Like many other games out there, Vampyr offers its players plenty of combat opportunities as they progress through its story. They can all be easy as fighting Bowser in World 1-4, or they can all be as tough as the first encounter with Father Gascoigne; it just depends on how much power one can handle. In Vampyr, obtaining power is easy. All one has to do is act like any normal vampire would. Doing so, however, carries consequences beyond changes to the story and background environment. That easily gained strength will make the combat easier, but brings greater strain in other areas. Decisions have real impact upon gameplay in Vampyr, making the struggles of character and player one and the same.
Vampyr open with Dr. Reid, a renowned surgeon freshly returned to London from the western front of World War I, getting attacked as he’s on his way home. He’s then left to stumble into the underground world of immortals on his own. As an injured, newly-turned vampire, Dr. Reid is immediately overwhelmed by confusion and a dire need for blood. An opportunity to satisfy that need appears before him and he gives into the thirst. He recovers, but discovers too late the terrible cost of his momentary lapse into monsterdom. He’s done something irreversible and he vows to atone for his mistake. It’s only a few hours later, however, that he’s again confronted with his thirst and another opportunity to satisfy it. Will Reid succumb to his thirst again and benefit at the cost of another’s life or will he abstain and take the hard road? What’s more, will he be able to the path he chooses?
Making a character feel conflict and temptation is an easy thing to do in a video game. It just has to be written into the story. Making a player feel it is another thing entirely. It can’t be done on a story level because the player isn’t involved; not really. When choices and play styles have consequences, they often only affect the plot and/or the general game world. Players can see this, trace the change back to a choice and recognize that they caused the current situation. Their own experience isn’t impacted, however, so choices and results aren’t taken seriously. Vampyr doesn’t make this mistake. The player’s choices still affect the plot and change the status quo, but these changes actually alter the experience in a way that matters.
Vampyr manages to make its players sympathize with Dr. Reid through a clever difficulty system. It’s a simple setup on paper; the more people Dr. Reid feeds upon, the easier the game will be. In practice, things aren’t so cut and dry. Reid’s potential victims are drawn from his social circle. These are people whom Dr. Reid knows, people who are his friends, family and colleagues. They’re people the player gets to know to varying degrees. Some are genuinely good people whom one would never want to hurt, while others are total slimeballs who just happen to be stabilizing agents in their neighborhoods. They’re all important in one way or another and the good doctor will have to choose which ones he’ll ultimately sacrifice.
Dr. Jonathan Reid could be the sort of man who would never murder someone for his own sake. His road is an increasingly difficult one, one that he might never reach the end of. He could also be a sort of vigilante vampire, draining only those whom he sees as a stain on the fabric of society. That same person will also be forced to look on as the neighborhoods he “liberates” from their corrupt masters become filled with ruthless hunters and bloodthirsty monsters. Reid could also choose to fully embrace his monstrous nature, coldy taking everything from everyone in his path. He might not care, but it will be an awful sight to behold nonetheless.
In each of these cases, the player’s gameplay experience is affected. Choosing to kill no one results in increasingly difficult combat. Enemies become stronger and stronger, to the point that even encounters with basic mobs can prove fatal. Selectively choosing a handful of victims keeps the combat manageable, but puts greater strain on one’s resources as neighborhoods destabilize. Killing many people does indeed result in an extremely powerful former-surgeon-turned-monster, but playing as the brutal killer can be tough in its own way.
Unless one is deliberately trying to get a bad ending, Vampyr manages to successfully challenge its player’s through gameplay consequences. Every time Dr. Reid struggles with his own inner demons and decides whether or not to give into his thirst, the player is right there with him. They may not care all that much about the NPCs Reid deals with, but they do care about how the fallout from Reid’s actions will affect their game and that’s the key. No kill-runners are constantly tempted with the means to make the game easier and normal players must carefully consider whether the potential gains of each kill are worth the negative repercussions.
Vampyr succeeds to making Jonathan Reid’s struggle into the player’s struggle. Both are constantly confronted with temptation; Reid in capitulating to his vampiric urges and the player in succumbing to their desire for a more powerful character. If they give in, then they’re further presented with the questions of who and when and they both must figure out if they’re willing to deal with the results. The questions and consequences are different for Reid and the player, but both face conflict and temptation all the same.