Vampyr Nintendo Switch Review: Worth Sinking Your Teeth Into
Last fall, Dontnod stepped out of its own Life is Strange shadow to deliver Vampyr, a blood-sucking RPG set during the early 20th century.
I always thought more of it than the otherwise middling reception it received, and on Switch today, I think even more highly of it — and not just because it's portable now. Vampyr has its frustrations, no doubt, but it's also got a lot going for it, particularly in regards to its atmosphere and writing.
If you're looking for an RPG that plays unlike many others without abandoning what makes the genre special, Vampyr is worth a bite.
Vampyr tells the story of Jonathan Reid, a brilliant physician just home from World War I who falls victim to vampirism — and a little bit of amnesia as a result. Finding out who turned Reid from lifesaver to bloodsucker is his motivation. Still, amid the Spanish Flu, civil unrest, and a vampire plague, Reid's nightshifts on the streets of London are busy with many other jobs, too.
Chief among his other concerns is the city's sick population. People are dying all over, and as a renowned doctor, he's called upon to aid the local hospital. Reid's inner struggle to hide his true nature from the hospital staff is a fascinating set up in its own right, but it's made even better by the way the game pits morality and gameplay difficulty at odds with each other.
The more Reid preys on people to drink their blood, the stronger he will be. Talking to characters and even performing quests for them enriches their blood, and you can choose when to pounce on them and turn them from quest giver to blood donator. But that also leaves its mark on the city. The story brilliantly follows your lead when you've decided to munch a main character for lunch.
Most characters can be removed this way, and never feasting on their flesh is an option, too, though it makes the game harder. This morality system feels like the kind of promise many RPGs make but few fulfill, leaving Vampyr in exclusive company.
It also helps that the writing is so great. Every character feels worth talking to, and as you progress through side quests, you'll find out more about other characters, some of whom you may not have met yet, opening up new dialog options all the time. These cross-sections of side quests feel Witcher-esque, which is just about the highest praise I can give a role-playing game.
Even better than the game's morality system or its intersecting quests is its atmosphere. Like blood on the neck of a recent snack, London is positively dripping with atmosphere. The open-world has too many dead ends, which regularly frustrate, but I found myself forgiving them more easily than I'm used to. Vampyr's brooding, gothic world comes alive not so much due to its inhabitants — there are justifiably few of those in such harsh times. Rather, it's the set design and the music that so memorably puts players in Reid's shoes.
Olivier Deriviere's score is among the very best of his storied career, and every alleyway feels as dingy and dangerous as they're meant to. Reid's voice actor does well to set the stage, too, even as he suffers from the protagonist's dilemma of monologuing too much. Dontnod did a stunning job bringing their sickly version of London to life, and Vampyr is an excellent RPG for that reason more than any other.
It's not all sightseeing, though, as the game will regularly throw vampire hunters, rival monsters, and other combatants your way. The stamina-based combat works pretty well, and it allows for deep and rewarding customization of your abilities. It just never rises above good, though at least it's reliable. Some bosses, in particular, are very challenging, so the game needed to be dependable in its combat, and thankfully, it always is.
I recall playing Vampyr on Xbox at launch when the game would regularly force-pause itself to load in more of the open world. Surprisingly, on Switch, I saw much less of that. Maybe by now, all versions of the game have been cleaned up. As for the technical woes I did see in this new version, they were limited to little things.
A few frame rate hitches and some enemies misbehaving when I'd turn a corner sometimes stuck out. T-posing bad guys who would engage as normal once I got close enough are immersion-breaking when they happen, but they were also rare enough that they didn't detract from the otherwise moody, memorable game.
- Dripping with tense, dark atmosphere with perfect set dressing and music
- Uniquely ties morality and difficulty together
- Reid is an interesting protagonist and voiced very well
- Navigating is often annoying given the open world's many dead ends
- A few bugs still present a year from the original launch
Vampyr was not the focus of the internet hype machine when it launched last year, and that's a shame because it's great. Thanks to its tough choices in a branching narrative, RPG fans have no reason to expect they won't at least like Dontnod's side-step away from teen sci-fi drama.
If you are one for an enthralling period piece with the right mix of horror and mystery, Vampyr is totally worth sinking your teeth into.
[Note: A copy of Vampyr on Nintendo Switch was provided by Dontnod for the purposes of this review.]