Why Vampyr Is The Worst Game I’ve Ever Finished.

I hated Vampyr. I mean, like actively loathed it.  I wound up beating the game on its hardest difficulty, despising every additional minute I spent with it, just to show it that I wasn’t quitting because I was bad at the game, I was quitting because it sucked.

But you know the worst part about Vampyr?  You could see the goodness bubbling underneath the surface.  With some additional experience on the developers’ part, this could have been a game I loved.  My hatred sprung from a visceral understanding that this roleplaying game with elaborately-scripted characters was meant for people like me, that I was in fact its target audience, and yet with every aspect it was distorting the things I wanted to adore about it into a tedious grindfest.

After all, I don’t hate most games.  I go, “Meh,” wander off after an hour or two.  This is a hobby.  Lots of games don’t do it for me.  Indifference is a sane reaction.

But Vampyr made big promises – you’re a British vampire during the influenza epidemic in World War I! Now, that’s a great setup.  And as a bloodthirsty vampire, you’ll get to know your victims intimately – each person in this disease-stricken London is a fully-fledged character, with hopes and dreams!  Should you decide to murder someone for the power in their blood, you’ll have to live with the fact that their death may affect the other people you have come to care about.

Yet the game will be difficult if you don’t feast.  You won’t get the XP you need unless you feed on someone.  Do you have what it takes to be a pacifist vampire?  And if not, who will you slaughter for your selfish gain?

Great setup.

Poor (m’haw) execution.

Because while the characters are well-written insofar as they go, they’re also really static.  Each character is about seven to ten spokes on a conversational hub, with some aspects of their conversation tree locked off until you discover secrets about them that make them open up.

They also never change over the course of the game.

So what actually happens when you get to the flu hospital after an hour or two is that you discover an exciting cast of doctors, nurses, and patients, and say “TELL ME MORE ABOUT YOUR CONDITION” about sixty times, and then run out of things to talk about for the rest of the game.  As the situation in London worsens, nobody has any new adventures or reactions or revelations – which means that if you’ve talked with them all early on, about twenty hours later they’re exactly the same, which highlights them as the mindless quest-givers that they are.

The only way to get them to open up after you’ve talked to everyone is to stumble across letters left in obscure areas of the map, at which point you can bring up another conversational spoke.  Which doesn’t feel like an adequate reward.  You’ve murdered your way across London, leaving a trail of dead bodies through plague-stricken apartments to find a ragged note in a locked safe, and all you get is four more sentences?

“But wait, Ferrett!” you say.  “I thought you were trying to be a pacifist vampire!  Aren’t you specifically not killing anyone?”  And that’s another problem with Vampyr – when they say “Don’t kill anyone,” what they mean is “Don’t kill any of the characters we have arbitrarily marked as having personalities.”  Because during the course of the game you’re obliged to kill about a thousand vampire hunters, who swarm out of the woodwork relentlessly, none of whom apparently had hopes or aspirations.  It’s fine to eviscerate these faceless goons by the bucketload, and in fact annihilating anonymous peasants is the only other way you can get XP, albeit trivial portions of it.

Which might be an interesting moral dilemma – okay, the people you can talk to are nice people, worthy of protection, and the vampire hunters are all bastards, right?

Well, no.  At least one of the named citizens you talk to is a serial killer.  One’s an unrepentant murderer.  Another is a landlord who’s extorting his renters for sex.  And keep in mind, the game specifically asks, “Do you have the moral courage to play the game on its hardest mode?  Can you the player starve yourself of the XP you’d get from eating fully-fledged citizens to achieve victory on the hardest mode?”

Yet the people you’re actually chastised for killing in-game are actually worse than these poor local boys who said, “Golly, these vampires murder people, I don’t want them in my neighborhood.  I’ll get out my shotgun.”  (And yes. You only get the good ending – the one where your character ends up happy – if you abstain from named murders.)

So basically, Vampyr participates in a weird colonialism, where it’s okay to kill seven hundred people as long as they’re no one you sat down for a drink with.

I would have adored this game if it had actually presented you with moral choices by not enforcing explicit outcomes!  It would have been a fascinating balance to make – “Gosh, the game is hard, and I need the XP, and nobody will miss this landlord.”  And you got to make your own judgments about who deserved life and death, and then saw the effects on the neighborhood as that death affected the people around them.

If the game hadn’t made a decision on what the good path was, I would have had to live with my own outcomes.

But no.  The story says that killing anyone – well, anyone named – is Bad, and you will be Punished for that decision as a Murderer.  Whereas I was a Good person, and got the Good ending where my vampire was happy, and only at the cost of filling up four morgues full of people whose main crime was thinking that a vampire might be a hazard to their home town.

The “moral” choice is worse than no choice at all.

And remember, the characters stop being characters after a set point in the story.  You exhaust their conversational options, and they turn into repeating squawkboxes.  After twenty hours, I tried to remember that they were supposed to be human beings, but there was nothing new to be done with them.  They didn’t want anything else, they didn’t react to the deteriorating conditions, there were no new quests they could give, they were just… there.

I’m told they do react if you start killing people, but remember, the game explicitly poses the challenge to you of whether you can play pacifist.  And if you take that unique choice, they’re boring.

I imagined a game, a better game, where the characters didn’t just wander endlessly through the same halls through the game.  Where new conversational trees unlocked as the game went on, where they said, “Gosh, the hospital has been invaded by an army of angry militia, I’m changing my attitude!”  And maybe they would need reassurance or help or had to be talked out of getting revenge.

But that was not this game.

And if the core gameplay loop was good, I could forgive it, but Vampyr oscillated between “crushingly difficult” and “tediously numb.”  You’ll run into the same five enemy sets throughout the game, and the same strategies work on most of them.  So you arm yourself with your weaponset and have the same dull battle a hundred times.

(Not to mention most of the best powers are static ones – more damage, more health, more healing – so levelling up largely feels unexciting.)

But for the boss combats, the camera is in tight – and the worst bosses spam the area with blooming area effects that you can’t see until you back into them, so you’re faced with the choice of “know where the boss is, or know where you’re retreating to.”  That turns a lot of boss combats into luck-based missions where you hope she doesn’t plant the exploding blood-roses behind you.

Which is also a weird reality-breaking issue, because there’s no save system in Vampyr – the game saves for you, and you can’t return to an earlier save if you regret eating that guy or making that decision.  That would be good, except the game also doesn’t acknowledge the save system – if you die, you reform out of a cloud of ashes and then go back to fight the boss with all your former inventory depleted.  Time has clearly passed, but the characters have not moved except for you.

This decision makes the world feel even more artificial.  The characters, as noted, have the same conversations with you throughout the game.  And after you’ve reformed, the bosses just stand there, stoically, waiting for you to arrive.  When you reform, the same damn ghouls – sorry, “Skals” – will be waiting in the same damn group in the same damn place.

It doesn’t feel like a living world.  It feels like a setpiece, and not a particularly good one.

And alas, the lead character’s a bit of snore, too.  It took me a while to realize that I was supposedly falling in love with the other lead female character – if there’s an opposite to chemistry, they have it – and I had no choice in that matter.

So the game wanted me to make Bold Decisions about Morality, yet shoehorned me into a singular plot where I got to make no significant choices.

Admittedly, that’s because I went for Pacifist run.  The game challenged me to git gud, and I got gud, and I beat it to prove that I wasn’t terrible at the game, the game was terrible.  And when I got to the end, there was another hour of exposition dump afterwards to explain things that could have been explained by dynamic characters in-game.

I don’t hate most games.  I get bored, and walk away.  But Vampyr was so close to what I wanted on literally every level that I felt the game designers wanted exactly what I wanted from a game – and then had no idea how to implement it competently.  There were ways to do this game so it would have become what they wanted.

But what I interfaced with was a game that consistently thwarted its own magnificent dreams.  I felt this game should have been better.  I was rooting for it, and watched it sabotage itself.  And now, alas, it’s returned to GameStop for credit, because I won’t be going back.

Later in  the week, I’ll talk about a game that was good: Prey.  My God, Prey was flawed, but what it executed well,it executed better than any other game out this generation.

More on that later.

Off Social Media For A Bit.

I need to self-care for a bit, and social media isn’t helping me.  I’ll be back.  Might be an hour, might be a week, might be a month.

Take care of yourselves, k?

What Polyamory Is.

How’s next Tuesday for you? No? You’ve got a date with Jessica. No, I can’t do Friday, Bryan’s coming in for his biannual visit. And the 17th is out, that’s Father’s Day…

Can you just look at my Google Calendar, find a free day, and pick it?


I’m sorry, I really am. I didn’t mean to cook her my special pasta carbonara – yes, I know I did that for you on our first date, but I do that on every first date, it’s my go-to dish –

Oh. You think that’s our dish now.

You are okay with me being dick-deep in someone else, right? Yeah, the boinking other people is still fine, great. But now that sex isn’t the thing that defines us exclusively, man, isn’t it weird how the most bizarre things trigger jealousy? Remember when I got hung up because you went to the butterfly house with Mark, and I thought that was our special place, and –

Right. You’re still upset. Let’s negotiate and determine whether we’re pasta-amorous.


How’d my date with Denise go? I mean, good, yeah. We had a good time. It was the good kind of, uh, goodness.

No, I’m not being defensive. I’m just… not sure how many details you want on this whole “outside date” thing. Does it, uh, turn you on to hear what kind of fooling around we did? Or are you more of a “as long as the sex was safe, it’s all good” kinda person?

Oh. You wanna know the emotional velocity of this date. Well, how’s that work? Do you wanna know whether I’m falling in love with her, or a blow-by-blow of what we talked about, or a bead on whether I think the two of you could be friends?

Ah, you wanna know how experienced she is with polyamory and what her dating history is like, so you’re braced for incoming problems! Okay, yeah. It’s that sort of post-date debriefing. Let’s go.


Of course I know Valentine’s Day is coming up. What do you mean “Who gets it?”



Whoah, yeah, Paulo shouldn’t have said that. He was way out of line. But at the same time, he’s been super-stressed and all, what with his overtime at work and his son being sick, and cutting him some slack right now then discussing it later might be the best course.

…when did I start going to bat for your boyfriend?


What? No. Alex is just a friend. I have those too, you know.

What’s that? You envy me, because I’m polyamorous and you’re not? Why?

Oh. “Because polyamory’s all about hot sex and new partners.”

Sure. That’s what it is, all right.

Wanna look at my Google calendar?

The Final, Potentially Magical, Days Of My Old Car

“How much would you pay for this car?” my friend asked us.

“I dunno,” I said, because we weren’t in the market for a car, and I never paid attention to car prices anyway. I jokingly named what we had in our savings account at the time, which wasn’t nearly as much as the car – a two-year-old Saturn SUV with all the trimmings – was worth.

“Sold,” said my buddy, to my surprise. He was looking to get rid of the car because his new kids meant he needed a minivan, and he’d rather this car went to someone he liked.

So we had a car. It had everything: heated seats, satellite radio, big space. We loved it.

Our old car, coincidentally, died irreparably three weeks after we sold it to someone, even though it had been in good shape when we left it. We joked that it loved us so much it couldn’t bear to be with anyone else.

The first thing we did with our new car was the thing we did with every new car: we put my grandmother’s angel clip in it. The angel clip was not at all unique: my grandmother bought them by the box from Avon. She loved giving away bric-a-bracs, so much so that when we moved her into the nursing home we realized that her bedframe had collapsed and her mattress rested entirely upon a platform of Avon soap-on-a-ropes, which she would hand out on every occasion.

But she’d given it to me and said, “This angel clip will keep you safe.” I clipped it to my car sun visor, where it may have protected us from roadsize hazard but it was a razor-sharp piece of metal at temple height when you pulled the screen down.

Still. My Grammy gave it to me, and it was nice having a piece of her in the car. When she died I’d sometimes touch the angel, knowing a part of her went with me wherever I drove.

Yet fast-forward a decade and 120,000 miles, and our beloved Saturn felt like a dying pet. It had always had trouble with its wheel bearings, grinding them out every eight to fourteen months like mangled clockwork, so much so that our garage had a standing order for replacements.

But this time, they told us that the whole transmission was going. We had about four months left, at which point the repairs would be about $5,000 dollars. They said, and I quote, “Do not put another dollar into this car.”

So we went car shopping, excruciatingly aware that our car was on a countdown. And as the days piled on, with the grinding of those traitorous wheel bearings getting louder, it felt like watching over a dying pet.

Because the car was trying, it truly was, a magnificent effort – you could feel it chugging to life when we stepped on the accelerator. Three weeks after the diagnosis the air conditioning died in the summer heat, but it didn’t just die – you could feel the car wheezing, trying hard to produce cold the way it used to, coughing sporadic bits of freon in your face.

The dealer said they’d probably sell it for salvage, which hurt my heart.

So on Sunday, I cleaned out the car to pick it up for trade-in. We’d had it for a decade, so it had all sorts of things stashed in it – CDs we’d never played since we figured out we could connect our iPhones to it, mysterious keys to bike racks we’d long sold on Craigslist, and of course the angel clip.

I put the angel clip in a pile in the backseat as I cleaned, the pile marked “Transfer to new car.” And I whispered reassurances to my car, feeling foolish, but thanking it for all it had done for us, we were grateful, we didn’t want to sell you but it’s time you rest.

Monday, we stepped into the driveway, knowing this would be our car’s last trip with us.

It wouldn’t start.

We sat there dumbfounded, hearing the clicking noise in the ignition, then burst into laughter. Touche, car!

“I guess it really doesn’t want to be with anyone but us,” Gini joked. We got out our car charger, hoping it was just a dead battery.

“Oh!” I said, going back into the house. “I forgot my Grammy’s angel clip!” Because the first order of business once we signed the paperwork was to put Grammy’s love into the new car.

I looked through the pile of “Transfer to new car” stuff.

The clip wasn’t there.

Confused, I checked the pile three times, then wandered out to our old, trusty Saturn. And sure enough, the angel clip had fallen off the pile, wedged in the corner of the back seat, where it would have gone to the junkyard with the rest of the car.

The car started up shortly after that.

I’m a skeptic who realizes that the universe may be arbitrary and cold, but I choose to believe in certain stories. And what I believe is that my Grammy and the car both refused to go until my Grammy’s angel clip was safe and ready in my hands to go to the new car, the passing on of generations.

Anyway. We now have a seaglass-green Prius, which will hopefully last us long and fruitfully.

And yes.

My Grammy’s clip was the first thing we did.

Our old car, having broken down in our driveway literally as we were driving into to trade it in at the dealer. Touché, car!

Our new car, a Prius. Smug alert!

Aaaaand there’s my Grammy’s angel clip. We couldn’t leave it behind. Literally.