Vampire Survivors Review: Is it Worth Playing Now?
Released in 2022, Vampire Survivors took everyone by surprise and became the sleeper hit of the year. A no-button, ‘bullet heaven’ experience, wrapped in a rogue-like coat with hundreds of unlockables, all for an extremely low price? For many it felt like a small ray of simple sunshine amongst the bloated, unfinished money-grabbing “AAA” titles that seemingly makes up 90% of new games on offer.
But is it actually any good? And is Vampire Survivors worth playing now? Let’s have a look…
The Hook: The gameplay loop – the hook – the core mechanic – whatever you want to call it, in Vampire Survivors is simple. Kill as many things as you can, and survive as long as you can, for thirty minutes. Your actions and degree of success each round determine what you unlock and can upgrade for your next run, and you go again, slightly more powered up than the last time you went for it. It’s a rogue-like formula that’s been done a thousand times before Vampire Survivors, but as with gems of the genre like Hades, rarely does the formula feel so water-tight and expertly honed to trigger your dopamine receptors and keep you engaged for ‘just one more run’.
Control simplicity: A big part of the appeal of Vampire Survivors is how simple it is to actually play. You just move your character around the screen with the analogue stick. And that’s it. All weapons auto-fire after being picked up, with the only button pressing required when you level up and pick one of the three weapons you want. Gliding your character across the map, weaving through ever-increasing hordes of enemies and wathcing them mowed down by your auto-firing, power-increasing arsenal puts you in a hypnotic flow-state, a warm cosy spot somewhere between passive and active.
Weapons: Although the character designs are varied and entertaining to look at, they all essentially behave the same. The real stars of the show are the weapons. As you play through a run, you level up by collecitng gems from killing enemies, and every level you ‘re presented with a choice of weapons or stat-enhancers, with 6 available slots for each. The weapons vary from projectiles like the Knife, to shields that encircle the player like the Bible or Garlic, to the more outlandish like a herd of cats that swarm the battlefield gobbling up enemies. As you level up, you can either pick a new weapon for a slot, or level up one of your current weapons.
Where the real rub of the game comes in though is in the combinations – each weapon can combine with a perk to transform into a super-weapon, of sorts. These combinations have to be discovered via experimentation, and having the right few at once can essentially allow you to become invulnerable. Getting there is the hard part. It adds another layer of depth to the game, and serves as a lovely encouragement of experimentation and imagination.
Unlockables: As hypnotic as the moment-to-moment gameplay is, the urge to come back wouldn’t be as potent without some compelling unlockables to keep you going. There’s a swathe of new characters, weapons and stages to reveal as you hit various achievements. These can be straightforward and explicit (kill x amount of enemies, survive x amount of minutes with y character, etc) or tantalisingly opaque (“Obtian the Infinite Corridor”). Vampire Survivors gives a good mix of the two to keep you playing and playing and playing.
Music & Sound Design: As with most of Vampire Survivors, on initial inspection the music feels serviceable if unspectacular, but the more you play and discover, the seemingly endless chasm of content becomes apparent. There are 37 tracks in total, each lovingly crafted to bring different vibes to the gameplay.
Wit: Vampire Survivors is a witty, self-aware game. There’s an ironice layer of humour that permeates the writing, adding to the overall charm.
Price: It’s £4. And £1.50 for the DLC. Simply an outrageously low pricepoint for what you’re getting.
Graphics: The sprites are well made, and deliberately 8-bit, so of course they’re going to be simple. I just feel they’re a little too basic – the characters don’t have faces or expressions, and the level textures are extremely bland. Going for a 16-bit aesthetic rather than 8-bit might have been a better option.
Map items: Various weapons and upgrades are scattered across the map, and can be grabbed instead of obtained via levelling up. They give a good reason to actually move across the map rather than bounce around in one spot mowing down enemies, and if you’re smart you can stack them on top of the 10 slots you get, essentially giving you bonus weapon items. The trouble with the maps is that they aren’t very interesting outside of these items – they’re huge, sprawling areas of largely copy-pasted tiles. Only the Dawnguard DLC map provides much more variety, but again this is only in decoration – there’s nothing unique you can interact with on the maps bar the pickups, they’re essentially just different shapes. Speaking of which…
DLC: Vampire Survivors has provided a few bouts of DLC; several free updates and one large, paid update. And it’s all good stuff – more characters, bug fixes and more maps, generously fleshing out the content and giving more reason to passively slice through monsters. The paid DLC is fine. It just left me a little unsatisfied, as it was essentilly more of the same – more weapons, characters and maps – rather than anything that really added another dimension to the gameplay.
Difficulty: It’s just not quite hard enough. Once you get the hang of how the weapons and cobos work, you’ll find that in practically every run you’ll end up essentially a destruction-wielding Godlike creature, and you won’t even have to move your character as wave upon wave of enemies throw themselves at you, instantly dying and racking up your score. It’s all very satisfying to a certain degree, but a bit more to think about when you essentially hit the endgame wouldn’t go amiss.
Number goes up: When you peel everything back, Vampire Survivors is really just a game about watching numbers and stats increase, and because the gameplay itelf is just a character slowly moving with a control stick, it doesn’t require an improvement of your actual moment-to-moment skill to compliment the stat increases, like with many other Rogue Likes. As fun as it is earlier on, Vampire Survivors is really just Cookie Clicker with extra steps. As a result, once the hook of the unlocks goes, all desire to play the game goes too.
Bestiary: Much was made of Youtuber Jim Sterling joining the dev team to create the games Bestiary – a library of lore and info about the game’s enemies. The trouble is, the sprites are just so basic and the behaviour of them all is essentially the same (move towards you slowly and attack you) that I never found myself caring about them, and therefore didn’t bother reading it.
There are no vampires: Possibly the point of the game that I’ve missed – there are no vampires in the game. Odd.
Vampire Survivors really sucks you in (sorry) initially, with the dopamine hits of the unockables and the joy of discovering the weapon combinations a winning formula for ‘one more try’ addiction that the best games muster. The issue is that it’s a case of diminishing returns, with the more you play, the less there is to unlock, and so the less satisfying the game becomes. When all was said and done it left me feeling rather unsatisfied, and without any lasting memories to take with me. Is it worth playing now? Probably – the price is so cheap and the initial thrill is there. It’s like popcorn – you’ll enjoy it at the time but find yourself wanting something more substantial.