RPG Corner: Vampyr

Platforms: Microsoft Xbox One | Sony PlayStation 4 | PC
RPG Corner: Vampyr

RPG Corner is a monthly series covering a recent RPG I've been playing. Action, turn-based, Western, Korean and Japanese RPGs all apply.

Vampyr is a rough around the edges RPG with a lot to like. As the studio's third release, it showcases an astounding level of creativity and versatility. Remember Me spiced up its standard action game combat with the "pressen" system, with scene reconstructions adding narrative intrigue. Life is Strange introduced time manipulation to the established adventure game formula. Vampyr follows in a similar mold, though its budgetary constraints seem more pronounced than Dontnod's previous projects. Fortunately, its jank is easily circumvented through its uniquely crafted vision; one whose mechanics and moral quandaries make for an engaging experience.

Vampyr follows Jonathan Reid returning from service as a military doctor. London, his home, has been ravaged by the deadly Spanish Influenza. The narrative opens with Reid reborn as a vampire, feasting on his sister's blood. This compulsory event motivates Jonathan to find whoever's responsible for his transformation while acting as a doctor at the overrun, but formerly prestigious, Pembroke Hospital.

Vampyr's set-up is interesting enough on its own, but it goes beyond this. The world-building's integration with character progression enhances the allure of exploration. It also makes the standard conversation system a touch more interesting. Vampyr is a series of interlocking systems that enforce player retention.

The game keeps track of each character, broken down by the city's four main districts. Making progress requires conversations, though the conversations themselves don't dole out significant xp. While experience points are awarded for learning new things through conversation, it's a meager amount in the grand scheme things. Combat offers similarly measly xp gains. The primary gameplay loop of talking to characters, exploring the environment, and healing people's sicknesses carries Vampyr's moral quandaries.

Different characters have differing levels of experience tied to them. The more significant they are to the overall narrative, the higher the xp gain from killing them. Everyone's xp bar sits at the middle of their potential, meaning a person's starting experience sits at 2,000 out of 4,000 total. Each character has secrets, vices, relationships, and personality traits indicated by question marks on their individual character menu screen. Each checked question mark brings that person closer to his/her total experience pool.

It doesn't end there, though. Characters can get sick, diminishing their xp potential. You can heal them by crafting cures for any of the nine illnesses. If you plan a morally righteous path, you'll still have to cure them. Otherwise, they'll eventually die. The dichotomy of curing people to kill them versus curing them to keep them alive in the long-run is one of Vampyr's most interesting mechanical hooks. Because Jonathan is a vampire, he feeds on blood.

Giving into his blood lust makes the game easier, but is it worth it in the end? The game makes a claim about enough people's deaths carrying ramifications per district as its overall stability wains, indicated by a bar with six tiers ranging from "hostile" to "sanitised". Am I going to push the envelope to find out what happens when a district's stability wavers below the halfway point? Of course not. My kills are more judiciously calculated.

Managing everyone's health is a necessity because even banking experience points into the skill tree carries consequences. Players can only spend points by sleeping in a bed, which progresses the game's clock by a day. Healthy citizens grow sick as the days pass while the already sick stack illnesses until their demise.

Role playing games are built on consequence by way of deciding on character builds, maximising equipment, party compositions, etc...The genre is inherently tied to this foundation of critical thinking and decision making. RPG's rarely offer the leeway to completely respec without some sort of hindrance to offset the respec.

Vampyr brings the role playing goods with a combat system emphasising dodging and multi-meter management for both the player and his/her enemies. Players must manage a stamina meter, which dictates how many actions can be taken in a row before you need to back away. The blood meter, on the other hand, dictates how frequently Reid uses special abilities in combat. These range from standard healing skills to ultimate attacks. Blood is drawn from biting enemies. This is only possible after a target's stun meter has been drained. Conversely, blood-absorption melee weapons also do the job, though certain enemies are more susceptible to them than others.

As a standard action RPG, Vampyr offers enough variables to keep its moment to moment exploration and combat interesting. Combat has a satisfying rhythm to it. Crafting also exists, but it's no more complicated than it needs to be. The additional layer provided by its unconventional leveling system cements its brilliantly invasive design.

It's not the studio's most polished game to date. Animations are incredibly rough. The visual package is also a mixed bag with decent environments stacked next to incredibly low resolution textures that wouldn't look out of place in Life is Strange's water color inspired world. Its art design supports the game's oppressive and cultural undertones. It is drowning in atmosphere; one distinctly reflected in the game's signature harsh intonations of violins and cellos. Vampyr deserves a second look for anyone that missed out on it the first time around.


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