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The trouble with games about vampires is that they suck.

I don’t refer to the dietary requirements of their characters, who can’t help the facts of death, rather to the crumminess of the genre. When vampires show up, they are almost always to be dusted, lest they bring the world to ruin. Rarely do games lower the stakes and let us play the undead, and when they do they can’t help worrying about it. Vampyr put us in the role of Jonathan Reid, a doctor supping from the necks of sickly Londoners, who took care to wring his hands after each meal, and even dined on rats. What a wimp. As for Infamous: Festival of Blood, its hero only had one night to cure his thirst, before he lapses under the thrall of a villain named Bloody Mary. That episode was so watery and tasteless that it ought to have culminated in him thwacking her with a rib of celery.

Thus, V Rising has a noble mission. You play a vampire, who begins the adventure by wafting serenely out of a coffin. “We owned the night,” a resentful voice-over informs us, and now, after years of moth-eaten slumber, it’s time to regain ownership. It’s a great opening: short and sweet, a fond homage to the old Castlevania games, which would often start in a crypt, with a council of satanic priests crooning over a casket, in the hope that Dracula might be nudged into a comeback. Soon you are set loose in the world, your goal to grow potent and grind humanity under your thumb.

V Rising screenshot

This is good news, because, though V Rising looks an awful lot like Diablo – the camera planted at a cool isometric vantage, the UI busy – it reminds you more of Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain. The angle at which you peered down on that game was perfect; its eponymous hero hacked and glugged across the land, and it felt as though you needed the pulled-back view as a kind of nose-pinch. The place went to rot, and Kain revelled in it, one of the few real bastard protagonists that games have given us. I modelled my fiend here on him, with ears like knives and a bone-white curtain of hair, and, to my surprise, he actually drinks like Kain, as well. Not a smeary mess of ketchup and canines but a more stately, telekinetic method; where Kain plucked the blood from his foes in a fine plume, with a wave of the hand, here you trigger a controlled eruption, and bask in the red haze.

However, be warned: if you have a spree in mind, the developer, Stunlock Studios, throws a couple of obstacles at you. First, the game is governed by a day-and-night cycle; when the sun beats down, you must slip its rays, dashing between spots of shade. Halt, and catch fire. Second, you have to rejuvenate not just your strength but your image. This means casting about for materials to craft with; you need clothes, armour, weapons, and a batchelor pad. This ranges from the hardscrabble – scarcely more than a hut lashed together with logs – to the more lavish surrounds of a castle, where you can roleplay as a hemoglobin-hooked fop. Indeed, to really drive home the point, you can purchase the “Legacy of Castlevania Premium Pack DLC,” which encrusts your fortress with rococo spires and offers ruffled frontages for your shirts.

V Rising screenshot

The setting looks fit for a Belmont to whip through, all dappled woods and moonlit towns, with the odd dungeon tossed in for good measure. The art director, Johan Wahlbäck, favours an exaggerated style for characters – cartoon curves and sharply penned frowns – but more traditional fantasy trappings. At a glance, the vistas are so well trodden by the genre that they threaten to wither and crumble into tropes. Look closer, though (by zooming the camera inwards), and you notice the details: the clawing fogs and feathery sunlight, the rustle of copper trees. There is a transfusion of richness into the familiar that charms the eye. Naturally, there is also plenty of nastiness on display. I was creeped out by the furry scuttle of the enormous spider-like creatures in the forests, and you need no convincing to pick up a sword.

Your enemies, many of them wielding noxious magics, put up a fierce fight. Fiercer still is the tonnage of options at your disposal, and the game’s most daunting opponent is the arcana of its menus. The battle at the unbeating heart of V Rising is that between complication and ease: the formal furniture of the ARPG, ornate and densely stacked, versus the uncluttered kicks of the vampire fantasy. The sigh that seeps out as you squint into a grid of armour and ingredients, against the rush of morphing into a wolf, the better to bound through the vales in a blur of grey pelt. If you have a weakness for bloodsuckers, this may draw you into the genre in much the same way that Pokémon Red delivered the JRPG in capsule form – coaxing the uninitiated through the labours of levelling, and the slog of the long grind, with sheer cuteness and the compulsion to grab a full muster of critters.

V Rising screenshot

Whether you can stomach learning about blood types, or you wish to wade into PvP servers and suck in front of your fellow-vamps, there is enough in V Rising to keep you invested. Granted, there isn’t much of a story; Stunlock presumably hopes that the experience is thickly brewed and sufficiently broken up into various nocturnal pursuits that it will generate its own narrative thrust. The combat alone isn’t strong enough, but its simple hack-and-slash texture is laced with a blend of satisfying violence and black magics. If it never truly nourishes, it shines in short bursts. I plan to pick away at it over the months – a sip here and there, an enemy camp conquered, a quest polished off. Its greatest coup, for me and likely others, is its power to pull you into a routine you hadn’t anticipated. I took one look at Hades, with its tiers and boons and myriad complications, and it all looked Greek to me. V Rising, however, proves that no matter how long you have shunned a certain kind of game, it’s never too late. You are never too long in the tooth.

Game: V Rising
Platform: PC, (PlayStation 5 TBC)
Developer: Stunlock Studios
Publisher: Stunlock Studios, Tencent
Release Date: May 17, 2022

V Rising review

V Rising
4 5 0 1
V Rising stands out as a rich vampire role-playing game, and proves that the ARPG genre's busywork is much easier to swallow when wrapped in a good fantasy.
V Rising stands out as a rich vampire role-playing game, and proves that the ARPG genre's busywork is much easier to swallow when wrapped in a good fantasy.
4.0 rating
Total Score
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