As promised in the last update this one is late and wall of text strikes back with a vengeance. This time something recent as I cover Vampyr which happened to be one of the very few purchases I made with the price tag going over 15€. Knowing my luck it'll pop up in Humble Monthly soon enough. I think it was worth it seeing as its hook definitely appealed to me. And now I'm even more hyped for Bloodlines 2. In the effort to not make this about just one game I also posted some brief overviews of non-game stuff under MULTIMEDIA I managed to experience since – The Swordbearer, Mindhunter and JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind. This new format suits me seeing as I don't have to be all elaborate and like to get the point across anymore.
Have fun and enjoy the read. ◕‿◕
Have you ever wondered why there are so few vampire games out there taking into account their popularity as supernatural creatures in public zeitgeist? What happened there? And I don't mean just “Twilight ruined it for everyone” which seems to be a prevalent opinion these days. Well, Vampyr sure seems intent on taking it back and even rocks a historical period which managed to stay untapped by video games even though it was quite a powerhouse for vampires considering the legacy penny dreadfuls left. So let's see whether it held up or not.
We assume control of Jonathan Reid as he stirs from a mass grave following a rather cryptic opening about some queen or another you don't really get full context for until the very finale when things escalate in a major way. But for now it seems our protagonist is sick as he barely stumbles out of the pit only to crawl towards a thumping red mass his blurred vision leads him to and does what every newborn vampire does – a character-defining mistake. Player is far quicker to catch on to what's happening so you have some of those “Why is sunlight hurting me?” motions until a local altruistic doctor, who also happens to be in the know, offers help. Jonathan is then brought up to speed while vampire society seems to become richer by one doctor who just returned from the Great War and happens to be a hematologist expert in London now running amok with an epidemic. Its origins are mysterious, but also lead to proliferation of lower class vampires stalking the streets and vampire hunters have responded in kind. With that you find yourself as one of the doctors at Pembroke hospital. Which somehow manages to function despite you working only night hours, but things are crazy enough so staff and patients don't care as long as you can help. It's in this relatively safe environment where you begin learn the ropes of Vampyr and get hint that things may not be exactly a mere returning Spanish Flu some suspect.
Main [mechanical] hook of the game is deciding the fate of its four districts gradually unlocked as you advance through the main story. This is accomplished with their citizens. They come with backstories you explore through hints, occasional side quests and most commonly them talking your ear off with life stories. If you don't enjoy talking to characters for extended stretches of time this is when you reconsider your purchase. But why bother, you may be asking? Aside from simply discovering more about people it also lets you snack on them for experience and the more you know about them as people, bigger the reward you'll get out of it. Who lives or dies, how you treat their “pillar” characters – all of these decide district health as they range from sanitized to absolutely hostile where most of the characters are dead, missions are locked off, more monsters roam the streets, shops have increased prices, etc. You effectively trade well-being of London for your own power progression.
Needless to say this is not a management game, at least not full-time as you go do your doctor rounds, but rather a variety of action RPG so lets get down to the gritty details. Which oddly enough involves in equal measure talking and bashing in skulls. Even more so if you opt for a “no embrace” playthrough where you decide to not kill any story characters and willingly weaken yourself as you scrounge for every experience point you can find alternatively. Add to that playing on hard mode, so that temptation actually works as intended, and you're in for hell of a time as game stacks the odds against you.
You have your three bars to work with (health, stamina and blood) with stamina determining how much you can attack and dodge/run, automatically making it the most imperative one to focus on. You'd think blood, which powers your abilities and inherent healing, would be something to devote attention to ASAP, but honestly there are plenty of ways to replenish health you needn't obsess over it. Weapons that drain blood to whaling at enemies long enough with your offhand weapon so you stun them and feed all work just fine. Blood bar is one you have the most control over. All three can, and should be to some degree, upgraded under skills with your experience points. When it comes to upgrading your skills aka evolving, as the game puts it, you cannot do it whenever nor should you do. You need to rest in a bed, but that act will also advance time for a day. There's no secret timer or anything yet with each night things change in mentioned districts. Citizens tend to become sick and then it falls on to Jonathan to craft medicine or their state will worsen necessitating advanced medicine you may not have access to right now.
So, crafting. Major part of the game and not something tacked on as it goes beyond routine “characters X and Y got sick, time to craft the fatigue medicine and distribute them”. You also have access to serums, which will replenish the three bars I've talked about, but real draw of crafting is upgrading your weapons. Low on experience point and unable to evolve fast enough? Better compensate with the best freaking weapon you can. Sure, game will throw upgraded weapons at you occasionally, but if you're relying on those on hard difficulty you're already screwed. Upgrades reach level five for all types of weapons (1H, 2H off-hand and fire-arms) + accompanying side-grades that affect how weapon behaves like altering blood drain, stun points, etc. Interestingly enough I found firearms to be the least useful and primarily used to stop enemies with a shotgun blast or lower the stun bar from a distance. Acquiring more crafting material is one of more standout reasons why you'll be dumpster diving and fighting enemies in Vampyr seeing as grinding for experience that way is not exactly viable. Which brings me to combat itself.
If you've played any other action games in recent years you're already familiar with the affair. Something that stood out for me is enemy variety. I expected to have seen everything game had to offer earlier, but surprises kept coming and you gradually unlock more tools to counter them. For example, enemies can have resistances to damage types (melee, firearms, blood and shadow) so you want to make sure you have all those covered at least. And developers are wise to your tricks, too. Think you can stealth through levels because you have a power that lets you? Think again because there are priests for hunters and certain type for Skals that can detect you skulking about. In fact, game is quite deadly when it throws certain enemy combinations at you, especially in late game when you're so starved for experience only to find out enemies now come in stronger varieties. Avoiding them in a game that has no fast travel between hideouts AND re-spawning enemies is at first intense and then becomes a chore, but is never easy you can plow through them.
Time for closing words largely draped in negatives for a game I liked overall. What do I mean? Well, there are some shortcomings here you can't ignore. Be it from mere visual standpoint like flat conversation cameras work or how at times Vampyr tends to be obtuse in how it handles choices or at least how it telegraphs them. I know I screwed up at least one important choice because I misunderstood how vampire “suggestion” works... but then I learned and screwed up entirely by choice afterwards. Also, this is quite a frustrating game provided you play on hard and then make choices where game becomes even more challenging because districts go to hell. Wise up, people.
The Swordbearer ( ₪ Fantasy, ☑ 1982, ⇲ 288 pages )
In all honesty you could call this a precursor to The Black Company before author actually fleshed out some of the ideas and, probably more importantly, spread them out a bit considering he eventually had more space to work with. There's also some Elric of Melnibone in there as well considering we follow a weakling youth who finds himself a magical, soul devouring sword seemingly blessed by a hungry goddess with a lot more in store than he suspects at first. It all definitely falls on the curse side of things despite the benefits, doubly so when you consider Suchara is not the only divine pretender with a champion... and said other champion happens to be the emperor in a war currently underway. Politicking and army maneuvers strongly featured in the first half of the book tend to be left by the wayside as Gathrid realizes more of his would-be heroic fate accompanying the mythical blade and immortal servant with a tendency to kill previous wielders at some point. Problem with The Swordbearer seems to be there's a whole lot to it that either had to be trimmed down in order to get a manageable final word count or just lack of coherent vision of Cook's part. When you add that initial onslaught of names it spews at you to get the idea this is epic fantasy after all it just comes off as glorified basic, I guess?
Mindhunter ( ₪ Crime, Thriller, ☑ 2017, ⇲ 10 episodes )
For some reason I had this long-lasting irrational aversion towards Mindhunter. Not that I'm really into crime shows, but I think in this case it was because I had a misplaced notion it was an anthology series where our intrepid two FBI protagonists interview a new serial killer each episode. I was wrong, but that still remains as part of the premise – they travel across the US doing lectures to local police and along the way conduct interviews with notorious serial killers in the effort to classify and understand them to future benefit. Needless to say this is not a clear-cut road and, what I assume at least, realistic red tape they have to go through endears them to the viewer. Not to mention we also see their personal lives, how they suffer for their jobs and in general acting like human beings and not just suits. Taking into account show is set in the '70s it avoids blowing its load early by going straight for Charles Manson, but that seems to be what season 2 is aiming for so that's something to look forward to. Good show even if at times I resisted fast forwarding through Ford's “fast and loose” approach that absolutely isn't something you want to rely on.
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind ( ₪ Adventure, Fantasy, ☑ 2018 – 2019, ⇲ 39 episodes )
How do you talk about the fifth part of an on-going manga adaptation while having it make sense to newcomers? You don't. You do the sensible thing and recommend them to not start with Part 5. With that in mind I have to say I'm not really a big fan of Golden Wind or more specifically how it turned out. You have the usual “gang of supernaturally-powered Stand users on a mission” which this time happens to follow a young delinquent Giorno Giovanna as he embarks upon changing the criminal underground, but I think the problem is villain barely has any presence, and he doesn't enjoy Dio's dubious benefit of having been already established previously, on top of Stands themselves going into somewhat ludicrous territory where I find it difficult to believe author was trying anything other than gauging how elaborately obtuse he can get away with. I realize I am probably in the minority here because I also happen to be one of those people for whom JoJo isn't all about Stands exclusively. It's also about striking manly poses while ignorant viewers question your sexually because they don't get your beautiful duwang. It's not a bad Part, just not one I found personally up to my taste.