If you've ever dreamed yourself back to those good old days when Vampire: The Masquerade was the hottest thing you could play on your PC, then you might have been starving for another experience like that, and you might have also been disappointed by the vampire-themed games that you've played since. If that's you then you might want to keep an eye out for Vampyr, a game from the Paris-based studio Dontnod which not only lets you become a bloodthirsty night crawler, but also lets you decide the fate of a whole community of innocent people.
Behind closed doors at E3, publisher Focus Home Entertainment held a presentation and give us an extensive demonstration of the game. The main protagonist, Doctor Jonathan Reid, is the quiet type, then again, he's also both a vampire and a doctor. He might be a nice guy and, as a medical practitioner, he might have sworn an oath to inflict no harm on his patients, and even though he seems friendly enough, at the end of the day he's still a vampire, and this inner conflict will be a big part of both gameplay and the story.
Vampyr takes place in London circa 1918, and Spanish Flu is everywhere, killing off whole families as it sweeps through the city. As a doctor it will be Reid's job to help as many people as he possibly can, however, it will be up to you to decide how and when to help, and if you want to focus on other tasks and ignore the needy, you can. You operate out of a hospital (pardon the pun), which also happens to be neutral ground where vampire hunters aren't allowed to hunt and kill you. We don't know the details of the story just yet, but we expect some twists and turns, and that you will have to make a couple of difficult decisions on behalf of Dr Reid.
"So you will encounter vampires in the game, obviously," lead level designer Florent Guillaume said on the topic of vampires when we spoke to him at E3. "You're one of them. Some of them are friends, you will meet some friend vampires who will help you throughout your quest and your adventure, and you will also find enemies. And there [are] not only vampires - the game is supernatural, [a] fantastic part of the game. There are humans facing you, they are vampire hunters [...] trying to clean the city of this beast."
In traditional role-playing fashion, Vampyr comes with quests, side missions, and a complex and detailed levelling system. During the course of the game, you will have to spend experience points on different talents and abilities to make Dr Reid more powerful and efficient. This is where Vampyr gets interesting, as in order to gain experience you can't just venture out and kill people, and then level up Reid in the traditional way. Instead, you will have to consume somebody, and depending on how pure that person is/was, the more or less power you will gain. The thing is that for every human you kill the overall wellbeing of London will go down, making everything a balancing act. Kill too many people and the city will suffer, kill too few and your powers will not evolve.
There are other important things to consider when going after an innocent soul. For example, if you decide to kill a nice looking old lady you will consume her memories as well, which will let you learn things about her and her family. A lot of the residents of London know each other; some are family and others are connected in different ways. This means that you will affect different people with each kill, and it will be important to get to know the people, who's connected to who, and try to foresee what consequences your actions will have. We didn't get to see the devs dive into this mechanic as deeply as we wanted them to, but it certainly looks interesting and surprisingly nuanced.
"There are two extremes but we don't want to judge anything," Guillaume explained about the moral choices when we spoke to him. "We don't want to judge the player and [...] there's no karma system, there's no moral system, there's no black or white. There's a lot of grey [...] areas and again puts you in the shoes of this character. He needs to kill, he needs blood to evolve and to survive, and to do so you have to take the lives of innocents. And all these characters populating the world have all their stories, their own stories, their relationships with other characters, and the choices that you make on the lives of people will affect the other people relating to them. So, for instance, if you kill a mother, what happens to the boy?"
"You have complete freedom," narrative director Stéphane Beauverger explained when we spoke to him earlier this year, adding that "you could decide to kill everybody in the game. Or to take no life at all. Except, I would say, no innocent life."
When you're not fighting the flu or thinking about which neighbour you should snack on next, there will be a main quest line for you to pursue and side missions to complete, and the game is supposed to be 15-30 hours long, depending on your play-style. Even though you might be a vampire, that doesn't mean that you don't have any enemies, as there are vampire hunters out to get you and they'll take every opportunity they get to thrust a stake through your heart. To defend yourself you have a wide array of powers available to use, like a teleportation move that lets you swoop past enemies and attack them from behind. As it's a role-playing game, you can also expect to unlock more moves as you level up. We didn't see much combat, just one fight, but what was there seemed fun.
Vampyr puts a fresh spin on the vampire experience, and the mechanics that revolve around the lives of the people of London look especially interesting. With an intriguing story, a large open world to explore, fun combat, and family tragedies waiting to happen, we came away from the presentation wanting to feed on some poor souls even more than we did before, and that's a good sign. Vampyr will be released on PC, Playstation 4, and Xbox One this November.