Vampyr is an action role-playing game developed by DONTNOT Entertainment, best known for their game Life is Strange.  Their games tend to focus heavily on player choice and rich narrative.  For the purpose of this critique, Vampyr was played on Windows 10 and captured using OBS; the controller input was an Xbox One Pro controller.
Game Description
Vampyr is an action RPG played in the third person.  The player takes the role of Dr. Jonathan Reid, a recently changed vampire who traverses London in search for answers on his new condition as well as an epidemic that is sweeping the city.  The player travels through London as Jonathan, who is now a night shift doctor at the Pembrooke Hospital, one of the last medical bastions against the epidemic.  Players are able to diversify their skillsets via skill trees, which have varying effects such as improving Jonathan’s abilities in combat as well as his ability to craft cures, weapons, and talk to NPCs in-game. 

Vampyr takes place during post-war England, where a pandemic has swept the country.  The pandemic is the premise for recent vampire problems

The game takes place in a semi-open world environment.  London is divided into districts that the player can travel through and interact with residents.  A variety of information in the form of pamphlets and collectable items allow players to expand on the lore of the world without necessarily having it fed to them via cutscenes.  Propaganda posters and health notices are found on the walls of several buildings in-game, which feeds into the dire situation of London as a post-war city lacking resources in addition to being wrought with disease. 
Quests are typically contained within one district (as far as can be discerned by an approximately 2 hour long playthrough).  The status of each location (Healthy, Stable, Serious, Critical, or Hostile) is linked to both the general health of the district as well as the prevalence of vampire hunters.  The status of the district affects how easily one can traverse through that area, as well as the progress you have made in stabilizing illness in that district. 
The player takes on this hostile environment as blood-transfusion-specialist-turned-vampire, Dr. Jonathan Reid.  After accidently killing his sister upon waking up a vampire, he is now tasked both with discovering what happened to him as well as restoring London’s health in lieu of rampant sickness and death.  Jonathan’s abilities include improved speed, strength, healing, as well as various vampire augmentations.  These augmentations include the ability to drink blood, ‘jump’ from space to space, and use Vampiric Senses to determine the health of patients and find blood trails.  Jonathan also has the ability to ‘mesmerize’ NPCs should you decide to kill a NPC for large experience (EXP) boost.  The downsides to doing this are losing NPC missions and losing opportunities to develop relationships with other, connected NPCs (this concept will be elaborated on later in the paper). 
Players are able to craft remedies and medicines to treat ill patients throughout London, as well as make inferences about the status of certain NPCs by using their vampiric abilities in tandem with Jonathan’s medical knowledge.  This serves as a core gameplay mechanic and driving force throughout the game. 
The combat in game is relatively simple – the player juggles both melee and offhand weapons in addition to vampiric abilities to take down enemies.  Jonathan also has the ability to drain blood from his enemies to deal damage.  This blood can be used to activate vampire skills, which drain the player’s blood gauge.
Game Pillars
As an Action/Adventure Game, Vampyr's key game pillars are oriented around creating an immersive single player story experience.
Like most of DONTNOD Entertainment’s games, Vampyr is heavily driven by its narrative.  The purpose of the game is not only to discover what happened to Jonathan, but also what will happen to Jonathan now that he has become a vampire.  The latter is largely up to the player, as their actions have a direct impact on one of the four possible endings in game.  The game starts the player off as confused as Jonathan, and we are shocked to discover that his first victim is his own sister.  This narrative choice is clever, as it immediately relinquishes Jonathan of any immediate responsibilities to those he cares about.  We discovery later that his intention was to visit his ailing parents following his return from the war, but that is now impossible.  Jonathan now must remain in the city to discover what has happened to him, and by extension what is happening to the city.  It is within these confines that the player operates, and there is a perfectly well established narrative reason for doing this.
Much of the game’s progression, including progression within character trees and traversing new areas, is linked to the progression of the story.  This causes certain actions to be blocked off in various ways to ensure that the character performs necessary tasks.  First, it provides hard blocks in your location by preventing you from leaving the general Pembrooke district in the first section.  This is achieved by limiting your interaction with certain patients until you have learned more.  Additionally, you are geographically blocked from traversing new areas at the beginning of the game.  The canal is off-limits, and the train to get across London is inaccessible.  Secondly, the game spaces out more difficult enemies in areas to deter you from approaching them at lower levels.  This often insinuates that players should not be going near these areas unless that have completed certain in-game tasks and milestones that would bring them up to that level.  

Plot relevant choices are presented with the game's titular "Y" graphic.

The player’s decisions also have a direct impact on the outcome of the game, which makes each critical decision important.  This ideally makes the player feel more sympathetic towards Jonathan, and in turn likely to do what they can to reach the ‘best’ ending.  This reward system manifests itself as extended gameplay and expanded plot.  Should players decided to spare citizens and spend time developing their social relationships, they are presented with more missions, more items, and more experience the end of a NPC’s social route.  They are also presented with the opportunity to mesmerize these characters and kill them for a greater amount of EXP than if player’s had not expanded on their individual plots.

Crafting is another significant element in this game, primarily due to its involvement with the story as well as the status of districts throughout the game.  Whenever Jonathan enters a new area in the game, the name of the district appears on the top part of the screen, as well as the status of that district.  The status of the district is associated both with the health of the residents of the district as well as the hostility of enemies in the areas (districts become more aggressive when the overall health of an area has dropped and when you have killed too many of it’s residence and collapse the social relationships in the area).  Even without player intervention, the status of a district can drop if the player does not take time to improve the health of its residents. 

Medicine Crafting Menu

The player is required to craft treatments for the various illnesses that are found throughout the game.  For the purpose of this playthrough, the only form of illness that was discovered was ‘fatigue.’  The player needs to find the components for these treatments through deconstructing items found in the world, looking for these items in specific location, or buying items from various vendors located throughout the city.  You can also improve your ability to create treatments and the amount of treatments you can hold at a given time through your skill tree.  This further incentivizes development of the player’s character and tweaks the ‘completionist’ attitude. 
Crafting and synthesis of treatments also tie back into the plot element of Jonathan attempting to find a scientific explanation for what has happened to him.  Another plot element of the game incorporates Jonathan taking blood samples from the various vampires he encounters, attempting to make sense of what has happened to him.  Part of the game also includes analyzing blood samples, which also expands on the story.  These research opportunities also enable Jonathan to expand his skill tree, and are often required for story progression. 
Character Interactions
As stated before, character interactions and expanding on individual character plots are also an integral part to the gameplay experience.  Districts in the game are divided into groups of people who are connected in social relationships.  These relationships between characters help maintain the stability of the district, which is why it is often in the player’s best interest to avoid killing NPCs that are part of the social network within a district.  Allowing these characters relationships to develop grants these characters better ‘blood quality,’ which means that you can gain a vast amount of EXP should you decide to drink their blood.  Expanding on these character relationships elaborates more on status of the district as well expanding more on the circumstances of the epidemic and its effects on the city.

New conversation options become available as you question more people in the district

Expanding on these character interactions is also another main element of plot development over the course of the game.  Often, the main quest will coincide with various interrelated events going on within the district, forcing the main character to engage and expand with the social network that exists within a district.  This ties back to how there are story-driven motivations that propels the player forward towards completing the game. 
One of the most important elements of the character interaction aspect is the ability to mesmerize characters.  As a vampire, Jonathan has the option to drink the blood of certain NPCs in a district and gain massive amount of EXP.  This will also slightly cripple the social network that exists within the district, which in turn can affect the overall health of the district, reflecting badly on Jonathan as a doctor.  This is one of the main selling aspects of the Vampyr – the moral conundrum of choosing between your responsibilities as a doctor and your nature as a vampire.
Combat is the final pillar of Vampyr, and essential to all the pillars above.  Combat is how Jonathan primarily interacts with the open world aspects of the game.  The streets of London are littered with lesser vampires, vampire hunters, and other unnamed night stalkers.  These enemy types enable Jonathan to gain EXP, which in turn allows him to develop his skill tree, becoming a more powerful vampire and more proficient medical practitioner.

Options for the skill tree and developing your vampire skills

The game incorporates your nature as a vampire in how you deal, receive, and recover from damage.  Jonathan can take ‘aggravated’ or environment damage from things like fire and the sun but will replenish health overtime naturally (in conjunction with being immortal).  Jonathan fights with a variety of weapon choices, categorized into primary and secondary weapons.  Primary weapons serve to deal damage and parry attacks, whereas secondary weapons serve as blunt force or ‘special effect’ attacks, including dealing ranged damaged with a gun, and stunning enemies, making them prone to being bitten and drained.  The game also incorporates a blood gauge, which dictates to what end you can use your vampiric powers in combat.  Blood acts similarly to how magic or special attacks work in other gamers – players can use special active and passive abilities by depleting their blood gauge.  Blood can be replenished by stunning enemies and draining them of blood when prompted.  Draining blood from enemies also deals damage. 
Combat is also a logical conclusion given the nature of London during the time period when the game takes place.  Characters are overall hostile and unwilling to cooperate in lieu of the Great War and the recent epidemic.  The turbulent nature of the game’s plot is reflected in how the game is played. 

Jonathan at the beginning of the game in Vampire Senses mode

Vampyr’s strengths lie in how well its story is tied to the aspects of gameplay.  The entire game serves as phenomenal storytelling experience.  The existence of the social networks, and their dependence on all characters creates a rich and investing narrative.  The vast skill allows players to tailor their skills to their style of gameplay, aggressive, defensive, or primarily focused on healing (focusing skills in areas such as science and pack volume).  The decision of moralism was also a high selling point in the game.  The ability to choose between maintaining the status quo and keeping the districts healthy, or letting everything fall into chaos, are branching choices that are encouraged throughout the course of the game.  Finally the game has a very vivid aesthetic, that makes a concerted effort to highlight any use of the colour red.  As red is an important part of the games Head’s Up Display (HUD), as well as a plot significant point (as the main character is a vampire and drinks blood), it is a very on the nose homage to the lore of the game.  Additionally, the dark contrast of decrepit London contrasts with the use of red creates a lovely silhouette effect for the majority of the game, which makes an excellent use of contrast.
Overall, the game suffers from lackluster combat.  Very little about the game’s combat sets it about from other action adventure games of a similar genre, such as the Witcher 3.  The main problem is that the skill options provided are rather limited and the combat options are not particularly complex.  This leads the player to understand the combat was not a primary objective for the development of this game.
The development of skill trees and the incentives to gain experience prove as a buffer against making the moral decisions that the game was designed to create.  It is relatively easy to accumulate adequate experience points simply by completing quests and only killing enemies.  This makes it a somewhat easy choice as to whether or not you want to kill NPCs for easy EXP early on (unless you’re objective is to cause as much chaos in-game as possible).  In the same vein, it is also easy to become ‘overpowered’ early on in game, and maintain this overpowered status as the game continues with or without the use of NPC character upgrades.  This makes the ‘moral ambiguity’ aspect of the game rather superfluous. 
The game also does not have the option for individual save data requests, which is likely designed in reinforce that the decisions you make in-game are permanent.  However, this may feed into players feeling disappointed should they not get the ending that they want. 
The last weakness is an aspect of Vampyr’s menu HUD.  When playing with a controller, the display maintains a reticle that allows players to navigate to unused sections of the screen.  The game would benefit from a switch to more rigid directional mapping for the purposes of menu navigation.  ​​​​​​​
The proposed improvement for this game is to adjust the combat system by not allotting experience when an enemy is defeated.  Currently, when you defeat a standard enemy, you are granted EXP from the kill, as well as a potential item drop.  By removing the gain of EXP from standard enemies, players may be forced to either engage with the NPC characters social networks (which already results in EXP gain) or drain NPCs of blood to gain a large enough EXP boost to propel them forward in the game.  This creates more choice options, rather than creating an EXP surplus.  This surplus is what fails to incentivize draining NPC characters.  Making the decision between killing NPCs for exp and expanding the social networks for exp gain is a higher risk and reward system will likely result in more varied gameplay. 
A game that accomplishes this with good reception is Infamous’s Karma system.  The Karma system is linked to 30 missions independent of the main plot that skew the player towards a “good” or “evil” alignment.  This alignment is what dictates which ending the player gets (PlayStation Blog, 2011).
DONTNOD Entertainment prides itself in making narratively rich stories, such as its previous work, Life is Strange.  Life is Strange was a much more passive experience with no combat options whatsoever.  Straying too far away from this may disappoint fans of the company.  Additionally, if there is too great a tradeoff for in-game choices, players may be discouraged if they do not get the ending of their choice.  This is especially true due to the fact that there is a permanent save mechanic to reinforce that the choices you make are permanent.

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