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Vampyr Review: The land is calling for a champion

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"The land is calling for a champion," says the Vampire that sired you, and it is so fitting, as everything in Vampyr strives to fill that role, and for the most part, it succeeds. It isn't without some serious faults, and at times even feels unpolished, but the overall experience is exactly what I hoped it would be.

I have spent 27 hours in Vampyr's London, and I am not done with the city and its fiends just yet. I will definitely return for a second playthrough so that I can experience playing it as a proper vampire. Going vegan vampire in Vampyr made for a very immersive, yet frustrating experience.

(Spoilers follow).

Going vegan in Vampyr

I wanted to test Dontnod's promise that Vampyr would offer significant choice in how you want to play the game. I didn't want to feed on humans. Period. I wanted to stay true to the Hippocratic Oath, I wanted to honour my values above gaining powers, and I wanted to be the person I chose to be in this dark tale of hopelessness and death.

The protagonist, Dr. Jonathan Reid lends himself well to the man I wanted to be in the game. His voice, demeanour, reasoning, care for patients, and views about life all fits. On the other hand, I didn't select the choices that would present him in a different light. The less you take care of sick people, and the more you feed on humans, the heavier the consequences on the citizens and districts.

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I only fed on the blood of citizens three times (and one wasn't really a choice). The first was at 20 hours when I met a woman who was going insane. When you kill a victim through feeding, you hear their last thoughts, and she thanked me for the mercy shown her. The second person was a despicable, evil man, but that's not why I killed him in the first place. I killed him because I needed his blood and there were no rats around, and I was between the devil and the deep blue sea. I've walked past him many times, feeling the emotional need to end his life. He was also the very first person the game offers to you as a potential victim. See, you catch him in the act of committing a murder, so you feel justified in taking his life. However, I refused to cross that moral boundary many times - hours passed in the game before I took that awful step.

Dontnod continually pushes you in the direction of feeding on humans to gain more abilities. In fact, they make it near impossible not to feed. After 20 hours in the game I was facing enemies with up to eight levels more than me in skill rating, and finding myself in boss fights with a ten plus skill rating difference. You learn to feed on every rat you can find, plan every boss fight to precision, stock up on serums and ammo. The way you allocate skill points for abilities also play a much more important role than when you go full-on vampire. The fastest way to unlock and power up abilities is to feed on the blood of humans. Naturally, my skill level was severely lacking.

Here are some tips for those planning to go the path of the vegan vamp. Complete every side quest in a district before you move on to the next one and heal as many sick people as you can find. Talk to every NPC, unlock every quest, and take your time to clean up a district. Level up both your weapons as far as you can. Surviving street combat (these kills don't count towards feeding), also adds experience points, but far less than feeding. Nothing boosts your XP points like feeding. 

It is entirely possible to finish Vampyr without making a single kill for feeding. But you need to play the game very carefully and plan your way through every district. You need to be patient, precise, and calculating. It has been one of the most rewarding gaming experiences I have ever had, and Dontnod without a doubt delivered on this promise.

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Vampyr: The Story

Vampyr is a story of betrayal and community, of love and loss, of family and friendship, but above all else, of redemption. It is also a dark tale of violence, impossible decisions, and survival. Dontnod relentlessly throws you into situations where you have to decide if you are Monster or Savior. No, you cannot be both as every decision you make (or neglect to make), has a direct impact on the district you're currently in.

I failed to pay attention to two districts, the docks and sewers, because I thought I had more time and could return, however, my choices regarding certain matters prevented that return. The result of my indecision was that both districts were plunged into chaos; and the streets got overran by werewolves, sickness, and other things that go bump in the night. Be warned, if like me, you're going vegan, then everything becomes a lot more difficult when a district degrades. In other sections of London I healed as many people as I could, I assisted in solving their problems, and together we lived to survive another night, and another.

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It's not a game you should rush through. I found most of the dialogue to be intelligent, quests worthy of my time, and as the main plot unfolded, you become more and more invested in solving the two main storylines; who made you a vampire, and how do you solve the pandemic. Vampyr will keep your attention right through every chapter. You will be presented with decisions that could completely change parts of the story, I don't want to give away the plot, but I'll say this, choosing the moral high ground every time is going to cost you dearly. One of the main reasons why you'll try to avoid feeding on NPC's is because once a person is gone, so will be their quests and stories. The same goes for not saving someone before you level up, you cannot return to their story, they will be dead, the consequence of your decision to walk past them. 

Each branch of monsters has their unique story, politics, and fighting skills. For example, the skulls are not as mindless or violent as they seem. The Ascalon elite not as noble as they pretend.

Everything in Vampyr comes together to weave a fascinating tapestry of story, gameplay, and graphics -  even if some of the stitches show a bit of wear and tear.

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Vampyr: Gameplay, Graphics & Sound

For the most part, I found combat to be extremely enjoyable, especially the boss fights, and specifically because some of those were extremely challenging due to my low skill level. The enemy encounters on the streets of London do become tedious and a chore.

I wish Dontnod didn't punish failure so severely, as you lose all serums and bullets that you've used in a fight - if you die and respawn it is gone. On the other hand, if I went full-on vampire, then I wouldn't have been so depended on these extras in the first place. Crafting and resource gathering also becomes a big chore and running through the dangerous streets of London from one merchant to the next become too much of a hassle.

Using your vampire abilities in combat sometimes felt 'glitchy,' but for me, it wasn't that much of a problem. Resetting your complete skill tree can be done with the press of a single button. Each branch offers a higher level of intensity, and you'll have your favourites to use in combat. I had a huge problem with secondary combat which can be either a weapon like a shotgun or another blade. It is almost useless in combat, especially the guns, and a gameplay mechanic that felt unfinished.

I played Vampyr on PC on the recommended settings (I have a GTX 1080), and at times, London looked hauntingly beautiful; however, there were portions of the city that showed a clear lack of attention when it comes to quality. Vampyr's score is fantastic and further adds to the dark ambience.

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So, is Vampyr that champion? It could've been, but in trying to bring together too many parts, it fails in excelling as a whole. That being said, Vampyr is a game I recommend in spite of its flaws. It is one of the most immersive games I have ever played, but that might just be because I refused to climb off that high horse and bite someone.

This review was based on a review copy sent to us by Focus Home Interactive.

Available On: PS4, Xbox One, PC | Reviewed On: PC | Release Date: 05 June 2018 | RRP: R650

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"Vampyr is a game I recommend in spite of its flaws"

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