Sunday, August 5, 2018
Vampyr (Xbox One) Review
Vampyr is a unique RPG set in London just after World War I. You take the role of Dr. Jonathan Reid. Besides having a great name, he has also recently become a vampire. He seeks to use his newfound powers to track down the one responsible, and end them. While the fights are very action-oriented, I wouldn't call Vampyr an action RPG.
Coming across enemies, which you will do, requires combat. Jonathan can equip two main weapons and two sub weapons. The d-pad allows you to swap between the two when you need to. The main weapons are things like swords and clubs. Sub-weapons might not always deal damage, like the stake or the Liston knife that draws blood, but they are still useful. Guns are very powerful sub-weapons that have limited ammo capacity. Used strategically, they can turn the tide of a fight very quickly. Enemies will of course try to hit you too, so there is a dodge maneuver. It seems okay, but isn't the best. For example, it can't get you out of a corner if an enemy traps you there. It's also not a reactionary dodge, so you have to do it before an attack, but not too much before, otherwise you will still get hit. Both attacking and dodging take stamina, so you need to do better than just mashing buttons to get through.
What I'd really like in the game is a proper stealth attack. Something that does a lot of damage, and rewards you for being sneaky. The vampire bite would be ideal for this, but unfortunately, it is only used to give you a small amount of blood. If you do sneak up on an enemy, you can "stun" them, which equates to you shoving them to the ground. You can then bite them for a measly amount of blood and damage, or hit them, which instantly breaks the stun. Some kind of powerful attack would have been the best, I think.
There are several different weapons to find, including two handed weapons (if you equip one, you won't get an off-hand weapon for that set). Hopefully you like crafting, since they can be made stronger. True to many Focus-published RPGs, you can increase the stats of a weapon by using parts and leveling it up, or adding mods. While some part amounts seem a bit high, the whole system is much more streamlined than other, similarly styled game. I also found enough parts that I could take advantage of the system, instead of hoping for a stronger weapon to be found. While there don't seem to be many different weapon mods, the ones present are solid. More damage, less stamina consumed for attacking, and drawing blood. This last one is easily my favorite. I had difficulty getting blood reliably, because "stun then bite" was not useful after the first 30 minutes. Moding a weapon to give some blood per hit ensured I could build up enough to use abilities and heal myself. I definitely recommend getting one rank of this on your main weapon as soon as you can.
In addition to more normal weapons (well, as normal as swinging a broadsword around in post-WWI London can be), there are some special vampire abilities to learn. Most take blood, which you can get from certain items, or by drinking some from enemies. There is a blood spear, which gives you a ranged attack, or the claw, allowing you a quick and powerful melee attack. I really liked the blood shield, which allowed me to take an extra hit. It was very useful when dealing with multiple enemies, or ranged foes. However, the heal is probably the most useful ability. It does cost blood, but really helps in a tight spot. Once you are level 10, you can also purchase an ultimate skill. These are powerful,but have a long cooldown. All abilities are set to the shoulder/bumper buttons, and can be re-assigned if you get more than four. They felt a bit expensive to me, since blood can be tricky to get in fights, especially early in the game.
When not in combat, Jonathan will make his way around town, talking to others, doing side quests, finding items, crafting, and maybe even curing some sick people. He is a doctor after all. If you want to get powerful quickly, you can also drain people of their blood for some fast experience. Of course, you won't be left with quest givers or shops at that rate. To make it easier to stay your fangs, people have a blood quality. You could eat them right away, but if you learn more about them, you will get more experience from draining their blood. It's a nice system to balance a mad quest for power with actually talking to people. When you talk to people about these hints and secrets you learn, Jonathan uses his mesmeric vampire powers to get them to talk. It's a neat little detail that I like. In fact, I really like talking to the various people and finding out all of the hints I can.
Gaining experience doesn't directly give you levels. Instead, when you sleep, you spend your experience to buy new passive and active skills, or upgrade the ones you have. In turn, this raises your level. I'm not sure what amount of spent experience equates to a level increase, but it doesn't seem that important. Your skills and weapons seem a better determination of how an encounter will go, rather than a level vs level comparison. Your experience can also be reassigned, so don't worry too much about picking something that isn't that good. Also note that experience costs climb quickly, so it would be very hard to max out a useful skill instead of spreading it around to several useful ones.
Vampyr's difficulty is a bit of a rocky area for the game. You can easily take a lot of damage, and it's not hard to get hit (detection feels a bit off). However, I could still make it through most fights without much trouble, which I like. What I don't really like is how enemy levels seem to jump up, instead of a more natural progression. In the first area, I received several side quests. However, there was no way to complete a few of them, because the enemy levels were double mine or more. Even one I could complete had level 6 enemies on one floor, and the next had level 9. This lopsided balance even extends to the end, as a friend of mine had to fight a level 50 boss, while he was topped at 35 or so. It's not the best design, I'd say. And no, embracing people for experience wouldn't have helped, since doing that to...everyone...is what got him into that mess in the first place.
My last, and biggest problem with the game is the saving. I am fully aware that one of the game's core ideas is you living (or un-living) with the consequences of your actions. That's fair. However, they should remember that it's a video game, so fun should be a priority. Instead, the developers went down the Fable road, of each game having only one save slot, and it's an auto save. Let me save in slots, so I can have a little fun. That's one of the reasons Bethesda games do so well. This problem is exacerbated by the Mass Effect-like dialogue options. Remember the joke that you pick an innocent-sounding option, only to have it go awry? While not as overblown as the jokes, that sort of thing is sadly present.
There are several minor ones, but the first major one is what stuck with me the most. I don't want to spoil parts of the story, so I'll be vague. I caught someone doing something bad, and had the following options: killing them, making them quit their job, or making them forget. I thought that having them forget the bad thing they were doing was a great idea. It was also in the blue text, which previously meant it was derived from a hint. So, I picked that option. Instead of doing what it sounded like, it made them forget everything. Not enough that they could continue being useful and not do the thing I wanted them to stop, but all of what they knew. So, they just wandered off, ruining two communities. What?! That's a really severe consequence to a choice that doesn't have near enough information. Why are there two bad options instead of the one obvious one? Too bad I can't just load and get the result I wanted and was trying for, all because of some David Cage-like god complex. Forcing consequences may be alright at times, but not when it feels like you are being tricked into it. It really made me want to stop, but I persevered and kept playing.
Vampyr has its faults, but I'd still say it's a fun RPG. I was expecting something more along the lines of Focus' other RPG offerings, but this is much more substantial than a downloadable game. It offers 40 or so hours of quests, dialogue choices, and adrenaline-filled combat. It's a solid title, and one I would heartily recommend to RPG fans, or people looking for an interesting vampire game to play.
Lots of choices for who to feed on and who to save in this fairly solid RPG offering. Good replay value.
Hitting and dodging can be spotty at times, enemy levels seem to jump up instead of rising normally. One auto-save file and questionable dialogue choices don't make for a good combination.
It's pronounced "vampire", although I keep wanting to say "vam-peer". I'll deal, since the "Y" motif is meant to evoke the autopsy incision.
(Review code for Vampyr was received from the publisher)