The Adventures of Dr. Acula
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about Vampyr is the specific theme of a vampire doctor.
I'm reminded of the Tales From the Crypt episode called The Reluctant Vampire in which Malcom McDowell plays a night security guard for a blood bank. McDowell happens to be a vampire, you see, and feeds off of the collected blood rather than on people. Yeah it's cheesy but there's something there, a kind of clever mutualism that was drummed up by a room full of writers.
Vampyr has something similar but oh-so-much better. I'm very much attracted to the idea of a vampire doctor (Dr. Acula, if you will). Dr. Acula (aka Jonathan Reid) has taken an oath to do no harm, but that hunger is always gnawing at his belly. It's always there, and what's even more motivating is that you actually level up faster if you feed on people. Everyone you kill will give you experience but some people grant you much more if you invest the time. In the game you can literally see through people's skin and watch the blood pump through their veins...which is strangely hypnotic.
There's something darkly enchanting about this theme. Dr. Reid has a vested interest to keeping the denizens healthy--they're his food after all. If a district's denizens start to get sick with a cold or a migraine their blood quality drops, thus netting you less reward for feasting on them.
The more I think about this idea the more interesting it becomes, and it's up to you how far you want to take it.
You can choose to either heal the denizens out of the goodness of your heart or feed on the goodness of their hearts--either way has uplifting or disastrous consequences depending on the person. For example, if you choose to slay a drifter tramp or ne'er-do-well, the consequences may not be so bad.
But there are always consequences.
Take Clay Cox: he's just a mean, murdering ex-gang member who's mouth is as foul as his deeds. Why not just kill him and get a quick spike of XP to level up? At the beginning, Dr. Reid is pretty weak and you're incentivized to feed on people to boost your powers (I never did, though, not until I got to Whitechapel).
At the same time, though, there are people who will miss Clay. There are people who know him and word travels fast when one of their own goes missing. Clay has a wife in Whitechapel, Edwina, who sells items. If you kill Clay, she might hear about it and actually leave her post to find out who did it. But it gets worse: she's connected with the Wet Boot Boys, a gang of boys forced into crime to survive the grisly streets.
At the start, though you have no idea who Clay is or who he's connected to. But as you play and talk to people you learn much, much more about the NPCs and see the beauty of Vampyr's inter-connected world.
Everyone knows someone and gorging yourself on the blood of who you think is a random stranger could ultimately disrupt an entire region. Or it could lead to your death.
The more you talk to people the more clues you get about others. You learn that Thelma Howcroft, who suffers from Cotard's Syndrome and believes she's a vampire, has romantic feelings for Thomas Elwood. You learn that Clay was kicked out of the Wet Boot Boys and has a hatred for the current leady, Booth Digby. Uncovering these clues raises each character's blood quality, thus giving you more XP if you decide to kill them.
Vampyr makes players into a kind of detective that uncovers the best and worst in people. You see their foibles, their quirks, their fears, and often unearth their darkest secrets or innermost desires. Dontnod makes all of it believable though, even if it's based in a supernatural London where monsters and vampires hunt; all of the people seem real.
The farther you go and the more you see and do and uncover, the more potent an NPCs blood becomes. Sometimes you feel as if you're just filling up the blood bank and saving the rows upon rows of vitality for later when you feel hungry or want more power. Maybe that's what Malcolm McDowell felt when working at the blood bank.
Most of the time, though, you feel as if you're understanding the people around you. This fleshes out the world of Vampyr even more and adds a stronger feeling of impact to the player. Can you really kill Clayton Darby after learning he's trying desperately to print the truth about London in the newspapers? Can you kill poor depressed Mortimer Goswick knowing his mother cares about him desperately? Or do you just want to put the poor man out of his misery?
This idea is supremely original and captivated me right from the start. Who becomes your food is one of the main choices you can make in the game and brings with it a certain measure of power...but also an uncertainty how it'll affect your game.
You decide the fates of the people in this world and where their destinies lie. You can kill them, or hurt them in other ways by exposing their dark sides...or worse. These choices and many others are yours to make.
It's a risk, a gamble, and you have to live with your decisions. It's also quite thrilling.
Whether or not you inadvertently doomed an entire district by forcing a key pillar of the community to stop helping others or actually kill them outright for precious blood, your decisions will shape that entire district and determine who comes after you and who doesn't.
Choose not to heal a district and they become sicker and sicker. Dr. Reid can make various cures from materials found throughout your adventures, but if you run out and don't act, the people fall ill. If you wait too long they become sick and desperate and the area will plunge into chaos.
People go missing. People die. Or worse: people turn.
On the flip side, it's still entirely possible to doom an entire district even if most people are healthy. Each region has its own pillar, or person who upholds that particular area. It can be a doctor, a nurse, a father of the cloth--just someone who serves as the glue that holds the district together.
Throughout the main story, you'll be forced to make big decisions that shape the world. You almost always don't know how these choices will affect the London you've carefully curated. For example, my decision with Dorothy Crane plunged Whitechapel back into the epidemic. I won't tell you what happened after that of course, but it's always interesting how these decisions will affect an entire borough.
It's not always about pillars though: killing seemingly random people like Clay Cox can affect your game.
In Whitechapel, I killed Harry Peterson, son of big ruffian Joe "Colossus" Peterson. I killed him because he seemed so dismal, so tired, but more-so I wanted to see what'd happen. When I talked to Joe after the deed was done he told me he'd "hunt down and kill whoever hurt his boy." But Joe didn't know his son was dead yet. So naturally I was intrigued and I wanted to know how the game would either punish or reward this action.
After I killed Harry I retrieved a pistol from his dead body. When you kill people you may get weapons and items along with the XP boost. This was my first reward.
Shortly after Joe went missing. As I quested and roamed London's streets I knew Joe was out there somewhere. He'd find me one way or another and try to take out the good doctor. There was a certain anxiety and thrill in this realization.
Would Joe sneakily attack me while I was busy with a horde of Skals? Would he barge into Pembroke Hospital, where I work, and kill the doctors and everyone I cared about? Would he murder people that know me in the shadows, torturing them beforehand for information on my whereabouts?
When I finally came across Joe he wasn't alone: there was a gang of Prydwen guards with him. Joe, a level 26 mini-boss, almost succeeded...but at this point, I found my nice two-hander build and reunited him with his son.
Killing Joe gave me one of the best weapons that's carried me through the game thus far along with a nifty boon of XP. But more importantly, it exhibited one of the key mechanics of Vampyr's unique social system. Both of these were rewards in their own right.
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United States: The Vampyr - PlayStation 4 retails for $25.00 at Amazon.
United Kingdom: The Vampyr for PlayStation 4 retails for £45.86 at Amazon UK.