Release Date: June 5th, 2018 (Xbox One, PC, PlayStation 4)
Genre: Action, Role-Playing
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
ESRB: Mature (Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Use of Drugs)
When a new game studio has a huge release early in their lifespan that cements their place in the industry, it is easy for them to fall into a comfort zone. That is easily what DONTNOD Entertainment could have done after the widespread success and critical acclaim of Life Is Strange. However, they are not resting in their comfort zone as they have not only progressed the Life Is Strange world (and are working on the “story-driven investigation” game Twin Mirror), but also released the Action Role-Playing Game (ARPG) Vampyr earlier this year. Ever since its June release, the game has seen a major update with DONTNOD adding two new difficulty modes. With today being Halloween, we at Ouch That Hertz! decided to visit the game after the update while we are in a spooky mood. Is this another home run from a still relatively new studio, or did they bite off a bit too much?
With DONTNOD almost exclusively being known for Life Is Strange (ironically, their debut Remember Me is long forgotten) there was a lot of questions surrounding the gameplay of Vampyr leading up to its release. Luckily, the game brings in influences from the Assassin’s Creed series and the Soulsborne genre to bring in a refined combat system that is based on weapon attack speed and the amount of stamina used per attack. The heavier the weapon and/or two-handed wielding means you deal more damage, but at a slower rate than lighter weapons. The big addition the developers brought to the formula was the ‘mesmerize’ mechanic. This mechanic is the key to Dr. Jonathan Reid feeding on citizens the player chooses to feed on. However, the mesmerize level does not rise as one would expect- instead, it is raised throughout playing through the main story.
While this can be frustrating early in the game when the player is stuck at lower levels, it is appreciated that DONTNOD has stayed true to their narrative roots. They are damn good at it; their storytelling chops are on full display again here. This is supplemented well by the voice acting and the usage of the dialogue wheel as the player talks to the citizens to learn more about them and their social circle. The dialogue choices can lead to unlocking hints about the characters being spoken to or the characters in their social circle. Unlocking more hints about a character also grows the XP that is available if Dr. Reid feasts on them. This makes spending the time to exhaust the dialogue options feel worthwhile and gives the player a hint to which characters may be the most affected due to the meal selections. Sadly, with only one save slot per playthrough it is possible to lose hints for good if the wrong dialogue choice is chosen when the red Y is in the middle of the circle.
Continuing the trek down the streets of 1918 London, the RPG elements of the game even goes as far to picking and upgrading skills. These skills are broken into two categories with active skills including the likes of Autophagy (ability to heal Dr. Reid), Blood Barrier (a provisional protective shield), and attacks like Bloodspear (a spear made of …well blood). Most active skills are viable with a few being based on the play style of the player. The passive skills on the other hand have skills pertaining to health, stamina, and blood among others. Sadly, if the player is not aggressive and/or big on stuns, over half of the passive skills can be seen as worthless. This is an easy downfall from most skill tree type systems, there can be a lot of filler to give the illusion of choice. With that said, I enjoy how DONTNOD did not go too crazy with the choices and kept the selections to a highly cultivated list that greatly reduced the potential filler.
There are a few quality of life issues with what is otherwise a beautiful looking and playing game. One of the biggest gripes is that the player has to constantly hold down the B button in order to run. Personally, I prefer the typical Call of Duty method of a single push in on an analogue stick to start and stop running. Due to this layout, the player will more likely than not just decide to walk the entire time. Luckily, the walking is not unbearably slow and can lead the player to noticing interactives that can turn into being hints. The other major sticking point is the text size. It is a bit on the runtish end of the scale and can be harder to read the further back from the screen the player is. Sadly, smaller text seems to be a current trend in the gaming industry. It is a paradox, given that gamers usually do not have perfect vision, that they have to squint to read the text of the game they are playing on the screen they are staring at for hours on end. At least the eye care industry is happy, I suppose.
DONTNOD took a big swing with Vampyr and while it is not perfect, it is a great game that falls squarely into the DONTNOD brand of narrative-based games. Not to mention, ‘tis Halloween and the overall fall aesthetic makes this the perfect time to pick up the game if the player has not already done so. The timing is also helped by the two new difficulty settings that helps broaden the reach of the game to casuals as well as those looking for more of a challenge akin to the Soulsborne genre of games. Even with the small blemishes, Vampyr is such a beautiful looking game with an amazingly unique concept that most gamers will be able to overlook most of the gripes. So, what is everyone waiting for? Go ahead and sink your teeth into it if you have not already done so! (Ryan Williford; Gaming Editor)
Review copy provided by Focus Home Interactive.