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Monstrous Power Corrupts in Dontnod’s ‘Vampyr’

Countless smaller games crowded the E3 floor this year, and among them were some real hidden gems. Dontnod’s Vampyr looks like a particularly brutal take on the now stereotypically “tweener” vampire genre.

Sparkly this is not.

Following their acclaimed time and space twisting adventure Life is Strange — and before unveiling its sequel in 2017 — Dontnod has rewound to 1918 and is slipping us into the muddied shoes of Doctor Jonathan Reid as he tries to combat his titular affliction in the shadows of a flu-stricken London.

In Vampyr, your every decision is made against the quandary of power and corruption. There are those who you can drain with relatively little guilt — bloodthirsty criminals, cruel or perverse individuals that could be argued as better eliminated from the gene pool altogether. Unfortunately, such clear-cut targets are in the minority. For the most part, you will be required to decide between your personal strength and the multitude of innocents wandering unaware of the mortal danger in their midst.

Returning to the “butterfly effect” themes of Life is Strange, Vampyr deals with the same essential subject matter in a distinctly different manner. Every life you use to sate your dark thirsts is part of the city’s ecosystems, and no one dies without consequence. The death of a shopkeeper’s wife may cause him to close his shop and depart the city in his grief. Even the least noble of the city’s inhabitants have relationships, connections, and repercussions for their absence.

It’s the most interesting look at vampire mythology in video games since the cult classic Vampire: Bloodlines. And if anything, it’s an even more daring and complex take on the theme. To evolve into a creature powerful enough to accomplish your quest for a cure and defend yourself from even worse things lurking in the night, you must feed. And yet that same act will render you ever more monstrous. Vampyr is a game about what means you can justify for your ends, and when the greater good comes at too high a price.

To mitigate his parasitic impact on the lives of those around the good doctor, Jonathan will also be given the opportunity to employ his medical skills in service of the war and disease stricken inhabitants of the city. And while no amount of medication will fix someone you’ve drained of their vital fluids in a back alley, you may be of some use to those suffering from the plague of influenza that is killing with far less discretion.

Aside from brief flashes of third person action gameplay, there is little yet to be said for how all of this will actually function in practice. If this Gothic sandbox actually managed to entwine the simulated lives of its NPCs, this could become one of the best examples of player agency we’ve seen since Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor‘s orc rivalries. If it’s no more than a gimmick, it will just as easily go down as an egregious example of deceptive set dressing.

We’ll give you our verdict on this intriguing new property when it launches on all major platforms in 2017.

Follow Nate Church @Get2Church on Twitter for the latest news in gaming and technology, and snarky opinions on both.

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