Unfinished Business is NME’s weekly column about the weird and wonderful world of Early Access games. This week, Rick Lane sinks his teeth into a vampire survival sim V Rising.
V Rising is a survival game where you play a vampire hell-bent on revenge against the human race, which even without context is entirely understandable. It’s primarily inspired by Valheim, but the game I found myself thinking of when I first burst out of my coffin wasn’t Iron Gate’s preposterously popular Viking simulator. Instead, it was the 1996 action RPG Blood Omen: Legacy of Cain.
Perhaps it’s the top-down perspective, or the shared DNA in the base premise. Perhaps it’s simply because middle-age is hovering into view like Dracula’s boat on course for Whitby harbor, and looking back helps distract me from a future of cholesterol monitoring and chronic back pain. But amid the crafting, base-building and other familiar survivalist trappings, I feel like, with the right nudge, V Rising could easily become a spiritual successor to Crystal Dynamics’ vampire classic.
Even if my instincts are wrong on this, V Rising‘s toothy twist on Valheim brings enough fun to recommend in its own right. As I said, you begin the game by bashing your way out of your coffin in some forgotten crypt, and immediately batter a few skeletons before crafting a sword from their bones. It’s one of the cooler introductions I’ve experienced recently, and that one-two-punch of fighting and crafting encapsulates the core feedback loop of V Rising.
Once you’ve worked your way through the opening necropolis area, you’ll end up in Farbane Woods, aka the generic survival forest. I’m generally down to survival games that take place in forests, because it’s been done to death. But at least V Rising has a good reason for the opening area to be predominantly woodland. Since you’re a vampire, exposure to direct sunlight will quickly see you light up like a roman candle. So you must stick to the shade during the daytime, using your dash maneuver to slip between shadows, and using caution when you harvest resources or engage enemies in combat.
This light / shadow systems adds a pleasing bit of vampiric flavor to V Rising, but developer Stunlock Studios knows not to push the idea too far. Days in V Rising‘s world are short, and when the sun gives way to the moon, you’re free to explore unhindered. Your immediate goal is to build yourself a castle, which you approach in typical survival game fashion. Completing an objective such as crafting some bony armor for yourself will unlock new objects for you to craft. Seeing these through will unlock more recipes, and so on.
After about an hour, however, V Rising gets a bit trickier. Certain recipes and vampire powers can only be obtained by drinking the “V-blood” of bosses, of which there are currently 30 in the game. Constructing a ‘Blood Altar’ will help you sniff these tougher enemies out, conjuring a glowing red trail that leads to their lairs.
Once you track these enemies down, you’ll need to fight them in encounters that can be pleasingly dynamic. When I fought Keely the Frost Archer, not only did the sun come up halfway through the fight, forcing me to dash in and out of shadows as I dodged her shots, but a rogue arrow from Keely’s bow destroyed the door of a pen holding a captive bear. In the end, I emerged victorious over both Keely and the bear, earning myself a special ‘frost-bat’ ability and a blueprint for a tannery.
As an Early Access prospect, V Rising has more than enough for interested players to get involved with now. The castle-building and crafting systems are already elaborate and involved, and more importantly, those systems lead to fun and surprising adventures in the wilderness. I do have a couple of complaints, however. First, the enemy tracking system is not always reliable. When tracking the game’s first boss, the Alpha Wolf, the glowing trails I was supposed to follow just led me to some random patch of forest where there were no wolves whatsoever. I don’t mind V Rising using this system in place of objective markers, but it has to work consistently to make that replacement worthwhile.
My other issue is that I don’t think the vampire theme comes through strongly enough. There are a few cool ideas, such as your blood-type changing and conferring different bonuses depending on what humans or animals you feed on. But you also currently ‘feed’ through some weird life-drain magic, rather than sinking your fangs directly into your prey. I also think combat needs to be fiercer. You want to be tearing through your enemies, not just knocking them about a bit. Such combat could be locked behind later game abilities, I’ll admit, but I still feel the base combat is a tad too flimsy given you’re a vampire.
Still, there’s a lot of the game on offer here for fifteen quid, and the overall quality is way above the baseline for a decent Early Access launch. It seems like Stunlock Studios is already onto a winner, and if the developer can expand the game as it plans to (and properly nail that vampire premise) it could even be knocking on Valheim‘s window as the premier survival adventure.
V Rising is available now via Steam Early Access