Vampire Survivors review: an undeniably compulsive treat until you reach the endgame

Vampire Survivors review: an undeniably compulsive treat until you reach the endgame

Vampire Survivors is Moorish. Pulsating light stretches in a vertical column from the top to the bottom of my screen, scattering in deadly particles like notes played on an accordion of cosmic destruction. Fireworks explode in every corner, thanks to the evolved version of my diamond spearing runetracer weapon now called “NO FUTURE”. Monsters run into the thousands. Flaming meteors are still abundant.

Vampire Survivors is an arcade-style survivathon that’s all about weaving through enemy fields as your weapons automatically wipe out the oncoming hordes. It’s still all about collecting upgrades until you’re the location of an unstoppable death machine, and now that it’s left early, that death machine comes in more colors and more flavors. There are new maps to conquer, new characters to conquer with and new secrets to uncover. If you haven’t played since the early access launch then yes, it’s worth checking out the new stuff. If you haven’t played at all, then gosh yes, check out all the stuff. Or like, most of it.

Vampire Survivors is still Moorish. To a certain point.

The essence is the same: escalation. Within 30 minutes, if you survive a scene to its end, you’ll go from throwing out a couple of dirty daggers to a never-ending dagger cork being just one small component of your swirling armageddon arsenal. Basic weaponry combines into evolved, super-powered versions of themselves that gobble up monsters faster than kids let loose on British-baked corn snacks. Each run gives you gold, which can be spent on permanent stat buffs that send you into your next run a little tougher.

Most enemies drop gems when they die, which you can collect for XP and an oh-so-satisfying sound effect. It only takes a few minutes before that sound becomes a constant rush to the ears; the power curve is tangible. It still feels generous, with occasional bursts of power sprinkled along the way thanks to either chests containing five items at once rather than their usual ones, or how you occasionally get to randomly level up ten times in a row. Carry on, say Vampire Survivors, sometimes. Who cares if you’ve earned it. The final level throws a curveball that turns that generosity on its head, but we’ll find out how we feel about that later.

One striking difference is that every level except the first now gives you objectives in the form of a book or two placed in far corners of the map. You don’t have to grab them to complete the stage, but they do unlock new parts of the game: everything from a weapon evolution cheat sheet to a new system that lets you choose up to three powerful passive buffs, like enabling crit for certain weapons or triple the times they bounce. They’re juicy, but perhaps the most impactful addition is the unlockable map, which comes in handy for both tracking down chests that unlock extra characters and picking up leftover healing chicken drops when you’re in a pinch.

One striking difference is that every level except the first now gives you objectives in the form of a book or two placed in far corners of the map

Among other things, having to track these targets also increases the tension. Instead of noodling around in optimal XP farming patterns of your own making (like the windy balls of death I liked to spin up in my early review), traveling out means sacrificing valuable harvesting time. It’s a welcome complication, finding a balance between farming and travel. A light, undemanding print to mix things up a bit.

The new stages aren’t the wide open fields of the first level either. None of them radically change what you come up with, but they mean you can get some satisfaction from figuring out weapons and characters that suit, say, a stage where the enemies come entirely from above and below. Magic accordion, go go go.

That said, up until the fifth and final of the normal stages, I found myself able to coast to victory mostly by simply picking proven combos from my first few hours back in early access. It’s a shame that most of the new weapons I tried didn’t seem powerful enough to justify switching from what I knew already worked, but the truth is, I never minded. That lack of demand to innovate felt in line with a game willing to give me ten levels in a row just for the sake of it, a space to flex rather than a stone surface to navigate. Hitting the final step, however, has so far eluded me.

There is one very specific obstacle, in the form of a reaper that summons a field of blue bubbles at the five minute mark that march up from the bottom of the screen, forcing me to constantly move upwards without a chance to collect the gems I need to become powerful enough to deal with later waves. I can deal damage to him, but so far not enough to kill him. I think the correct strategy involves switching to item combos I’m not too familiar with, but bypassing the bubble one will require experimentation and grit.

I have reached the point that separates the vampire men from the vampire boys, and I have discovered that I am only a boy. Vampire Survivor sits in this strange space where for most of the game some work is required of you, especially at first when figuring out which weapons to prioritize, but for the most part you’re free to sit back and enjoy the ride . There are stretches that keep you on your toes, desperately twisting and turning down which security corridors are constantly shut down by your weapons, but that requires a different kind of cognition than solving problems with your build choices. It’s also still the case that runs can be activated whether or not you land the lucky power-ups, and that a run that seems to be going great can crash to the ground within moments – but all that just started to frustrate me when I hit the final hurdle.

I feel like I’ve rolled down a nice hill only to find the finish line at the top of a secondary hill, with a bubble-blowing bastard waiting to push my bike off and laugh at me. The game I can play with one hand in a pack of chips now wants me to sit up and study. Wow.

I’m still glad there’s depth here, that there are balanced synergies to think about, and even that the bubble guide presents specific constraints for other people to puzzle out of. I can also, maybe, bypass him with brute force if I keep unlocking the specifically very powerful Arcanas I just googled for. Many will enjoy that hunt, but it’s not for me.

I was in it for the heady rush of slamming into a huge pile of gems. I was in it for the five chest boogie, the mindless yet attentive monster herder, the giant meteors and the rainbow slings. They’re all still here, and you can venture into longer and deadlier territory than ever before, especially if you get far enough to unlock the infinite mode, or the modifier that lets you keep upgrading weapons past their normal point. Vampire Survivors is a bigger, better playground now – albeit one with a bodyguard blocking the last set of swings.

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