If you were to tell me that Life is Strange developer DONTNOD was going to work on a vampire game as their next project, I would not have known what to think. It is hard to imagine how their talents would translate into an action game about Vampires, and yet after seeing Vampyr at E3 2017, I can think of no better studio to work on the title.
Playing as Dr. Jonathan Reid, a recent addition to the vampire ranks, you must wrestle with your Hippocratic Oath and your need to feed upon the population. This struggle is at the core of what makes Vampyr such an interesting title. The game gives you the freedom to take on Victorian London as you see fit. You can choose to feed only on the problems of society, or on anyone you see fit. All choices will have consequences and will move the story in different directions. DONTNOD made it clear that no matter which way you choose to go, there will be a chance to see the ending of the game.
The hands-off E3 2017 demo, hosted by the developers, went through a small segment of the game, where aspects of the story were shown off along with the gameplay you will need to explore as you traverse the world of Vampyr. At its core Vampyr is an action RPG—you will have stats, abilities and unlocks as you progress through the story. The people of London are yours to save or kill, and these choices will help you progress as a vampire. Unlike other RPGs it is people’s blood that will level you up and give you access to your more powerful attacks and abilities.
This segment of the game is where the iconically DONTNOD aspects are clearly on display for all to see. When you need to level up in Vampyr, you will need to choose wisely who you kill. Each person will give you a different level of upgrade points and will change the society of different districts in London to a distinctive degree.
In the demo on display at E3, Reid talked to a man named Seymour, and while it was obvious he was a heavily flawed character, it is though investigation that you uncover just how flawed Seymour is. A remorseless killer, he is someone that society would be better without, even if some people would mourn his loss. But due to his health, his blood was a bit less than ideal for upgrading our protagonist.
As the demo progresses, Reid mesmerises his way into Seymour’s mother’s house, and digs deeper into why she protects her son, and to what extent she knows about his crimes. Though a series of Bioware-esque dialogue choices, you dig into people’s stories and uncover what makes them tick. As you learn more about a given civilian, you gain access to new dialogue options along with further understanding about how everyone is interconnected in the world of Vampyr.
Knowing more about civilians will let you use your vampire powers to do what you want and allow you to further understand their true motivations and dark secrets. It is nothing that hasn’t been seen in other games of the genre, but DONTNOD have put it to masterful use in Vampyr, giving each person in the world a rich story as their strengths and weaknesses are all laid bare.
Looking at Seymour’s mother, it is clear that she would make a much better choice as a snack. She will give more upgrade points, meaning you will ultimately be much stronger should you use her blood for your progression. But, since she has more connections in the world and ultimately cares for more people, her death will have a larger impact. For the sake of the demo, they choose to kill the mother and gain her power.
Once you place your points and rest, you will get a glimpse of the impact of your choices. You wake up to find her house now empty; Seymour mourning his mother’s loss and Rufus, the boy she cared for, now hanging out at the docks, clearly worse off than before the killing.
The powers you gain though killing are apparent and aid with the overall progression, like the ability to zip around the battlefield using blood powers to eviscerate all that stand before you. You are a powerful creature of the night, but like many action games, you are not invincible. You will need to maximise your skills to your gameplay style to progress. Should you want to be a killing machine, there are powers that can aid to that end, and should you want to engage in a more stealthy style of play, there are powers for that also.
While the evil choices may weigh down your conscience, the advantages are apparent. You are much stronger than you would have been had you chosen the “moral” choice and will have more power to aid in your mission. It is a risk-reward system that forces players to weigh the pros and cons, but it is ultimately your story that you can go about as you see fit. Should you be a brutal killer with far more power or try only to kill the bad guys, the choice is yours, and you will have to live with the consequences either way.
While Vampyr could have easily been a run of the mill action RPG in another developer’s hands, DONTNOD and their upgrade system have built something unique and exciting. Even from the brief demo, the possibilities of unique gameplay paths was very exciting. Exploring the stories of people in London and uncovering their webs of influence sounded like an amazing gameplay challenge, and one that I am personally very excited to give a try when Vampyr hits PS4, Xbox One and PC November 2017.