It’s hard to overstate how impressive Dontnod’s fall-slated title Vampyr really is without seeing it for yourself. While the gameplay demo above will give you a taste, our E3 demonstration was nearly three times as long, showcasing an amazing maturity for the company. The team is tackling choice in the vampire genre and trying to make those choices matter. Let’s set the table.
Vampyr takes place in post-war London in the year 1918. The protagonist, a former surgeon by the name of Jonathan Reid, has been turned into a vampire. He now finds himself struggling against the thirst that drives him juxtaposes against his Hippocratic oath to do no harm. While that sounded like a very binary choice before I saw the demo, the vertical slice I saw of the game changed my mind.
On the surface, there is one element that throws a curveball into Jonathan’s moral dilemma — leveling up killing enemies is not the most efficient way to gain power – sacrificing citizens is. But what happens when those citizens are tracked, have biographies, maintain family connections, and whose loss will be felt by the entire community? To demonstrate that best we got to see an example scenario in motion.
Running into a man named Seymore, he asks us to find a necklace that he was going to give to his mother. Using our innate vampire powers we find a blood trail nearby, and following it reveals something far worse. Amidst a stack of corpses in a back alley we find Seymore’s lost necklace. Carting it back to him, we find a new dialogue option has opened, letting us use our Mesmerise skill to see his true intentions. Seymore’s chilling response was that he gets no pleasure from killing, but says that it “quiets things….for a time”. Obviously Seymore is disturbed, but does that make him worth killing?
Opening Seymore’s biography, we’ve learned a lot more about him. He currently has a cold (the game takes place during an infection of the Spanish Flu), meaning his blood quality is currently low. If he gets better, his blood (and ultimately the amount of XP earned) would yield more power for our protagonist. It’s in here that we also see that Seymore is supporting two other people.
Following Seymore back to his home, we use our heartbeat sensing abilities to see that he’s meeting with someone. It’s his mother, Stella. Eavesdropping, we find out that she’s shepherding a homeless boy by the name of Rufus – an orphaned street urchin. If we killed Seymore, it’ll have a profound effect on the two people he’s connected with, and it’s hard to know just how far that thread will go until it’s already too late.
In the interests of demonstrating the concept further, our E3 demo driver pops over to meet Stella once Seymore heads out to his evening tasks. True to traditional non-sparkly vampire lore, Jonathan needs to be invited into the home to enter. Using intel we gathered earlier about Rufus, we talk our way inside, and after a short conversation we find out that Stella is complicit in the stack of bodies as she knows her son’s afflictions, but refuses to act on them. We decide that we will sup on her healthy blood, ending her life. While there are no witnesses, the impact will be fairly immediate. Fear may cause shopkeepers to raise prices, or with enough deaths, the district will be picked clean, losing all of the plot threads in that area forever. The developers were very clear that there are no good or bad choices in Vampyr, just consequences, and slaughtering entire swaths of London will grant you “the ending you deserve”, even if those same choices won’t prematurely end the game.
Stella’s blood consumed, Jonathan must reset to reap the rewards and metabolize the new blood. This is where the upgrade mechanic kicks in, giving the player defensive, aggressive, tactical, and “ultimate” power choices. The option to specialize is more of a requirement given the wholesale slaughter you’d have to unleash on London to get every power, but seeing how depressed the citizens are in their mourning the next day might curb that approach rather quickly.
To see a bit of what I’ve described, you can check out this gameplay below:
Everything in Vampyr uses blood. Combat, investigation, persuasion skills like Mesmerize, leaving Jonathan weaker with each use. The team hinted that failing to feed entirely could make the protagonist even turn feral. Exploring how to keep Reid “healthy” while also trying not to devastate the community you’ve sworn to protect will be an interesting challenge if Dontnod can live up to the promise shown by this brief slice of the game.
Our demo closed out with finding another morally ambiguous character named Sean. Also a vampire, Sean provides food and shelter to the poor, and is a pillar of the dock community. He’s also eating a plate of mysteriously-sourced raw flesh when we find him, spewing religious doctrine. Charming, killing, or sparing him will have wide-sweeping consequences, no matter the choice. It’s not often games based around choice manage to make those choices matter, but from what I’ve seen here, Vampyr has nailed it.
Vampyr is releasing for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC in November of 2017