Vampyr review: Dontnod's open world action RPG shows a more sociable side to the creatures of the night

 
Steve Hogarty
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Vampyr
3.0

Vampyr is an open world action RPG in which you, a doctor specialising in blood transfusions, are unexpectedly turned into a vampire. It’s a painfully ironic transformation that every character in the game can’t help but repeatedly comment on.

The setting is a Victorian-ish London crippled by the outbreak of Spanish Flu – all cobbled streets, jellied eels and corpse piles – and your goal is to find the vampire who turned you, in the hopes of returning to some kind of normal life. And if along the way you happen to become embroiled in a war between London’s secret paranormal factions, all the better.

The game’s central premise is one of choice and consequence. The protagonist is conflicted, on the one hand wanting to use his skills as a medical professional to help those around him, while on the other wanting to drain all the blood from their bodies using his shiny new fangs.

That the characters you meet are so fleshed out makes the decision to suck out all of their blood a difficult one, at least in theory. Once gone, they’re gone for good, and you’re rewarded with a glut of experience points which can be spent on new skills and abilities to use in combat.

Civilians all have names and backstories, and the more you learn about their secrets the more valuable their blood becomes to you, should you eventually decide to harvest it. As nights progress these people can fall sick with a number of different maladies too, requiring you to harvest ingredients to concoct and administer specific treatments to return to them to health, which also makes their blood more delicious. Somebody with a banging headache or chronic fatigue, it turns out, has some ratty, Poundshop-grade blood.

You learn more about the residents by chatting with their friends and rambling through dialogue trees to unlock various hints, like a vampiric Jeremy Kyle (if Jeremy Kyle were a bloodsucking parasite who only interviews vulnerable people for personal gain, which of course he isn’t.)

But for all Vampyr’s emphasis on morality, there’s not enough of an incentive not to sink your teeth into almost everybody you meet. Districts of London can fall into chaos should you drink too much, but this sometimes happens even when you behave yourself. The choice to suck blood or not ultimately feels like an illusion.

Combat is clunky, and the environments – while necessarily dark given your character’s aversion to sunlight – are grey and lacklustre. Look past the rough edges and there’s an interesting game to be found here, one about a chatty Nosferatu and a city full of unexpectedly deep characters.

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