Early Access Review: V Rising
By: Stephen Machuga (ShanghaiSix)
Developer: Stunlock Studios Available on: PC (Steam)
Just got the email announcement that V Rising has sold a million units in its first week since launch, so I’m guessing you don’t need to hear about how awesome the vampire builder game is from me. But in case you do, I’ve got a few thoughts on it with the 14 hours I’ve put in since I got a code for it.
V Rising, as I’ve been telling everyone, is if you took the isometric camera angle and style of point and click action role-playing game of a Diablo and you mixed in the building mechanics of a Valheim. I know, I know, it’s lazy game reviewing to compare games with other games, but if you know both of those games, you’re 90% of the way to whether or not you think you’re going to like the game or not.
You play as a deposed vampire, sent into exile after the humans rally and drive you and your bloodsucking ilk from their lands. Awakening in a crypt in a random forest, your job is to use the surrounding environment to build a new vampiric castle and start taking your revenge and regain your powers by hunting powerful humans in the area.
It is an extremely satisfying game loop: run around, murder things that have blood in them, chop down trees and bash rocks, then run back to your base to safely deposit everything. All the while worrying about being caught out in the sunlight.
Speaking of sunlight, it’s a fairly large game mechanic in V Rising, but fortunately, there are workarounds to deal with the ever-present sun. Being in large wooded areas means there are shadows everywhere you can zip around and keep your vampire flesh from being singed. On top of that, back at your base, you can install mist braziers that send dark clouds into the air that negate the presence of the sun until you’re able to build stone walls (which give you overhead cover). But there were a lot of times that I found myself getting downed fighting a human towards the end of an evening or near sunrise, and then I’d have to weigh the option of risking going out during the day to recover my belongings or get some work done at my castle during the day and then go back out at night for my corpse run.
The combat of the game is based around gear score: every piece of kit that you craft has a number associated with it, as do all the creatures and humans in the world. The numbers are fairly strict: if you’re a gear score 22 and you run into a human with a 30 gear score, you’re in for a tough fight. A lot of your grindy loot-based games have similar scoring to let you know how you measure up (notice I didn’t say “Stack Up”?) with your opponent. But every point seems to count. One of the unfortunate pieces is that while there are multiple classes of weapons available that double for harvesting materials from the environment (axe for trees, mace for stone, etc.) if you have a 17 axe and a 22 crossbow, you’re really hurting yourself if you try using the axe as a weapon vs. the crossbow. Some games give you credit for just having the piece of equipment in your inventory and averaging your gear score, letting you can switch between items freely. Not V Rising.
Another mechanic in V Rising is your hunger. Obviously, as a vampire, you have to quench your blood thirst regularly. Every creature in the game that has blood in them (sorry, skeletons) has a blood score associated with them that you can feed on. The more powerful the creature, the more potent the blood. The more potent the blood, the more power feeding on that creature gives you, whether increased movement speed, more regular critical hits, or melee regeneration; there’s a fairly long list of abilities you can have associated with feeding. Unfortunately, snagging an 80% rogue blood is a temporary thing, as it drains over time, and every time you heal, you use blood to do so. However, your blood drain when not in combat is nice and slow, so you can really take advantage of these buffs when running around your base or farming.
Your path to vengeance in V Rising is built around your blood altar, an installation at your castle that allows you to track powerful humans in the area and then murder them to steal back your powers. I loved having a bullet point list of targets to hunt down. The problem is I was playing the game solo, and as I was creeping into the gear score 30+ humans, a lot of the fights start getting complicated, and felt like they would require multiple players. There’s no leveling component in the game where you can slowly grind and be higher levels than the enemy humans, outside of getting extremely low probability random loot drops of higher skill blueprints that give you a few more points of gear score. I was getting the shoe leather beaten out of me on several higher-tier fights; go in, fight, die, resurrect, do it again to the point of frustration, like a Dark Souls level of number of deaths.
Fortunately, playing on a busy server, there were times when I would wait on another random player to come into my area where I was hunting and help me deal with the human I was tracking. While the combat is responsive, and you do have a dodge, if you are a solo player, there’s no way to break an enemy from targeting you, and I found myself having to get creative in fights. I was playing on keyboard and mouse, and even as I’m typing this, I wonder if a controller would make life easier.
As far as the building goes, Valheim is a great equivalency. You’re not building individual blocks, but instead, whole walls and floors at a time. There is a limited amount of customization you can do outside of reskinning, so many of the castles from neutral players on your map will look nearly identical to one another. However, I imagine later in the game, as you unlock more skins and furniture to craft, some of the end-game castles will likely look pretty amazing and involved.
So I had a smidge of frustration during some of the boss fights, but otherwise, V Rising is a really solid game for calling itself early access. I’m not sure where the end game is going, as it’s going to take me far longer to grind to the end of the current blood altar list of targets, but I’m excited to keep playing and see where I can take my vampire kingdom back from these filthy humans.