Being a doctor can’t be an easy life. You are responsible for the health and well-being of the sick people you vow to help cure. However, what if the same people you wanted to protect were also the only thing that could sustain your life? That’s where Doctor Jonathan Reed finds himself in early 19th Century London in Focus Home Interactive and DONTNOD Entertainment’s upcoming role-playing game, Vampyr. Reed has become a vampire, and he must split himself between his vow to help the sick and his need to feed on the blood of those he swore to protect.
Dr. Acula jokes aside, Vampyr contains a story with a vast web of interaction and consequences. Who you save and who you feed upon will not just affect you, but the people around that person. To help untangle this web of intrigue, GameWatcher caught up to DONTNOD’s Lead Level Designer Florent Guillaume at E3 to guide us into the life of this doctor in a vampire’s world. He took us through the dark corners of London to find out what kind of man Jonathan Reed is, how players will choose between doctor and vampire, and what consequences those choices will have for the fall or salvation of London in Vampyr.
GameWatcher: Where do we find ourselves starting off in Vampyr? Who is Jonathan Reed?
Florent Guillaume: So you start Vampyr waking up in a mass grave, and quickly find you’ve been afflicted with vampirism. You’ve been transformed. The game is set in London in 1918. Reed is a doctor that was fighting in France during World War I as a combat medic and doctor. When he returns home, his journey takes an unfortunate turn and that’s when he is transformed.
GameWatcher: There’s some historical context as well isn’t there? At the time in 1918, an epidemic known as the Spanish Flu was ravaging parts of Europe.
Guillaume: Absolutely. London was suffering from the Spanish Flu at the time. So as a vampire, Reed must come to terms with his affliction, but as a doctor, he has vowed to cure people of the diseases that are spreading in London. Not only that, but Reed is searching for a cure to his vampirism. He is rational and scientific. He believes his vampirism is a disease, and much like any other sickness, there must be a way to cure it. It extends beyond him to the fact that vampirism is also rampant in London and he wants to put a stop to it.
GameWatcher: Is Reed alone in his journey? There are a lot of people in this game. How do powers that be come into play?
Guillaume: So when we started developing Vampyr, we put together our own lore based on a lot of the different media in which you may have seen vampires before. Just about everybody has different takes on vampirism and the vampire monster. For us, we wanted to take it back to the essence of the Gothic figure. So we adapted various traditional aspects and what made the most sense into our lore about the curse and people who have it. That lore extends to factions as well. When Reed arrives back in London, he doesn’t understand what’s happened to him. He’s a vampire, but he’s also a man of science. He finds help in a hospital and with Dr. Swanson. He supplies Reed with a place in the hospital to help people and do his job as a doctor. From there, you’ll quickly discover other factions as well. There’s the vampire hunter faction which know what Reed is, hate him, and will try to kill him and other vampires. There is also a faction of scholars that are studying the vampires. Where we are in the world, most normal people don’t know about vampires. It’s not really a fantasy world where these things just existed before. So the regular citizens of the game are very much unaware of the threat. Only the vampire hunters and the scholars have some idea. These and the hospital are just three of the main factions you’ll see in the game.
GameWatcher: Speaking of the lore of vampires, this is an open-world game and you can travel through it as you please, but it would appear there are certain rules at work. Could you expand upon how you adapted traditional lore of the vampire?
Guillaume: Yes, so for instance. There is a very old rule in vampire lore that states a vampire cannot enter a home without first being invited in by that home’s residents. So Reed can’t just barge into a house. The rules of his curse forbid it. The world of Vampyr is open, but barriers and obstacles like this keep you from going wherever you please. For that purpose, we also adapted traditional vampiric powers and abilities. There are abilities and powers for fighting, such as pouncing from place to place to reach a target and blending with shadows. That said, Vampyr also has social spells like the classic vampire charm spell. So charm allows you to manipulate any citizen whose will is too weak to resist and that’s one of the ways you can gain entrance to their homes. You need to be investigative as well. If you can learn the secrets of people, you’ll have more power over them. Sometimes that means talking and charming it out of them. Sometimes that means using heightened sense abilities to investigate nearby areas for clues. The more hints you discover about them, the stronger your charming powers over them will be.
GameWatcher: And of course some people will be more resistant to a vampire’s magic than others.
Guillaume: Yes. Vampyr is still an RPG at its core. We have a lot of progression in the game. Some citizens are weak while there are others that are stronger. Just as well there are stronger enemies in combat that will require you to evolve Reed’s power throughout the game, and to evolve, Reed needs blood. He needs to drink blood and take the life of some citizens, which makes for the core decision in the game on whether to take life or not to save others and which lives you will take to sustain Reed.
GameWatcher: Let’s get into that a bit. Vampyr’s London is a living, breathing city broken up into districts of people each with their own lives and routines. How does your interaction with those people affect the districts and your progression?
Guillaume: So in Vampyr, the idea is that we don’t require you to kill anyone. We don’t require you to kill no one either. You can kill everybody, nobody, or somewhere in between. However, you must kill people and take their blood in order to evolve and become a stronger vampire. There are different routes to evolution. You can get a little bit of blood by fighting and killing enemies. You can also progress by getting information on citizens. That said, I will say that choosing to kill a citizen is much stronger means of experience and growth than combat. So the idea behind it is that you decide who you’re going to kill and who you’re going to spare in this city.
GameWatcher: What goes into that decision? These are people we meet outside combat for the most part. How does Vampyr incentivize players to decide?
Guillaume: There are different districts throughout the city, including the hospital district, a chapel district, a dock district, and more. As you explore London, you’ll discover citizens living in the streets that are unaffiliated with any faction. They all have names, stories, and secrets they keep hidden. More importantly, they have bonds and relationships to other citizens. If you kill a person, you will trigger consequences in the lives of other persons connected to them. As an example, there is an elderly woman known as Stella. She has a son named Seymour, who is a psychopath. She is the one who looks after him and protects him from the law. If you kill Stella, then Seymour’s life will drastically change. He loves her and she protected him. You can imagine how her untimely death will push him to drastic choices and ends. You’ll also unlock different dialogues when Reed interacts with him. Seymour won’t talk to Reed the same. He may not trust Reed or give him any further information. Likewise, if the person is a merchant that sells items, they may close up shop in such a circumstance. There are lot of gameplay consequences, but the biggest thing we want the player to feel is the moral choice that they’ve made to take a life or spare one and what it means to the people around that person. You’ll grow much stronger, but you will lose the content of the character by killing them and it will change your experience. You will make more and stronger enemies. Therein is the balance.
GameWatcher: You mentioned that we could actually kill everyone in a district if we wanted to. What’s the end result of that when there’s nobody left?
Guillaume: Well that’s another thing. Remember that there are diseases running rampant. The more you kill citizens, the more you will spread diseases throughout a district. When you come across a person at first, they may be healthy, but as people around them start to die, the stress and new filth in the area may cause them to get sick. As a doctor, you can create medicine and cure individual people, but that costs a lot of resources. The more you kill in a district, the more that district becomes endangered and run down by stress and disease. Eventually, if it goes too far, an entire district can be lost to death and sickness. Everyone in the district will die and the area will be invaded by creatures known as skulls, which are degenerated, feral vampires who have lost their sense of self. They’re no better than beasts and you’ll have to fight or avoid them anytime you’re in the fallen district. There will be no peace or anyone to talk to or converse with there, only beasts that will attack and try to kill Reed if you’re not careful.
GameWatcher: What’s the incentive to killing someone like Stella rather than Seymour? Seymour is the psychopath. What would push a player towards Stella?
Guillaume: For one thing, when you come across a person, you can instantly see how much experience killing them and taking their blood is worth. When you first come across Seymour, he is sick with a cold and it makes his blood a lesser quality. Stella is fine and the better blood makes her worth more strength to Reed if he feeds. In the moment, you might decide that this elderly woman is an easy target that’s worth more strength and kill her for that reason. Just as well, Stella can also develop a sickness and it can make her worth less experience if you kill her then. Either way, we don’t chastise the player for their choices. There is no moral alignment system or karma here that decides whether you’re a good killer or an evil killer. There are simply consequences that reach out in a web as a result of the killing itself. We didn’t want to tell the player what is right and what was wrong. Instead, we wanted to give the player dilemmas that would make them consider the weight and consequences of their options and actions and make those decisions of right and wrong for themselves. Sometimes you’ll come across good people that have low or high experience and sometimes you’ll come across bad people in the same ways. It’s on you to decide in the end.
GameWatcher: There’s an investigative element to all of this too isn’t there? You mentioned there are hints about people that open more dialogue. Could you expand?
Guillaume: Right. So with Seymour for instance, you don’t actually know he’s a psychopath at first. You find out when he gives you a quest to find a gift for his mom that he lost. Let’s just say you find carnage where the gift is located. That not only opens the dialogue to ask Seymour about what happened, but it also unlocks something else of interest. You can talk to citizens in every district and every one of them has a story and secrets to their lives. For Seymour, when you discover his murderous secret, we call that a hint. Each hint about a person is worth instant experience and rewards at that moment, but each hint also makes a person’s blood worth more experience to Reed if you should decide to kill them. By investigating Seymour, it’s possible for him to become more valuable than Stella. Every option is valuable. It just depends on the player and what direction they choose to pursue.
GameWatcher: And learning more about a person might incentivize us more towards whether we want to kill or spare them.
Guillaume: That’s right. Even characters like Stella may have wrinkles that make you reconsider them. She is nice and pleasant and may just seem like a protective mother, but if you dig in further and talk with her more, you will find she has her own guilt and shame in Seymour’s murderous activities. We built a lot of characters in this game to have various gray areas that the player can dig into if they are interested.
GameWatcher: Moreover, there are people in power that have deep connections to various areas, like the doctor who runs the hospital or the head vampire hunter. Can these people be killed? What happens if they die?
Guillaume: Indeed. Some of the characters that you meet in the game are what we call “pillars of the community”. They are hugely important characters to factions and districts that may help you throughout various parts of the main questline in finding the cure to vampirism and the Spanish Flu. These characters have a big impact on their communities. At some parts of the game, you’ll may end up having to make dire choices with a pillar of the community, and if you break that pillar (kill them), the community will suffer very deeply. It will have an echoing effect on many more citizens than your average elderly lady or psychopath.
There’s a lot at stake in the grimy London that Vampyr presents. Will your Jonathan Reed bring peace to the sick or will districts fall into ruin and decay under your unrestrained urge to feed? These are the questions Vampyr poses, and with so much to answer for and so many directions to take, it looks like a journey that will have players returning to London over and over to answer those questions for themselves.
To find out more or pre-order Vampyr, be sure to check out the game’s Steam page.
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