Empathy from the Devil - Quick Thoughts on Vampyr

The first thing I did in Vampyr was to leave the safe confines of the starting area around Pembroke Hospital, venture off into the Whitechapel district and experiment with the combat mechanics against dangerously overleveled enemies. It was a suitably humbling and nail-biting experience that kept me coming back for more, despite many failed attempts to take down even a handful of Cockney-spouting goons.

To my surprise, the most satisfying aspect of Dontnod's new narrative-heavy action RPG (at least during these first few hours) has not been its extensive dialogue scenes or character-oriented mechanics but rather its wonky yet satisfyingly tense melee fights. The main protagonist has some good magic abilities but elements such as stamina, animation priority and enemy special attacks all combine to ensure that combat remains a delicate balance of risk and reward by quickly punishing players who get greedy and overplay their hand. One way to make the game easier is to feed off the friendlier inhabitants of London, but at least for now I'm aiming for a playthrough without shedding non-hostile blood (which the Internet tells me is possible, but will leave me permanently underleveled for the duration of the campaign).

As for the conversational side of Vampyr, the writing and overall delivery seems to be significantly less uneven than Dontnod's previous efforts. As much as Life is Strange means to me, I can't deny that the script had its cringe-worthy moments or that some of its actors weren't exactly consummate professionals. Vampyr's neo-Victorian prose can't match the feverish and sexually overcharged tone of Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines, but there's a realistic complexity and quiet dignity to the cast of characters which suggest that empathy is a stronger underlying theme here than vampiric alienation from human society.

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