From Dontnod, the studio behind Remember Me and Life Is Strange, comes Vampyr, an action-RPG set in the London of 1918. As Jonathan E. Reid, a dedicated physician who suffers from the vampiric affliction, players must grapple or give in to their newfound bloodthirst while both searching for a cure to his disease and the ongoing Spanish flu epidemic. I was able to sit down and see a live demonstration of Vampyr in action.
One of the key elements of Vampyr is Reid’s internal conflict of being a doctor sworn to do no harm and the need to feed on living people in order to survive. It is technically possible to complete Vampyr without killing anyone. However, players choosing to go that route won’t have an easy time of it. Cleverly, Dontnod has linked the conflict between peace and feast with character progression. Every life the player feeds on as a vampire heals them, imparts the victim’s final thoughts, and provides experience used to level up the player’s vampiric powers. Dontnod summed this up nicely during their presentation saying, “The more you kill the stronger you are. The question is how far are you willing to go?”
As players make their way through the world Dontnod crafted in 1918 London, they will encounter human and otherworldly threats. Vampire hunters, humans who have dedicated themselves over the centuries to the eradication of vampires, are a common sight on the dim streets of London. They know how to spot and fight bloodsuckers and can prove to be a real threat to an unprepared or unsubtle vampire. Also shown in the demo were what Dontnod called “skulls.” These creatures are mutant, half vampire, completely unhinged, and somehow related to the Spanish flu outbreak.
Both of these enemy groups require either stealth or combat skills. “The combat system is intended to be brutal and challenging, emphasized on timing and positioning,” the demonstrator stated while maneuvering through an encounter, “Our hero uses the mix of melee and with weapons he learned to use [in World War I].” As players wade into battle, using vampire powers will drain their energy and vitality, making it necessary to feed on enemies to keep their strength up. However, players will have to be careful they don’t put themselves in a vulnerable position when feeding in the middle of a fight as it leaves Dr. Reid vulnerable. However, unlike feasting civilians, feasting in combat doesn’t quite have the same experiential reward, “In terms of XP, citizen's blood will always be more valuable than fighting.” Improvised weapons can be crafted and wielded in addition to ranged weapons and vampire powers.
Vampyr takes place in a, “semi-open world with interconnected paths, so you will explore different districts of London seamlessly.” Dontnod explained that players can explore these areas freely and implied that thorough exploration will be necessary to uncover all of the secrets London holds. The city is divided into different districts. As the game progresses, how players have treated the citizens in each district will become more relevant. Each district has its own health indicator based on the number of living, healthy people it holds. Feasting on too many people to boost your vampire powers can cause a district to collapse into chaos. The Spanish flu is also ripping through the population and deciding to use your skills as a doctor can prove very valuable to keeping districts healthy. As a vampire, players will be able to assess if someone is infected and how far along the disease has progressed. Do you help those at death’s door or do you suck their blood for your own benefit?
Beyond that moral quandary, interacting with London’s residence seems to be one of the most interesting aspects of Vampyr that I’ve seen. Every NPC walking around London has their own backstory, goals, aspirations, and daily routines. As the game progresses and people start dying, it has an effect on the population. Routines will change, NPCs will leave, and goals will shift. The example shown was of a man named Joe. Joe extorts money from local businesses and has a son in Whitechapel. If the player decides that the extortion racket Joe is running makes him a target for bloodsucking, they can use the Mesmerize ability to place Joe under their control and bring him to a secluded area. After killing Joe, the local newspaper will soon discover his body and the behavior of the people connected to Joe will change. The shops he extorted will sell better items and make more money while the son he had will run away from Whitechapel in fear. “You also could have chosen to feed upon the son or even the merchant instead, and the consequences will be significantly different,” explained the demonstrator. “There are no good or bad choices, only morally ambiguous options; so you create your own experience and now you know how it feels to be a vampire.”
As you interact with NPCs you can learn more about their lives and activities, gathering a collection of hints. These hints will eventually reveal dirt on most adults you come across in the game, making the decision to feed easier or harder depending on each player’s moral compass. An interesting wrinkle: While getting to know NPCs, you will need to obtain permission from every resident to cross the threshold of their home, a classic vampire rule. Players will have to make the proper conversational choices to gain entrance.
Being a doctor, Jonathan Reid views his vampirism as a disease that can be cured. His main goal throughout Vampyr is to unlock its mysteries and ultimately find a cure. However, his pursuit of a cure might drive him mad with guilt or power before he can find a way to undo his infection. It has been a long time since we’ve had a vampire game that was worth playing. The heavy emphasis on the moral questions a vampire might face could be just the approach needed to catapult Vampyr to set a new standard for the subject matter in games.
Vampyr releases sometime in 2017 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.