Dontnod Entertainment has returned with another character-driven title: Vampyr. Set in the dreary backdrop of London, England during the outbreak of the Spanish Flu, players will step into the role of Dr. Jonathan E. Reid, a renowned doctor who’s now become stricken by the thirst for blood of the lives he has worked tirelessly to save.
As Vampyr’s narrative begins, Reid finds himself in a state of distress, accompanied only by his foggy memory and the pulsating draw of a heartbeat. As a silhouette comes to comfort the confused doctor, Reid is overcome by the instincts now embedded into him. Biting the neck of the silhouette, it is revealed that his very own sister would be his first victim. This act would become the catalyst that sends Reid into discovering what has plagued the streets of London, and turned Reid himself into a monster.
Once you take control of your protagonist, you are dead smack in the middle of a semi-open world London playground. The third-person RPG title starts out a tad linear, but within an hour or two, opens up to the possibility of accomplishing side missions, along with the substantial main quest line. Seven chapters make up the main story, with four different districts to explore as you progress through the game. This is by far, the most ambitious project we have seen come from the French development studio.
The player will face many adversaries along the way. Local authorities are already hot on Reid’s tail, after witnessing him drain the blood from his sister. On top of the police, other civilians struck by the same vampiric virus will also stand in your way. Coming across either will highlight the weakest pillar of Vampyr, the combat.
Vampyr’s combat is boiled down to simple button clicks to get through one-on-one combat scenarios. It often feels bland and repetitive after the first few encounters. The attributes of enemies can be tracked by Reid, thus allowing the player to use ranged attacks on a defensive enemy focused on melee, or vice-versa. When opened up to multiple enemies, combat becomes too cumbersome to juggle all opponents leaving only the choice of trudging through each enemy one at a time, or die trying. Locking-on to one opponent can help Reid focus in for close-combat attacks, but leaves his back open to attacks.
It was all too common that mashing the dodge button and taking one or two cheap shots on opponents before dodging again was the only viable tactic during the early phases of the game. Mashing the attack button and hitting enemies with a melee weapon enough times until I could strike with a heavy vampire claw attack or find an opening to leech my enemies of blood quickly felt like a chore. Once the story progresses far enough, Reid will come across larger boss battles. These encounters do brighten things up a touch in the combat space. Defense will play a big role as the bosses will often carry attacks similar to those you have unlocked along the way in the skill tree. These attacks vary from ranged bloodspear, to close combat, fast claw swipes. However, it is not enough to save the janky combat.
The player can lean on new skills and attributes to freshen up combat, each enemy defeated and each quest completed earns experience points that the player may use in the skill tree. Vampyr’s RPG skill tree is quite deep. Points can be placed to heighten Reid’s health and defence. New vampire movesets can be unlocked as well, giving players more options if they desire. If you prefer to play a somewhat pessimistic role, a cloaking ability can be unlocked allowing you to bypass enemies. A defense focused ability; Blood Barrier can give Reid an invisible shield which absorbs incoming attacks.
Dontnod has built a reputation of building games centered around choice, and Vampyr continues to show this is their strong point. The use of RPG mechanics is nestled very nicely in Vampyr. Giving the player the choice of how to build out their Reid in a deep way is gratifying. This notion goes well beyond the skill tree and shines during Reid’s encounters with civilians on the street. Conversational choices can also impact how the civilians react to Reid’s presence. If you play a more bloodthirsty role, the NPC may get a little on edge or not trust you.
NPC characters are littered around London. Each has unique backstories that deepen the story and environment of Vampyr. During the story beats, Reid will comes across many folk in desperate need of help. Players have the choice of resting on the established morals that Reid had as a doctor, or succumbing to the hunger in exchange for a hefty boost of experience points. The decisions made will not only impact skill progression, but smaller story beats themselves.
Exploration is rewarded by finding highlighted objects ripe for scavenging. These items can be used in a crafting system that is often forgettable unless you’re reminded by clicking a crafting table in one of the many hideouts. Dontnod opens up the streets of London a tad too wide for the player. While the gothic aesthetics of London in 1918 are nice too look at, navigation can sometimes be frustrating. The compass located on the HUD will often lead players into dead ends and not calibrate properly.
There are many moments where Vampyr shines bright and Dontnod continues to prove that they are one of great development studios focused on single-player experiences. In the semi-open world RPG that Dontnod built, it would seem that less could be more. With such a compelling story and fantastic character interactions, it is unfortunate that these great aspects are bogged down by a clunky combat system and a push to a more open world.
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