E3 2017: Vampyr is the Ultimate Vampire Game (Preview)

June 21, 2017

Vampyr is the third game from developers Dontnod Entertainment, previously having worked on Life is Strange and Remember Me. However, Vampyr is their most ambitious project yet – an Action RPG meant to be the ultimate vampire game, and it certainly looks that way. At E3 this year, I watched a developer-run walkthrough of a mission from the first act of the game, that demonstrates many of the mechanics on display.

You play as a physician, Jonathan Reid, who has just been transformed into a vampire in 1918 London. The demo’s mission starts in a hospital, which is considered sacred ground, where blood can’t be spilled by vampires. Jonathan gets orders from Dr. Swansea, after chatting to him for a bit using a traditional RPG dialogue wheel, to seek out a man named Sean Hampton down at the docks.

Jonathan has a range of vampire abilities – for instance, vampire vision to see blood trails, which is helpful in tracking certain objectives. It’s also very interesting visually, as it shows the heart and circulation of living beings around you – potential targets for you to feed upon, since as a vampire, you’re constantly in need of fresh blood (which is your XP/levelling up system in this game). Jonathan can also turn into smoke and teleport to cross otherwise impassable distances like rivers.

You have a stamina bar which is burned up by normal attacks, a blood bar for vampire abilities and a health bar, which automatically regenerates but can be whittled down by fire attacks, wooden stakes – traditional vampire killing stuff. In combat you can lock onto enemies and attack with heavy and light attacks, which looks a little like The Witcher, at least to the casual observer, without having physically played it. There’s also a little bit of Deus Ex in here, in the way that you can sneak up behind enemies and stun them, then ‘embrace’ them to feed upon them. Jonathan can also cloak temporarily and bypass enemies entirely unseen.

Jonathan also has a ‘Spring’ ability to rapidly close in to enemies to fight up-close and personal – this is also used for some of his more impressive environment traversal abilities. He can use ‘Coagulate’ to paralyse an enemy’s blood and stun them, and also has a special ability slot for strong melee attacks. It looks like there are lots of different abilities and you can customise them to fit your playstyle. Super kill moves are available that can take out multiple enemies at once – the one I saw showed Jonathan rapidly teleporting around a few thugs to eviscerate them.

While Vampyr’s tone is quite dark and gothic, there are some lighter aspects to the world. As the developer walked around the docks, he came across a murder scene, attended by the boastful yet inept fake-vampire hunter called Ichabod, who immediately proclaimed the murder the work of a vampire – unaware that a real vampire (Jonathan) was passing by him right at that very moment.

Vampyr has a semi-open world, and there are always different paths for you to take to an objective – exploring as much as you can will reward you with more story content. All NPCs have names and personalities and detailed stories, but they are also prey for you. Vampyr names them ‘citizens’ and separates them into districts, which are areas within which your actions can have a lot of influence. What kind of influence? Well, while you can level up your character just through combat, the most efficient way is to feed on citizens and sacrifice them. However, since your actions have consequences, you can choose to be selective about who you sacrifice – will you go after those you deem to morally deserve it, or will you go after those whose blood can benefit you the most? Or, will you just feed on everyone – this is an option, as is feeding on nobody and there is no ‘right’ answer. However, if you do feed on a district too much, you can lock out all the character-based side quests which are within it, and let the district fall to darkness, as its streets become infested with tough enemies.

A specialised citizen screen shows how many citizens are within a certain district and who they are. Once you’ve met each one and learn about them, information is added to them in this menu screen, so you can keep track of their history, personality and their blood quality. Their blood quality measures how much XP they can give you.

In the demo, Jonathan found a stranger by the docks who was beside himself after having lost his mother’s necklace. Jonathan agrees to find it – eventually tracking it to a pile of corpses. The stranger, Fishburn, as it turns out, is a serial killer. Investigating further, it turns out his mother is taking care of a homeless boy, which Fishburn resents. Jonathan finds the mother’s house (using the ‘mesmerise’ dialogue ability to encourage her to invite him in, as vampires must first be invited to enter a home – a nice bit of vampire lore integrated into gameplay here). Inside, you’re able to learn more about her, realising her blood quality is much higher than her son’s, leaving you with a choice – do you kill the serial killer son who shows no remorse for his actions, or his mother who will benefit your progress and levelling up the most? Whatever your decision, it will have repercussions on the storylines within that district. In the demo, the developer fed on the mother, so that he was strong enough for a miniboss battle later on – a very cool one involving a guard packing a flamethrower.

The demo ended with Jonathan finding his target, Sean, who was a priest obsessed with eating the flesh of dead men – he espoused a long speech about faith before leaving Jonathan with a key decision, one that will have a much larger influence on the docks district than any other – whether to spare him, charm him to change his ways or ‘embrace’ him and feed on him. This is where the demo ended, leaving the decision unresolved.

Vampyr draws upon influences from across the range of vampire mythology out there, and really looks to integrate those influences into the gameplay and not just into its story, which is impressive. The game is currently slated to last around 15-30 hours, depending on how much you explore each district, and will have four alternate endings. Look for it in November 2017 on PC, Xbox One and PS4.