Vampire’s Fall: Origins is an RPG that wears many recognizable influences on its sleeve, but ends up lacking any meaningful content to make it worth while.
Genre: RPG, Turn-Based, Grind
Developer: Early Morning Studio
Publisher: Early Morning Studio
Release date: 31 January, 2020
Vampire’s Fall: Origins looks like Diablo (in its perspective and very identifiable font), battles like Final Fantasy (with a welcome twist), is structured like an MMO, has legendary battles like Pokemon, has a villain straight from Tolkien, and, well, is also about vampires, I guess.
Despite all of these good influences, each is mostly referential – that is, you can recognize what they’re pointing at, but they never really take the meaningful part of that reference. For example, from Diablo they take mostly the font. Despite being isometric, the art has nothing to do with the gritty atmosphere of Diablo created by the detailed sprites and unique lighting. From Tolkien, they take a nondescript “witch king” that is merely an evil guy – not exactly what people find memorable in his books if I had to guess. From MMOs it takes the meaningless fetch quests.
Ultimately, the game is simply meaningless. I have to admit I didn’t complete it – nor gotten anywhere close. After 7 hours I felt like the game had offered close to nothing and stopped playing. Despite having many side quests, those amount to little more than slowly walking across the world while having to fight the same random battles (for the 30th time) with the payoff being a bad joke – often related to how peasants are stupid.
The tone of the game is also entirely ironic, and not in a good way. It believes itself to be self-aware and deconstructing fantasy tropes but it says nothing of value.
The combat system is the best part of the game and could have saved it – if not for the generally grindy nature of the game and the “battle fatigue” so typical of JRPGs. That and the grindy nature of the game, which defers all of the difficulty of the game to completing more quests or battles until you overpower your opponent (with higher levels or better gear).
I will now address the most disappointing points of the game – those that are the soul of RPGs, to me, and the reason why I found this not worth playing.
The classic cRPGs like Baldur’s Gate, Fallout, Arcanum, and so on, is the questing. Especially when it comes to diplomacy and conflict resolution. It’s not just the fact that quests have multiple solutions, but that each solution often relates to other quest-lines and to the world’s relations themselves. Those have room for role-playing (in choosing who (or how many) to side with, whether you take aggressive or diplomatic approaches, etc.) as well as exploration, usually by talking to everyone involved and getting hints of possible solutions throughout.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have MMOs. Here, quests are often “kill 10 chickens for their feathers” then “go to the guy in the next town for more quests”. At their worse, they boil down to “kill 500 chickens despite the fact that you only need 20 feathers because the drop rate is 4%”.
Unfortunately, Vampire’s Fall falls (oops) into the latter category. Especially in the hunting quests, at which point you sometimes have to complete several pointless battles until the right monster spawns.
It also has many quests that take you across the map for no good reason. Sure, you could optimize by gathering all the quests before starting to complete them and then work out the best path – but there’s no sense of adventure in that! This is an RPG after all, and adventure is one thing to look for!
Despite my thoughts, the game is strangely compelling. I must have played 5 or 6 of the 7 hours on the first day. This is because you’re always making progress of some sort. Typically by walking from point A to point B, but there is satisfaction in clearing a chore list. That’s fine, but not at all what I’ve been looking for in the games I play.
Another very important aspect to RPGs is obviously the world your character inhabits. This is often rather disappointing, to me (I mean, Dragon Age is a patchwork of medieval European themes with magic tacked on). But there is often something to them. The problems people face, the God(s) they worship, their many societies, and so on. Fallout is probably my favourite in this regard.
This game takes the alternate route of “let’s be edgy and subvert every fantasy trope and have every character be either stupid or sarcastic”. This is also tied to the meaninglessness of quest design. One quest, for example, has you clear a curse of rain for a village. Once you do it, they realized they had asked the curse in the first place because they hated the sun and ask you to find a way to curse them again. Another has you clear their “curse of stupidity”, but once you clear the curse, it turns out to be a curse for their hate of apples or something along those lines.
Most of the things you do are meaningless. The world is empty. It’s just a collection of isolated side-quests whose sole purpose for existing is a bad joke.
This may get better later on, once you’re more advanced on the main quest. I don’t know. But even there, there was nothing compelling about it. The villain was as characterless as the rest of the game – he was just an evil dude raising armies against villages for no reason.
The biggest problem, to me, is the tone. One town is a “scholar town”. But instead of tackling real problems with academia (or whatever), it simply makes bad stereotypical one-off jokes about aloof or overambitious scholars. This essentially removes the possibility of a real world underneath.
The combat is the best part of the game. It is a bit like a 1-on-1 final fantasy, but it has many (as far as I can tell) unique mechanics and abilities.
You have your basic attacks, and your special attacks. To use special attacks, you need “charge”. You generate some charge each turn, as well as from dodges and so on, depending on your build. You will also get a big charge bonus every 3 turns, at which time you can use multiple abilities for that turn.
The tactical aspect of the combat revolves around which abilities to use and when – when to use a basic attack, when to use a special ability to avoid “overflowing” charge on bonus turns, etc..
There is a fairly simple skill tree where you can upgrade passive and active abilities. Other abilities come from the weapons you have equipped.
I liked the combat! Some battles were close and required at least some degree of strategy. Unfortunately, it isn’t supported by the structure of the game as a whole. In this respect, Here Be Dragons can serve as a useful contrast. Because there was no upgrading of any kind in that game, every battle was meticulously designed. It was almost like a puzzle.
And many JRPGs have a similar element. Vampire’s Fall, however, is a bit too open and makes it too easy to level up in a rather loose manner, making most fights very easy and not at all tactical. This was especially disappointing in the “world bosses”. These have no quest associated with them, but have achievements. When you first encounter them, they’re clearly too powerful. Once you go back to them later, however, you risk being too overpowered for them to pose any threat.
The game lacks balance in this regard, and it’s unfortunate – because the combat system is unique and could have been more of a highlight of the game.
The worst part, as I’ve mentioned, is the “battle fatigue”. Everyone who’s played a Final Fantasy game probably has flashbacks to the never-ending random encounters, fighting the same battle over and over again to grind or get to the end of a dungeon. This game has exactly the same problem. And having a deeply tactical combat system doesn’t help, either – since at some point you’d like to auto-attack your way to victory instead of taking the 10 extra clicks or button presses to win those battles.
That’s about it. While Vampire’s Fall: Origins can be a compelling game (in the literal sense of the word), it adds nothing once you step away from it. The exclusively grindy quests could have been supported by a rich world, but the world is as empty as it gets. You’re just finishing one chore to gain access to five more.
As I hope I’ve made clear, the game has many influences that will probably intrigue you – unfortunately, those influences really miss the point and remain entirely superficial.
Many people seem to enjoy the game. I suppose the problem is the expectation of what one wants from a role-playing game. If you prefer the old-school Baldur’s Gate kind of game, this will not scratch that itch at all! If you want something more mindless, this may be just the thing for you.
If you’re interested in playing Vampire’s Fall: Origins you may be in luck! Ask JimDeadlock on our Discord server and he may have a free key for you, if you’re quick!