Interview with a vampire.
Please do not adjust your monitors or television sets. I did not misspell "Vampire" for the title. The game is actually entitled Vampyr and it is a legitimate spelling of the name given to the undead blood suckers we have all come to know and sometimes even love. Vampyr, the game, is a new entry in the sometimes too saturated action-RPG genre. And while it does indeed share a lot of similarities with other games in the genre like Bloodborne, , and even The Witcher, Vampyr manages to be a stand out experience.

To say that Vampyr is a flawed masterpiece would not be a lie. In a lot of ways, Vampyr really pushes the action RPG genre forward while still having a few cumbersome issues that hold it back from true greatness. On the action side, we have a combat system that immediately made me think of Bloodborne, featuring fast-paced combat punctuated with quick dodges and attacks that reward patience. The combat is serviceable but it's hardly the star of the show. Instead, that honor belongs to the social interactions and RPG aspects of Vampyr.

Every NPC in Vampyr is connected to another in some way, shape, or form. This runs the gamut from the scummiest of gang members to the most hoity-toity of the upper class. Your actions, or inactions in some cases, will impact your gameplay experience and will have very real repercussions on your game, including which of the four different endings you will see. Talking to one character may provide you with insight into another character, opening up new dialogue paths. These could in turn open up additional dialogue options with other NPCs and so on and so forth. I know it's an old joke about how "choices matter," but they really do in a game like this. It is entirely possible to lock yourself out of some dialogue options based on your responses or your behaviors.

What sort of behaviors? Well, you could end up with some characters dying, which will completely cut off their optional side-quests. If these characters held a strong relationship with another character, it could be that these other characters change their own behaviors as a result. In one fairly spoiler free example, there was one NPC who's life I cut short. This character was good friends with a woman. She ended up distraught over the loss of her friend and ended up wandering away from a hospital and was listed as being "lost." Yes, she actually wandered away from her usual haunt and it was up to me to track her down. I did eventually find her, though when I did she was being accosted by some vampire hunters. A short battle later and she was rescued. Thankfully I persuaded her to stop wandering around and return back to the hospital. Now, had I not killed her friend in the first place, she would have never wandered off and I would have never had to rescue her. That's just a minor example of the systems at work here but it should give you a basic understanding of the interplay between your actions and the game world.

Why bother getting to know any of these characters? Besides it being obvious that these interactions provide you with additional lore, these interactions can actually increase the amount of experience you receive. I don't mean that you receive this experience just through talking. No sir, you instead "fatten" these NPCs up for later feasting. Knowledge is power in Vampyr. The more you know about an NPC, the more rewarding they are if you decide to feast on them.

Dr. Jonathan Reid was a well-known surgeon and researcher. I say he "was" because Dr. Reid died. The game begins with you, as Dr. Reid, waking up in a mass grave. Confused and hungry, Dr. Reid fast learns that he was brought back to the world of the living as a vampire. His death and subsequent resurrection are just a couple of the mysteries that he sets out to solve over the course of the 15-30 hour long game. Those that are just looking to rush the main story can probably finish the game in just about a dozen or so hours. Those who invest the time into talking to every character and completing their side-quests can expect their game time to double. Oh, by the way? There are apparently four different endings. These endings are based off of your behavior and choices that were made throughout the entire game. Many such choices are made through story altering dialogue choices ala Mass Effect. Other times critical choices must be made as to whether or not you will take the lives of some very key figures throughout the city. When you take it all into account, it should be obvious to see how there is a decent amount of replayability here.

As stated, talking to characters can impact how much experience you earn. The more you know about a character, the more experience they're worth if and when you decide to satiate Dr. Reid's eternal bloodlust. Other factors, such as a character's health will also impact how much experience they're worth. Remember that you used to be a doctor. You still have the ability to heal any and all of these various characters with their ailments. A sick NPC will yield less experience than a healthy one. Now, you don't have to feed on anybody, but you won't earn nearly as much experience. Battles will be more difficult and your arsenal of abilities not nearly as robust. Side-quests will be locked out should you take out any number of characters. Speaking of abilities, you can build Dr. Reid up to match your personal play style. Many skills trees have branching paths which should be familiar to those that played through Mass Effect 3. Other upgrades, such as those for your health or bullet carrying capacity are linear.

In Vampyr, if you don't become a killer of innocent civilians the community will be more accommodating towards you. Sucking blood isn't the only way to earn experience but the trickle of experience you earn from completing quests downright pales in comparison to the allure of a quick 2,000 experience bite. The game makes it so easy and enticing to mesmerize a victim with a weaker mind, take them to a dark corner, and just suck the life out of them. Experience is your forbidden fruit. It's almost like you can draw a parallel between a vampire's lust for an easy meal with the player's lust for easy experience. Curious how that works, isn't it? Just know that if you take too many lives, areas of the game world can turn hostile towards you, drastically altering your once safe haven. Vendors may no longer become accessible. NPCs may die or become lost. In short: It's a great risk-reward system and you are one of the biggest factors that can swing the balance of entire areas of the city one way or another.

When taken together, Vampyr's multi-layered social metagame, moral decisions, and various in-game story cutscenes yield a complex and engaging gameplay experience. They're broken up by some points of combat that are, for lack of a better word, serviceable. Don't take that the wrong way though. I had no real issues with the Bloodborne style of combat in Vampyr, but combat is not the main focus of this game. It takes a back seat to the rest of the gameplay mechanics and it is not as refined as a game like Bloodborne where the main focus is on the combat. It didn't click for me until a couple of hours into the game but once it did I felt rather comfortable with it. Players can utilize a variety of blood fueled abilities, quick dodges, and a multitude of weapon types to best their foes. Some of these special moves include an ability that will boil the blood of a foe and then cause an area of effect explosion after a few seconds. You can summon a bloody claw to lash out at nearby foes or shadow jump to a targeted enemy that's at range. All of these are fueled by the blood of your enemies which you can partake of if you manage to stun them with your secondary weapon be that a wooden stake, revolver, shotgun, or the like. Dash in, get a bite, and then dash away to ready your next attack. If these blood born combat moves aren't to your liking, you can always dish out a good deal of pain with attacks from weapons like two-handed bludgeons, axes, or swords. Every weapon can be upgraded to different quality levels. Each quality upgrade includes an increase in damage or stun ability and the ability to add on a secondary attribute like bleeding, faster reload, or even incendiary damage just to name a few. Upgrade components can be scavenged from the environment, fallen foes, or even purchased from various vendors. Just, you know, make sure you don't kill off those vendors if you think you may need them later on.

Enemy encounters are usually in groups of 2-3 but there are some cases where a few more will pile on. There are also a good handful of boss encounters that can put your skills to the test. Even with some upgraded abilities, a number of these fights did prove to be a bit challenging. Part of this was due to the foes simply being challenging by design and some were due to the enemy getting in a cheap hit and even a few cases of stored inputs placing me at a disadvantage. Enemies range from the fairly weak basic Skal to more difficult and cunning foes like Skals that can rapidly teleport, or the large and imposing Vulkod. The Nemrod are vampires that want to eliminate other vampires like you and will prove to be a tough opponent in battle. Beyond these foes, there are humans that will test your combat prowess. These humans are vampire hunters and can wield weapons such as flaming crossbows, flamethrowers, holy crosses, traditional blades, and more.

Even with these handful of grievances, I had an absolute blast playing through Vampyr. My total play time for my first go clocked in at a bit over 20 hours. This does include me having to rush through the game's second act due to the impending deadline. Don't worry though, I didn't skip over any of the main story elements. I merely avoided doing a number of side-quests. Though while I sit here typing this I now realize that by intentionally setting aside those side-quests I perhaps drastically altered elements of the main story. It will be interesting to see how things differ with a second play through. At the very least, I put in nearly 13 hours with the main story and most of the side-quests just in the game's first act. The story was engaging from start to finish and the game's hook of every action having a consequence is a huge plus in my book. The way every element of the story and your choices manage to weave together, even things you may think to be mundane or throwaway details, is very telling of the talent behind Vampyr. Between this and Detroit: Become Human, these past couple of weeks have been absolutely tremendous for people wanting to see actual consequences to their actions in games.

What we end up with here is a solid game that has just a few issues holding it back from being a true gaming masterpiece. If you're looking for an engaging action-RPG experience that is less action and more RPG, then you should look no further than Vampyr. DONTNOD crafted a world here where the possibilities are potentially endless. Vampires are theoretically immortal after all. I came away from those 20 hours wanting more. And while I have no doubt that I will find myself replaying the game to see how a different approach will change the story, I still hold out the hope that a sequel isn't off the table.

Whew, I made it the entire review without once referencing Dr. Acula! ...Oh.

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Additional Information
Vampyr (Developed by DONTNOD Entertainment, Published by Focus Home Interactive)
Starting at $44.99 (USD) for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One (Reviewed on PC)
Rated M for Mature 17+ for blood and gore, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language, use of drugs
Game was reviewed on: i7-6700K at 4.5GHz, 32GB DDR4-2666, Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti, Windows 10 64-bit Version 1803
This game was provided to Total Gaming Network for review purposes.
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