Vampire’s Fall: Origins looks like one of those cheap Diablo-like knock-off RPGs that you see pop up from time to time. Gothic theme and isometric perspective? Check. Dour aesthetics and a dank world that must be miserable to live in? Yep. Aside from the shift from action “click-em-up” combat to a cheap-looking turn-based system, The first impression that Vampire’s Fall’s leaves is that it’s slavishly dedicated to that which inspired it. It is all of that, but there is still something entertaining about it.
Vampire’s Fall: Origins is an open world game (a large open world, too), with a very dark premise. You play as a villager in a local backwater town, who has just been through some basic training to become a soldier to protect the town. Suddenly an army of the dead shows up, with the leader challenging one champion from the village to fight him. For some reason (knowing that if the champion loses, the entire village will be slaughtered) you’re the one nominated for the fight and, naturally, you lose and die.
You then wake in the ruined remains of the town, having been turned into a vampire. With that, you set out to chase down some revenge for yourself and get some answers… all the while being pulled deeper into the lifestyle of the vampire.
Vampire’s Fall doesn’t have a great narrative, and whatever atmosphere it may have had the writers constantly undermine with attempts to be humourous in a sarcastic and laconic manner. There’s not much of a sense of community and world-building, and because the camera is pulled so far back, and character models are so primitive, the game doesn’t have much personality either, even within the context of the dour gothic theme. Side quests and plot points are by the numbers, and while this game pitches itself as a homage to the classics, it never seems to want to do anything interesting within that homage and as a result it comes across as very generic. It’s pretty telling that it was a mobile game first, because while the rebalancing is there such that the game no longer encourages microtransactions, that heritage of focusing on pick-up-and-play and tiny narrative loops remains. For ten or fifteen-minute bursts of play, it’s fine. For a lengthy play session, the narrative is far too tedious, generic and shallow for an RPG.
The combat system is highly enjoyable though. It’s entirely turn-based, and works principally off an “energy” mechanic – you’ll start out with an empty bar of this energy, but as you attack with common attacks, you’ll earn “points” that you can then use to enact more powerful attacks or abilities, including power-ups, backstab abilities, monster summons and other handy effects. You’ll start out with very few powers, but a simple set of skill trees will eventually give the combat system a semblance of nuance.
What lets that combat system down to an extent is the difficulty spikes, which can be egregious, and while the developer might chalk them up as being part of the homage to the games of yesteryear, I’d be willing to bet that on the mobile free-to-play version there are ways to buy yourself around that problem. It’s also a pain to explore the world of Vampire’s Fall, as it’s easy to miss side quest opportunities (you have to come across them in your wanderings as they’re not signposted on the map), and for an open world, the game does want you to follow a linear path through it.
Otherwise, this game is a grind. It’s quite deliberately so, and for many players that will be appealing, but Vampire’s Fall is also devoid of the personality that make most grindy RPGs appealing, and if you’re going to spend hour upon hour doing the same thing with a character, it helps if both the characters and monsters are some kind of charming. There are some hints that there could have been more, but each time the developers zigged when they should have zagged. Every so often there is some kind of moral choice that you need to make, but beyond the immediate consequences (i.e. changing a dialogue tree or ending a quest) there doesn’t seem to be far-reaching consequences to those decisions. We’re talking real Anne Rice-style moral challenges, too, and that’s really what a vampire story should be doing in 2020 – grappling with what it means to be a vampire and a predator on mankind. That the developers recognised this but didn’t do much with it is disappointing.
One final note: there is an extensive loot system in Vampire’s Fall, and as you customise your character, the character model does change in the combat scenes. It’s always nice when it does that… though it does come at the expense of the vampiric themes, as your character spends most of the game tossing around vampire abilities while looking very standard human. It might sound like a minor thing, but it further speaks to the tonal inconsistencies of a game which has a kind of wit that’s perhaps not welcome, and struggles to resolve the nostalgia for the RPGs of yesteryear with modernity.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with homages. Vampire’s Fall is a little on the nose with its love of Diablo at times, but there’s a lot of merit to Diablo, and a turn-based open world RPG with that aesthetic and tone is certainly worth paying attention to. It’s just unfortunate that the developers were unable to elevate this beyond being a shallow grind, with more misfired attempts at humour than a narrative that’s actually worth following. Vampire’s Fall is lengthy and content-rich, but it will be quickly forgotten.
– Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb
The critic was provided a code for the purposes of review.