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‘Vampyr’: Our first take

Who's for dinner? 'Vampyr' finds its fun in making you choose

‘Vampyr’: Our first take
“'Vampyr' demands you find the most nutritional victims in London, and hopes that killing them will weigh on your conscience.”
  • Choosing who to murder matters
  • Quick, action-heavy combat makes vampirism worth it
  • Lots to dig into for fans of stories in games
  • Investigations may move at a slow pace
  • Story systems may be less compelling if you choose to be evil

Like a 19th Century Hannibal Lecter, you move around industrial London in Life is Strange developer Dontnod’s Vampyr deciding exactly who to eat. Since you’re a vampire, you have to eat someone. Since you’re a doctor, you don’t want to just rip out random throats. Plus there’s a whole “ancient secret society of vampire hunters” to worry about. This isn’t something to go about all willy-nilly.

As Dr. Jonathan Reid, a recently turned vampire trying to save some lives both as professional obligation and because of that pesky Hippocratic Oath, this presents some potential problems (potential in that you don’t actually have to care about those things: Going full nightstalker is possible if you’re not addled by conscience). You’ll want to spend time getting to know the inhabitants of London, so you can make the best educated decision on who to murder in order to make yourself a stronger, more capable creature of the night.

The game (here’s everything we know about Vampyr so far) puts you in the difficult position of trying to protect the people of London from the Spanish Flu and other vampires as you wander the streets. The game includes some underlying systems that keep track of who you kill and how their loss will affect the rest of the city. In practice, that means having conversations with and doing side quests for the various folks you meet in London. There are people all over the place in the city, and as you talk to them, you might learn clues about who they are and how they fit into the ecosystem of London.

Nutrition facts

In our hands-off demo at E3 2017, Reid spoke with a man named Seymour, who was both kind of a jerk and devoted to his mother, lamenting a locket he’d bought her and lost.

It’s mesmerizing how much you’ll want to get to know the inhabitants of London.

With a little investigation, thanks to a blood-seeking vision mode unique to vampires, Reid tracked the locket to a murder scene. It turns out that Seymour is a menace to society as well as a devoted son, two facts the game logged on a special menu devoted to Seymour (there’s one for each citizen, it seems). Tracking Seymour back to his house, Reid was able to eavesdrop on his conversation.  Reid discovered that while Seymour loved his mother, he was also a bit of a hothead, angry that his mom was caring for a local homeless kid called Rufus.

It was looking more and more like Seymour might make a good snack.

Next, Reid mesmerized his way into Seymour’s mom’s house in order to ask her more about her son. Vampyr uses a conversation system similar one to what you might expect from a BioWare game. As you learn more about a given citizen, more options make themselves available to you.

Knowing how to push a person’s buttons lets you use your vampire powers to persuade them to do things for you, such as invite you into their house, which you otherwise cannot enter.

Once inside, Reid got some more information out of Seymour’s mom. She’s devoted to her son, which is why she doesn’t turn him in for the whole “uncontrollable murderer” thing. At that point, having learned quite a bit about the situation, Reid could continue to find out more about Seymour and his mom by talking to the homeless kid, Rufus.

With all the information in place, he could then make an informed decision about how killing any of these people might affect the district in which they live. The ripples include changing prices in the local shops, altering the lives of people close to the potential victim(s), and causing a deterioration in the “health” of the whole neighborhood. If a neighborhood’s health drops too low, it’s “lost” — meaning the people disappear, any side quests vanish with them, and monsters move in.

Seymour was a sickly jerk, but his mom was full of that sweet, sweet experience point-granting plasma.

Instead of investigating and deliberating all those possibilities, though, the Dontnod developer giving the demo decided to make a snack of the mom then and there. Along with all the social information you can gather about the people in the district, you also get information about their “blood quality.” Healthier people are more filling, as it happens. Seymour was sickly both spiritually and physically, but his mom was full of that sweet, sweet experience point-granting plasma.

Reid, perhaps a bit guilty for having murdered a nice old lady who cared for a local homeless orphan, absconds to a vampire hangout and sleeps off the bad vibes. Resting lets you level up with the experience you’ve gained through combat and chomping folks, but it also progresses time.

By the time our demo-giver had picked a few new cool vampire moves, like lurching forward as a cloud of mist to close the gap on enemies in order to better tear them apart, we returned to Seymour’s house to find it wrecked and mostly abandoned, with a sad Seymour grieving inside. Poor Rufus was hanging out on the docks, worse off than before we’d shown up, it seemed.

Your friendly neighborhood creature of the night

All this Interview with the Vampire-style hand-wringing about choosing the perfect target stems from the fact that you have to murder in order to move the game forward. After all, you’re a vampire, that’s what vampires do. Also, you’ll the experience from feeding to “evolve” Reid, which allows him to take down tougher enemies and get into areas you might not otherwise be able to access. You also can get doses of experience from drinking blood in combat with bad guys, but it’s much less efficient. In a systemic way, you need to feed.

While the consequences of your evil actions might weigh on your conscience, the rewards are palpable. Effectively tearing up baddies looks to be pretty compelling in and of itself in Vampyr. You can mix together close-range melee attacks with weapons like pistols for a balance in combat, and your vampire abilities let you quickly zip around the battlefield, ripping out throats with a clawed hand and a useful machete.

The combat, similar to action-role-playing games like Bloodborne or Horizon: Zero Dawn in its strategy and speed, makes for tight battles with just a few enemies, but you’re not invincible. In the demo we saw, avoiding combat was a pretty useful approach, and London was open enough to provide multiple paths in most situations.

The most compelling (vampire mind control pun!) part of Vampyr, though, seems to be getting to know your neighbors so you can protect the nice ones and cull the herd of the jerky ones. Played with a focus on trying to be the most-good spawn of evil you can, the game has no lack of tough choices. After all, does a momma’s boy murderer deserve death? And what happens to his mom if you eat him? Who are you to judge, other than a local blood-letter with a clear conflict of interest?

Maybe the best approach is the one adopted by Dr. Lecter himself: Eat the rude.

Look for Vampyr on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One in November 2017.

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