Vampyr review: In the dark of the night

Focus Home Interactive
Focus Home Interactive /

Vampyr crafts a compelling enough morality tale but it’s weighted down by performance issues, terrible pathfinding and extremely tedious exploration.

Title: Vampyr
Developer: Dotnod Entertainment
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Platforms: PS4 (version reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Release Date: June 5, 2018

Though not as overplayed as zombies, vampires have become a common staple in many video game genres across the board. To the point where it’s kind of hard to do anything different or really compelling with them. How do you craft a game about a vampire that has a compelling hook and doesn’t feel like most others?

With Vampyr from Dotnod Entertainment, best known for Life is Strange, you give the player a morality tale, and the city of London to either save or damn during the plague of 1918.

You are esteemed blood transfusion specialist Doctor Jonathon Reid. Recently home from the horrors of World War I in London, but you’ve just traded one medical horror for another. Spanish Flu and other diseases seem to be running rampant, with something almost supernatural behind them. Then you unwillingly become something supernatural yourself.

Focus Home Interactive
Focus Home Interactive /

You’ll make allies and enemies, spare or drain victims, fight both vampire hunters and monsters. You’ll also decide the fate of the four main districts of London. This comes into play in several fashions. Each district has a health meter and citizens. You occasionally have to cure them of various diseases, rescue some from monsters, and do occasional sidequests for them.

I don’t have a problem with this system as a whole, but the extreme XP gulf between killing citizens and nearly everything else you can do in the game seems just a little too unbalanced.

A healthy district will provide a safe haven, quests, merchants and potential innocents to kill. An unhealthy one eventually descends into hostile territory, and all that goes away. The real catch is how Vampyr’s difficulty is very dependent on how much of a bloodsucker you are willing to be. Citizens in the districts, especially as you get to know them better, are worth exponentially more XP than most other things you can do in the game.

It’s possible to theoretically complete the game without killing anyone the story doesn’t require you to, but enemy levels ramp up quickly, making restraining yourself harder and harder. Myself, I made it most of the way through chapter four before I became a bloodsucking serial killer because it seemed pretty impossible to take on enemies at least ten levels higher that could kill me in one hit.

Once I got that big boost from draining a bunch of victims though, I was able to take on the rest of the game with little issue. I don’t have a problem with this system as a whole, but the extreme XP gulf between killing citizens and nearly everything else you can do in the game seems just a little too unbalanced.

Focus Home Interactive
Focus Home Interactive /

Dotnod Entertainment has gotten a lot of praise for their narrative efforts, and that’s easily the biggest strength of Vampyr. Several times in the game you have to make a decision that affects whether a district at least survives or is at best barely hanging above hostile territory.

The repercussions for the choices you make are far from obvious. Something that seems like the right decision can ruin a district. Sometimes the tough and seemingly terrible choice is what saves it.

In addition, most of the citizens of London in the varying districts have at least interesting stories of their own to discover. Some of these range from hilariously bad to genuinely shocking, but it was always at least interesting to uncover everything I could about many of the rather large cast of characters.

Focus Home Interactive
Focus Home Interactive /

However, while the story elements are strong enough, just about everything else in Vampyr is a best a dull and tedious chore. London in the game is a huge area, and you have to constantly travel from one side to another for both story and sidequests. You think the game would implement some sort of fast travel system to help you get around.

Something that makes this an even more extremely tedious aspect of the game is that as a doctor during a plague is that you are constantly treating citizens for various ailments. Colds, fatigue, anemia, even just plain old headaches. You want to keep citizens healthy because healthy citizens are good for keeping district health up, but also net you more XP if you decide to kill them.

…The quest marking system in Vampyr is awful, and in a couple cases, just plain broken.

However, tons of them get sick nearly every time you rest (which is the only way to spend XP you have earned) and at it quickly gets so tedious I wasn’t really caring about curing anyone of anything about halfway through the game.

Additionally, the quest marking system in Vampyr is awful, and in a couple cases, just plain broken. In most cases, it will give you a general area where to go, but then you are often on your own for finding an item you need or a person to talk to, or even a way to get into a building or past a locked gate and they can take forever to nail down how to actually get to them.

In at least two cases, the marker literally told me the wrong place to go, and I wasted hours looking for an item or person or a path I hadn’t discovered before I figured it out.

Focus Home Interactive
Focus Home Interactive /

However, by far the worst aspect of Vampyr is the combat. It’s not just that the game is hard when you are underpowered. From a technical standpoint, the game performs pretty terribly quite often when there are multiple enemies, occasionally even stopping for long loading times in the middle of a battle. Enemies leap and miss you, yet still magically attach to you for a powerful bite attack. Boss battles are dull and tedious affairs.

Even powered up and under the best of circumstances, the combat is merely serviceable. And you have to fight a lot. Enemies often respawn and garner minuscule experience. You have to constantly fight them because again there is no quick and easy way to travel.

It’s hard to avoid them because, for a game about being a creature of the night, there’s barely any stealth aspect to Vampyr. You can’t even stealth kill enemies from behind, a standard move in nearly any action game these days.

Focus Home Interactive
Focus Home Interactive /

Dotnod Entertainment clearly wanted to make a compelling morality tale about being a vampire in Vampyr. I think in a narrative sense they have mostly succeeded. It’s also fairly clear that Dotnod’s biggest strength is storytelling. Maybe if Vampyr were more of a straight-up adventure game in the vein of Life is Strange or even a cinematic horror game like Until Dawn where any action takes a backseat, it would’ve made for a great game.

More app trigger: The 50 Best RPGs Of All Time

Unfortunately, the narrative aspect is only part of the gameplay equation of Vampyr and the combat, traversal, performance, even the map and quest marking system are poorly implemented or straight up broken. Rather than the beings that it’s based on, Vampyr is more like a Frankenstein’s Monster of a game where almost none of the body parts work correctly.

Vampyr is available physically on the PS4 and Xbox OneLearn more about our e-commerce policy here.

Vampyr sports an interesting cast and a compelling morality tale with unexpected twists and turns, but it’s horribly weighed down by performance issues, dull combat at best and a city that’s a chore to traverse.. Dotnod Entertainment. . Vampyr. 5

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.