Taking a lethal stroll around a dark and destitute London
better to drink the blood of a killer than a civilian, right?
Vampyr is an elusive one, flitting on the peripheries of our consciousness but never quite showing its true form. Dontnod’s action-RPG has looked promising in the past. Set in London, England during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, it promises a reactive environment where no NPC is off-limits. Now, finally, I’ve had a chance to play it. My hands-on begins in charnel fashion, as the hero, a doctor-turned-vampire called Jonathan, awakens from the dead amidst a pile of corpses. Overcome by bloodlust, he dips into his sister’s jugular, killing her, before fleeing a mob of vampire hunters who bore witness to his crime.
During the chase, I encounter three pursuers on a gloomy quay. I dash to evade an attack, countering with a vicious flurry to kill the first assailant. While my stamina recovers, I chuck an otherworldly Bloodspear at the chap reloading his blunderbuss, killing him instantly. The final victim isn’t so lucky, as I nominate him to be my blood donor. This replenishes my blood bar ( Vampyr’s answer to mana), which I subsequently use to restore my health.
The combat has a nice Souls- like crunchiness, but at this point can be lumped in with the cinematics, voice acting, and visuals as being too rough to merit much excitement. It’s what happens after this segment that intrigues me, when Vampyr opens out into immersive sim territory, and the miasmic streets of London begin teasing their systems.
Searching for answers about who turned Jonathan vampiric, I make for the nearest drinking establishment. Inside, a woman is cleaning blood off the floor, a drunkard belches inane nothings, and the barman asks my tipple. I’m introduced at this point to two new functions. First, the ability to suss out a character’s health (how tasty their blood is, in other words). And second, a screen that reveals each character’s web of friends, relatives, and so on, as you get to know them.
I push the barman to give me a lead for the man I’m looking for. He also lets slip about knowing the secrets of everyone who passes through the bar, and that he has a soft spot for Sabrina, the woman cleaning the bloodstain. What would happen, I wonder, if I were to kill Sabrina? How would the social web respond?
Unfortunately, I lack the Mesmerize skill to lure Sabrina into my deathly embrace, but the developers fill me in. Her death, they tell me, would lead the enraged barman to spill his surreptitious secrets, naming names of local murderers, adulterers, and other suspects. These people then appear on the barman’s social web, allowing you to track them down in search of answers, or perhaps just to feed guilt-free (better to drink the blood of a killer than a civilian, right?).
There is no moral force judging you for your transgressions. In the case of Sabrina, your murder of an innocent may even unearth interesting leads and secrets about the world. The knock-on effects of interacting with each of the game’s 60 or so NPCs are circumstantial, so you’ll need to observe their behaviors to try and anticipate what might happen. Kill too many people in a given area, however, and it starts descending into a lawless battleground of hunters and vampires.
Of course, this isn’t the first time a developer has vaunted a dynamic, reactive game world, and it wouldn’t be the first time if it fails to materialize. In its present state, Vampyr is competent but unpolished, borrowing from greats like Dishonored and Bloodborne. Whether it can excel on its own merits however, seems to rest on an ambitious system that, frustratingly, still remains untested.
David De Gea has become the scapegoat for the flu epidemic.