Vampire Survivors review: A compelling treat without a doubt until you reach the end of the game
Vampire survivors tortured. Pulsating lights in a vertical column extend from the top to the bottom of my screen, scattering in deadly particles like musical notes played on an accordion of cosmic destruction. Fireworks explode around every corner, thanks to the upgraded version of the diamond-throwing Runetracker now called No Future. Monsters run in the thousands. There are still many flaming meteorites.
Vampire Survivors is an arcade style survival game about weaving fields of enemies while your weapons automatically take out the oncoming hordes. It’s still about collecting upgrades to become the location of the unstoppable death machine, and now it is LEAVE EARLY ARRIVAL This dying machine comes in more colors and more flavors. There are new maps to conquer, new characters to conquer, and new secrets to uncover. If you haven’t played since the early access launch, then it’s worth checking out what’s new. If you haven’t played at all, then God yes, please check all things out. Or something like that, mostly.
The vampire survivors are still dying. To some extent.
The basic appeal remains the same: escalation. In 30 minutes, if you survive a stage to its conclusion, you’ll go from shedding a pair of daggers into an endless dagger tornado that’s just a small component of your rotating Armageddon arsenal. Basic weapons combine into sophisticated, powerful versions of themselves that nibble on monsters faster than kids leave on British baked corn. Each run earns you gold, which can be spent on permanent stat buffs that send you to the next round even tougher.
Most enemies drop gems when they die, which you can smash to get XP and a very satisfying sound effect. It only takes a few minutes before that sound becomes a constant rush in your ears; The force curve is clear. It still feels generous, with occasional explosions of potency along the way thanks to either chests containing five items at a time instead of the regular chests, or the way you sometimes hit the random level ten times in a row. Go on, says Vampire Survivors, sometimes. Who cares if I win it. The final level throws a curve ball that flips this vine upside down, but we’ll find out how we feel about that later.
One striking difference is that every level except for the first now gives you targets in the form of a folder or two placed in far corners of the map. You don’t need to capture them to complete the stage, but they unlock new parts of the game: anything from a weapon evolution cheat sheet to a new system that lets you pick up to three powerful passive buffs, like enabling cash for specific weapons or triple their bounces. This is interesting, but perhaps the most impactful addition is the unlockable map, which is handy for keeping track of the coffins that unlock additional characters and for getting rid of leftover chicken drops when you find yourself in trouble.
One striking difference is that every level except for the first now gives you targets in the form of a folder or two placed in far corners of the map.
Having to track down those goals, among other things, also increases stress. Rather than roaming around in your own devised optimum XP farming patterns (like the Stormy Death Balls I loved in my Early Access review), traveling abroad means sacrificing precious harvest time. It’s a welcome complication, which is finding a balance between farming and travel. Light, indulgent pressure to mix things up a bit.
The new stages aren’t the vast, open fields of the first level either. None of them fundamentally change what you intend to do, but they do mean that you can get some satisfaction from discovering weapons and characters that fit, for example, a stage where enemies come entirely from above and below. Magical accordion, go.
However, until the fifth and final stage of the regular stages, I found that I could work my way to victory mostly simply by picking tried and tested combos from the first two hours in Early Access. It’s a shame that most of the new guns I tried weren’t powerful enough to justify swapping out what I knew actually worked, but the truth is, I wasn’t really interested in that. I felt this lack of demand for innovation aligned with a game that was willing to give me ten levels in a row just for its own sake, room to bend rather than rocks to move around. However, winning that final stage has thus far proven to beat me.
There is a very specific obstacle, in the form of a reaper that summons a field of blue bubbles at the five minute mark that move up from the bottom of the screen, forcing me to constantly move upwards without a chance to collect the gems I need to grow strong enough to handle the subsequent waves. I can damage him, but so far not enough to kill him. I think the right strategy involves switching between sets of items I’m not familiar with, but getting past the bubble man will require experimentation and persistence.
I’ve gotten to the point where vampire men and vampire boys are, and discover that I’m nothing but a boy. The vampire survivors sit in this strange space where in most parts of the game you need some work, especially in the beginning when you figure out which weapons to give priority to, but for the most part you can sit back and enjoy the ride. There are extensions that keep you on your toes, twist hard and reject any safety lanes that constantly block your weapons, but this requires a different kind of awareness to solve issues with your building choices. Still, whether or not you land those lucky boosts is playable, and a seemingly great run can hit the ground in a matter of moments – but all of that only started to frustrate me when it hit that last hurdle.
I feel like I was driving along a gentle hill only to find that the finish line is on top of a secondary hill, with a bubble-blowing bastard waiting to get me off my bike and laugh at me. The game I can play with one hand in a box of chips now wants me to sit down and study. oasis.
I’m still glad there’s depth here, that there’s a balanced synergy to think about, and even the bubble wizard presents definite limitations for others to come out of. I can also, perhaps, bypass it by brute force if I continue to unlock the extremely powerful arcana that I just googled. Many will enjoy this chase, but it’s not mine.
I was in it for the brilliant rush of clattering in a huge pile of gems. I was in it for the five-element chest dance, the reckless and vigilant beast herding, giant meteors and rainbow scythes. All of that stuff is still here, and you can get into more deadly areas than ever before, especially if you get far enough to unlock infinite mode, or a mod that lets you keep upgrading weapons beyond the usual point. Vampire Survivors is a bigger and better stadium now – albeit with a bodyguard blocking the last set of swings.
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