TLDR: Play as a vampire where story and choices are important. With a great atmosphere, the story will draw you in. The combat flow is great, despite some annoying hiccups. Playthroughs with different choices serve as replayability, but the story is like a good book that you can come back to later.
Vampyr is an action RPG set in London during the Spanish Flu epidemic. As can be guessed from the title, vampires are involved, and they’re nothing like the glittery ones from Twilight. Playing as the newly-made vampire, Dr. Jonathon Reid, you’re set loose upon London as you come to grips with what you’ve become. Although there is a great deal of cannon fodder NPC’s to fight within the world, there are also dozens of important characters that help shape the world. Interacting with them helps you piece together the predicament you find yourself in, or if you choose, embrace/kill them for extra experience to become even stronger. Interactions are entirely optional as well, other than those required to progress the story.
However, these interactions are extremely important to setting the tone and atmosphere of the story. Since the city is gripped by disease, people are distrusting and quick to dismiss you. However, many of the characters swiftly change their attitudes when you tell them you’re a doctor. Some could care less and are openly hostile while they answer your questions. A good deal of the characters don’t behave this way though, and open their door in hopes of some miracle cure to their problems. These encounters show the desperation throughout the city, which makes it all the worse when you misuse their trust to feed on them. That kind of interaction actually made me give a damn about the characters found throughout the world. Even the openly hostile ones were a subtle touch, almost daring you to feed on them. The one negative with any of these interactions is that dialogue choices are hard to read sometimes. With only handful of words to clue you in, you may choose an unintended dialogue choice. Luckily, the main story interactions are generally free of this problem.
Interactions with these characters are separated from the mentioned cannon fodder. This serves as a pacing mechanic in gameplay as well. Once inside a district where characters live, you can meander around at your own pace exploring, trading, or chatting up the locals. Step outside these safe zones though, and you’ll quickly run into hostile NPC’s. Humans won’t necessarily attack on sight, as they question your presence before turning hostile, but a fight typically sits around every corner.
Combat sits in that weird spot where things will be flowing fine one second, then I’m cursing the mechanics the next. The overall system is great, enemies have their own abilities and resistances which you must overcome through careful thought. Brute force is always an option, but isn’t always the easiest path. This creates a dynamic feel to combat on deciding what abilities to use and when. That great flow of combat also comes from trading blows and stopping an enemy’s attack short through either a parry or dodge.
The angry cursing happens when enemies decide that they don’t want to follow the same rules as you. If you take a hit, you become staggered. The same applies to most enemies with some tougher enemies falling under a slightly different set of rules. Sometimes, enemies will receive this stagger, but then inexplicably launch an attack while the stagger animation is playing. This is worsened by the fact that many enemies possess a grapple ability that can either be dodged as intended, or suck you in like a magnet. These issues don’t happen often, but they’re consistent enough that it can easily cause you to die and be rather angry. Luckily, dying has no impact other than sending you back a bit and respawning any enemies you killed along the way.
In the end, combat feels good when working as intended. Upgrades and abilities quickly change the pacing, and you can invest in them as you see fit. The best part of this, and is a god-send that more games need to follow, is that you can refund all your experience for free throughout the game. There’s also not a large amount of abilities, but all of them felt diverse enough that this wasn’t an issue. The only part that felt lacking was enemy diversity in the early game. The story explains the reasoning behind this, but I wish there was a rare chance to discover these end-game enemies as you explore the city.
That addition would make exploring more rewarding as well, as you may find yourself spending several hours doing it. For full completion of the game, you are not only encouraged, but required to search every lootable container. This includes those found in the homes of people you come across, friend or foe. The odd thing being that no one ever comments or cares that you just rifled through every drawer in their home. It makes it even more bizarre when a character will invite you into their home, only for you to find some piece of damning evidence about their true nature while searching for every shilling in their house. When you finally confront them about whatever gossip you discovered, the conversation goes on its merry way with no word about the shadiness you just pulled in their own home. However, this mechanic is required to get the most experience possible if you decide to embrace/kill a character and there’s no other sensible way to do it. Stealing could have been a mechanic, but it would have just been an annoyance that players would eventually find a way around, like the stealing in Skyrim by using baskets. In the end, it just creates a weird habit for completionists or loot fanatics to rummage through every possible area before continuing progress in the story, something most players do in every other game anyways. This is very much a personal gripe, and I have no easy alternative to suggest, but it’s just a weird habit that seems to be in most games now.
I had a lot of fun playing Vampyr, and with multiple choices/outcomes, there’s room for another playthrough. That’s an important note in itself too, as once you beat the game, that playthrough is over. There’s no open world fun with that save after wrapping up the story, but that’s to be expected in a story-heavy game like this. Either way, this is the type of game I’ll let sit for a while then come back to play again, like you’d do with a good book. I also can’t wait to see where this game is taken in the future, whether it be a spinoff or continuation of the story, as it such a well-crafted universe.
Final side-note: the NPC idle animations when talking to them can get creepy or plain silly sometimes. Also, the comic book illustrations that serve as the occasional cutscene are awesome.