving the mouse left or right. This doesn’t work. The camera controls are tied to the mouse.

Like most third-person games the direction your character moves when pressing ‘w’ is determined by the camera’s orientation. Meaning as long as you don’t need to adjust the camera, you’ll stay locked to your intended target. The second you move the camera, you lock moves, and not in an intuitive way. It moves to the next target to the left or right of your current one, even if that target is behind you. Which is how you end up “dodging” directly in the very attack you were trying to avoid. This issue can be somewhat forgiven as the result of porting the game to PC if that is indeed what happened, but for me, it made the game unenjoyable.

The other major problem is the game punishes you for exploring. When I say this I don’t mean it in the way that some games try hard to keep you out of areas without explicitly erecting invisible walls. What I mean is you can discover tasks, that are impossible given your level and skills, but you still you need to complete them right now to avoid negative consequences. This happened to me in an unfortunate way.

After completing the first couple of missions I was sent into the next district to continue one of my investigations. On the way through an alley to the point that I needed to reach to find the next clue, I passed an openable door. Most doors outside of safe zones that I’d encountered to this point led to safe rooms where you can rest and refill your supplies. This one did not. This led to a mission area where there was a man trapped by some blood-sucking skals. The game immediately informed me that I needed to save this man or he would probably die.

I charged into battle and then quickly died as the skals were twice my level and made a snack out of my body. This is where the problem became apparent. I could not defeat these skals even if I drained all the civilians in the entire district of blood. Why? Because to level up, you have to rest. If you rest any civilians you discover in danger but don’t rescue die. I couldn’t reload because the game uses an aggressive autosave. The irony here is that during most load screens the game tells you to live with the consequences of your actions. The consequence here was that I stopped playing.

I know it sounds like I rage quit. Maybe I did. I feel that the game unfairly trapped me. It didn’t tempt me, it punished me for opening a door that was along the road I was walking. It punished me for exploring the new area of the map it had just told me to go to. I was excited to play Vampyr. I am still in love with how it seeks to tempt you. Unfortunately, the temptation doesn’t feel fair. This isn’t a challenge where I can see the other side and if I could just jump from a slightly higher ledge I could make it. This is more like getting hit by an invisible fly swatter, one that I had no warning about.

I might play Vampyr again. I really want to see how it plays out. Unfortunately due to the poor controls making combat frustrating and the surprise gotchas I can’t.

If you played Vampyr and your experience was different than mine, please leave a comment below. I really want to hear something good about this game.

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