Save or Survive: How Vampyr's Moral Choices are Different
Being able to make choices is one of the features that is completely exclusive to gaming as a medium. However, not all games make use of this. While linear stories that take inspiration from film and literature are still popular and a lot of fun, it's always interesting to see a story change due to the player's actions. That's one of the reasons I loved Dontnod Entertainment's previous game, Life is Strange, and it's the main reason I'm looking forward to their next title, an action RPG called Vampyr.
In Vampyr, the player is faced with a choice unlike any other: who to kill? While many other games, such as Dishonored, Bioshock, and almost every BioWare game, offer you moments where you can choose to save lives or end them, in this game you don't have this luxury. Your character, Dr. Jonathan Reid, is forced to choose between two distinct calls: his oath as a doctor to do no harm, and his newly acquired vampiric needs.
Vampyr is set in an early twentieth century London which is falling apart at the seams. In the midst of the Spanish Flu pandemic, and with monsters stalking the streets, Reid's duty to his patients is interrupted by his transformation into a vampire. While determined to do right by his patients and stop London from falling to sickness, Reid -- and the player -- must come to terms with the fact his survival means sating his hunger for human blood.
Making Sacrifices to Survive
If you want to finish Vampyr, you'll have to kill people, especially if you want to grow stronger. Reid's best abilities -- which will make him faster, stronger, and more persuasive -- are locked away until he drinks enough blood. This creates an interesting conundrum for the player where they must balance their commitment to saving the city and its people with the need for power.
But the consequences of killing are more than just power and a different ending-- as they are in many games. Everyone person who you kill has a name, personality, and acquaintances that will react to their departure. Your decisions will send ripples through the game's story, tailoring your experience to fit those decisions. Not only that, but as you devour London's inhabitants, it grows closer and closer to falling to disease and the monsters that lurk its streets. Vampyr asks the player a simple question: "In your quest to fight monsters, will you become one?"
Why This is Different
While once considered revolutionary, moral choice systems in games are considered by many to be, in some cases, trite. What was once a selling point for games like Fable and Infamous is now considered (at best) just a reason to play a game a second time. The problem with many of these games is that, for the most part, it's not really a question.
Take the second Infamous game, for example. In this game, your choices are ranked as either good or evil, and the final choice you make determines whether you're rewarded with the good or evil ending. The problem is that there's no reason to vary your choices. Once you've committed to either becoming the city's savior or its destroyer, you're locked into either gaining experience through good deeds or losing it through evil ones. You're never tempted to the dark side, either, as you're never given any reason to believe that the "evil" side is actually in the right, excluding the last choice in the game.
Not only that, but it's not like the choices are particularly difficult for a rational person to make. Few games portray the player's choice of good or evil as a struggle. Even Bioshock, where you were actually rewarded in game for evil choices, didn't do much to make it a struggle, as it wasn't difficult enough to make evil choices feel necessary for the player's survival.
In Vampyr, you're going to have to make those choices. Your duty to the city and need for blood are always going to influence your choices, as the two are both ever-present and impossible to reconcile. Because of this, Vampyr won't be just one game you play differently for a good and a bad ending, but a huge mess or decisions, some you may come to regret.
Vampyr releases in 2017 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.