Vampyr and the Constant Innovation of Narrative Design
Dontnod (the studio that in the past released Life is Strange and Remember Me) went their darkest, moodiest and most ambitious route with 2018's Vampyr and it pays of at (almost) every corner.
Vampyr is truly impressive in using its smaller studios limited resources to make a game that really comes across like the immersive period piece that it set out to portray. Taking place in a living city style open-world (a la Dragon Age 2's albeit unpopular model) Vampyr takes a risk by having you spend upwards of 20-30 hours running back and forth across the same four districts but damn does it do a good job at making those hours enjoyable and adrenaline pumping!
As Dr. Jonathan Reid you are almost immediately tasked with the ethical dilemma of whether or not to consume the residents of London amidst also trying to save them from a devastating flu-like epidemic, and if you're not ready to take some innocent sick people lives then you're going to have a tough time! The developers often discussed their difficulty being adaptive to how many lives you took as a Vampire (it being easier with the more citizens you "embrace" and harder vice-versa). I found that every group of even as small as 2 or 3 enemies was a test of my skills in combat. Thankfully, the game is leveled well enough that the challenge never seems overbearing but when it did ultimately get dangerously close to that point, the game does a marvelous way of "reminding" you that combat would be "oh so easy" if you just took one bite out of good 'ol Rufus the Orphan.
While I heavily enjoyed the combat (something I was honestly surprised about from the responses I'd seen prior to playing the game myself) Vampyr is very clearly a dialogue and choice driven narrative experience. I clocked in around 26 hours on my first play-through and I would guess that a good 15 of those are just spent between listening to characters moan about their slowly decaying health and me sitting on my couch at home deciding which probably bad but irreversible decision I was about to make.
The decisions in Vampyr are truly where I feel that it stands out amongst other choice based games in regards to both innovation and originality, though there are times where the game ends up on the downward spiral of being just a little too ambitious with its sprawling amount of player choice. The auto-save only approach, the "no going back" style that permeates Vampyr's decisions makes them have so much WEIGHT that I stopped myself on multiple occasions from googling the "right" decision for each of the games varied conundrums.
Thankfully, I was able to refrain from spoiling the experience for myself but even if I had decided to look up what choice to make, it wouldn't have helped because almost every choice in Vampyr, even the obviously good ones, have many surprising pros and cons and are weighted so much in human reason that I truly felt torn between a lot of the decisions that Dr. Reid has to make.
The journey of discovering the cause of the epidemic is one of continuous intrigue and pretty consistently subverted cliche but the only spot where I truly felt a little dissapointed with my time playing was in the last few hours of the campaign. Maybe it's the conditioned part of the player in me but I expected to see more consequences play out on screen and to see more characters from earlier maintain their relevance. You do get to the end of most of the side-stories earlier in the game and a lot of consequences are displayed before the final act or at least are explained via conversation but I felt as though my time with the side stories of London and my choices became simply uninvolved with where the story had gone in its last act. It made sense but that didn't stop me from wanting to know where things went after I did my damage. Was it a big deal? Not really, but I do think it would've been nice to have more time to contemplate your actions in the end. Also, they shoe-horn in some pretty heavy romantic vibes that I felt should've really been more player choice dependent if it was to keep in theme with the games focus on narrative malleability and it's the only note in the campaign where I really feel that it doesn't hit.
Vampyr is not about the Paragon, Renegade and Flippant Grey choice that so many RPG's have adopted in recent years. Not to say that those were bad in their time but more to point out that I feel like Vampyr is really innovative with the way that it tackles choice. I set out to do a pacifist run, as is common with me for RPG's, but even though I was dead set at the start with getting the ever so sought after "perfect" ending, I found myself "Embracing" three citizens of London (in my defense they were all terrible people!) but I genuinely left feeling like my choices were still morally understandable. Vampyr narratively lives in the grey. Not all Vampires you meet are bad, quite the contrary actually, and not all people you meet are that great either.
My experience with Vampyr was really unique and for anyone who loves role playing and is in it for the dialogue, the choices, and the consequences, this is definitely a game worth playing.