Vampyr or The Holy (Story) Trinity of Character, Conflict and Choices

For months now I have been going on about how much I am looking forward to DontNod’s upcoming game, Vampyr. It occurs to me only now that I have never quite come around to detailling why that is so.

Frankly, at first I was a little skeptical, cause when I came across this intriguing game I had just played The Witcher III – The Wild Hunt and was all like: open world games are awesome!

Well, yes, they are, if the game has a story that makes it worth exploring.

See, to me there are two types of games: those I play because they challenge my skills (and are fun in coop, like SNIPER ELITE or Ghost Recon: Wildlands) and those that feature a great story. If they manage to combine a great story with challenging gameplay, the better. I haven’t delved too deep into Vampyr‘s gameplay, but I like the setting and I love the story.

(This post is based on what material I could find online and on my own interpretation, of course. I should mention that, as a writer, I am a sucker for storytelling, which means I will often spoil myself because I am very familiar with the mechanics. I hate games that cater to tired chlichés and I absolutely adore fresh, surprising concepts)

That said, I have just recently finished Life is Strange, the last game DontNod put out. It features a great, choice-based adventure with relatable characters, but I think Vampyr puts an interesting twist to that established formula.

So, let’s get to the three factors that have me excited for this game: character, conflict and choices.

Hero Jonathan Reed is a doctor, and a vampire
This game is set in 1918, in a post-Bram Stoker, post-World War I London, where science is fighting to replace superstition. It is no secret that Vampyr’s protagonist, Jonathan Reed, is actually a doctor and as such sworn to the Hippocratic Oath, sworn to preserving life. He is, or so it appears, very dedicated in his pursuit of ending mankind’s sufferings brought on by epidemics, such as the Spanish Flu, which is ravaging London at that time. This good doctor, just returned form the front lines (the First World War ended in November 1918) is turned into a predator, dependent on drinking blood, fresh off the living. This leads to, you guessed it, the most important of story mechanics: conflict.

The driving force of storytelling
Conflict is a major force in storytelling. Actually, it is the driving motivation for any story, period. Think about it: stories trigger the most basic of emotions: love, hate, anger, fear, lust, desire, desperation, hope and so on. But if these feelings remained uncontested, what would be left? Perpetual bliss, or hatred, or darkness. Stories explore the conflicts, love and hate, love and rejection. Boy meets girl, but girl does not care. You know the drill. Take Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare’s grand tale of love and devotion. Without that family feud, it would be just an ordinary story. But, that way, it turns into drama. Which is awesome.

Conflict is the word.

The conflicts Jonathan Reed faces are manifold. The most obvious one is that his vampiric bloodlust is very much at odds with his nature. So, let’s break it down.

Conflict: Jonathan Reed turns into a vampire. There are more vampires, and, actually, different types of vampires in London. What exactly is his place in their society going to be? Will he accept or reject that role?

Conflict: Jonathan has to feed. To do that, he has to kill. The choice he faces is, whether he feeds on the healthy or on the sickly. Suprise, feeding on healthy people gives him more strength than feeding on the sickly ones. This might seem like and easy choice, but…

Conflict: Jonathan will be familiar with any one of his potential victims. He will know their character traits, their relations and their place in their community. Kill one and he may have left the community adrift and prey to lesser vampires or the Spanish Flu.

Conflict: The hospital where Jonathan works is under control of the Brotherhood, a secret society sworn to kill each and every vampire. They (barely) tolerate his presence there, because he is a doctor, but things are different out on the streets…

You get the drift.

If you have played Life is Strange, you will already know that each choice will have consequences. In Vampyr, as far as I can tell, every single one of them will be a life-or-death decision.

Choices are essential to storytelling
There are a lot of games that offer the player choices (or the illusion thereof) that (seem to) influence how the game will play out. Sometimes, those choices will have a real impact, sometimes, they won’t.

What I mean is, that some games will leave you to make choices right up to the end of the game and change the outcome (Deus ex: Mankind Divided), others will determine the outcome by every single choice you have made throughout the game (The Witcher III-The Wild Hunt). Some choices will have bad consequences for more than one person, some choices will impact characters on a very personal level. But in Vampyr, I believe the stakes are higher, since every decision will be a life-or-death one.

I usually strive for the most pacifistic option, but for Jonathan, that might not always be the best choice. He has to consider the repercussions of each and every kill, since his potential victims are tied to other people, even to entire communities. Killing one (seemingly bad) person could lead to even more suffering, which would go against his nature. Character, conflict and choices, see?

So, this is why I am very much looking forward to this game, which will be released on the 5th of June 2018. How about you?

Keep on playing!

Vanessa

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