Murder is often a minor offence; an inconsequential event in the wider context of the world – or at least, that usually seems to be the case in video games. Whether your victim is a mythical beast, a common bandit or a humble priest, they probably deserved it, right? Most of the time, your character remains the hero/saviour/otherwise-good-person, so you quickly forget that time you killed a nameless woman just to take her shiny helmet.
In other cases, video game developers can suggest that you might spare the lives of the innocent, such as the disturbing ‘Bunnies Slaughtered’ tally in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Other games sometimes display the consequences of particular actions with dramatic effect, but still forgive the player for any “accidental” brutal acts, which seems to be the preferred style for major RPGs like Mass Effect or The Witcher.
This is where Vampyr, an upcoming RPG (or role-playing game) from DONTNOD Entertainment, looks to challenge the usual form of choices in games, as it forces the player consider the consequences of each mundane action they make. You play as Jonathan Reid, a doctor recently inflicted with the eponymous curse of vampirism; as such, these mundane actions most frequently take shape in the ritual murder of innocents.
This direction is largely focused on developing the NPCs (or non-player characters) that you encounter in the game; as Doctor Reid, you navigate the semi-open world of London in 1918, interacting with the citizens across four different districts. The city is already suffering from the casualties of war and the Spanish Flu, and with your status as a doctor, you will find plenty of opportunities to engage with and possibly aid the local communities.
Having previously released the widely acclaimed Life is Strange, the developers at DONTNOD can certainly deliver on profound interactions with NPCs, giving an immersive and often poignant character to the world around you.
As part of the ‘Citizens’ system in Vampyr, each character you encounter will have a distinct name and background for you to engage with, rather than the blank NPCs that you often find in other action RPGs. Critically, not only will these NPCs not respawn in the world, but their death will also have potentially significant effects across the city. In 1918, London is already struggling to recover – if you eliminate the remaining pillars of society, entire districts or communities could fall apart.
Giving players control over the lives of these NPCs will likely provide a more immersive experience with the protagonist, as the conflict between Doctor Reid’s humanity and his evil desires become apparent in his interactions with these citizens. Yet the doctor is not intended to be the hero of Vampyr – in the trailer from E3 2017, the shadowy figure of Reid recognises that he is a creature of evil, seemingly fixed on an inevitably dark path.
The overarching theme of Vampyr seems to be survival; that the vampire and the doctor are distinct, conflicting forces raging within the physical body of Jonathan Reid. His humanity is at risk every time he preys on these civilians, and so London serves as a convenient display of his mentality – as he becomes more evil, the city falls to further ruin.
Yet, as you progress in Doctor Reid’s story, there will also be enemies to defend yourself against – both from unknown vampire hunters, determined to exterminate your curse, and from secret factions of other vampires in the city.
You can easily become a curse or a blessing on the city; mercilessly rule over the streets using your Vampiric powers
Much like in tabletop RPG Vampire: The Masquerade, it is likely that you will encounter influential collectives of vampires that might consider you a threat, so your powers could be necessary to defend against similarly empowered creatures. Your powers are dependent on a constant supply of blood from the inhabitants of London, so if you decide not to hunt them, encounters with enemies will prove to be much more difficult.
The developers at DONTNOD Entertainment purposefully give you more options with the ‘Citizens’ system, through which you can research your targets and avoid obvious ripple effects from their death. You can engage with potential victims and uncover more about their background, suggesting who their death could affect, and possibly even revealing an ideal place to eliminate them or other useful information for you to use. For the morally inclined, these interactions will also tell you more about their character, allowing you to target the more malevolent inhabitants, and potentially evoke positive change from their death.
Side missions from other citizens will provide further opportunities to help the communities of London and bring about positive change, as you suppress your evil inclinations to help the city recover. The player can easily become a curse or a blessing on the city; you can mercilessly rule over the streets using your vampiric powers, yet you’re welcome to quietly use these powers to help certain citizens and overcome your evil nature, if you prefer that path.
Hopefully, Vampyr will deliver this immersive and sophisticated world when it releases this Spring, but we’ve yet to see the wider extent of these mechanics in the game itself. The promises from DONTNOD about engaging interactions and complex NPCs certainly sounds like a delight to experience, with four different districts to explore and diverse communities to engage with.
If this is replicated across the game to a sufficient scale, with proper depth and variation behind these consequences, then we could see other future RPGs embracing this practical style of small-scale player choice. Certainly, if the developers at DONTNOD achieve their ambitions, they could well do a better job with ‘consequences’ in video games than many of Vampyr’s rival AAA counterparts.
If the Masquerade caught your attention in this article or you want to learn more about an old school RPG classic, give this throw back article by Joshua Rotchelle a gander and tell us what you think!