Vampire Survivors Review – The Dopamine Machine

There are many ways games can make one’s brain release dopamine. One way is by making you shoot dudes in hilarious ways, and another might be to make numbers go up by clicking stuff. Vampire Survivors takes both of those things and sticks them together in one of the most shockingly satisfying ways I’ve recently experienced. It is, simply put, insane; a game where if you can see what’s happening on screem, you’re doing it wrong.

Seriously, here’s an image of me at level 1, mere seconds into my run:

Now, here is me at level 90 very close to the end of the level:

Finally, here is me after 20+ hours in the game and figuring out how to make my area of effect abilities scale up to 326%…

As you can see, I am throwing enormous laser beams, magic missile, scythes and antique furniture at all my undead enemies. As you can’t see, I am in the middle buried under the chaos, with my health bar being the only indication of where I am.

But how did I get there? What happened between A and B that makes Vampire Survivors so alluring? Well…

The aim of the game is to survive for 30 minutes against increasingly large and powerful waves of enemies. You level up by collecting dropped gems and investing into weapons and support items – a maximum of six of each, though you can exceed this limit if you pick items up on the various maps. Weapons have eight levels of power and support items vary between having two and five levels of power. If you have a weapon that synergises with a support item – like a King James’s Bible with a Spell Binder – you can evolve the weapon into a super powerful version of itself.

Now here’s the thing. Enemies (mostly) don’t scale to your level, they scale to the time you’ve been playing. So playing safe isn’t an option; if you’re looking for a way out all the time, you’ll not kill enough enemies to say ahead of the power curve. But if you’re too aggressive, the mini-bosses that the game throws at you to test your build will kill you very early on. Most of the efficiency you’ll get out of the game will come from playing somewhere between tower defence game cowardice and Doom ultra aggressiveness. You really need yo walk the line until you’re snow balling.

To keep the formula fresh there are plenty of maps with unique enemy types – some have exploding ghosts, others have robots and one has a unique boss called Giant Enemy Crab… Yes, after the first two levels, the vampire part of Vampire Survivors becomes less and less relevant, but it doesn’t matter all that much. The game is still fun.

Also keeping things fresh are the characters. You’ll start as a guy with a whip. You’ll soon unlock a lady with a wand… And sooner or later you’ll be a demon with a boomerang cross, a dog that farts out flora and a panda who throws cherry bombs. Y’know, all the classic pillars of any good vampire-killing ensemble. They’re not just aesthetic – all characters come with passive buffs and will mostly all introduce you to a new weapon, or provide a buff to an existing weapon that is ludicrously over the top, and only amplified if you manage to synch that weapon with the relevant support item and evolve it.

Here I am playing as a fire breathing tree, surrounded by holy water, that has almost no movement speed, but is covered in so much garlic and orbited by so many bibles that nearby enemies die when they come near:

To unlock this this tree I had to play as a dog and fart all over a forest, thus healing it… Yeah this game is weird and quirky like that.

And for a game with such a simplistic loop, you’ve constantly got new and evolving goals from secret stages, secret bosses, secrets within secrets and cheat code menu to work with. There are hundreds of achievements, all of which unlock something in-game, as well as a fancy badge for whatever device you’re playing on. In fact they’re so rewarding and so addicting that, for the first time since I played the original Red Dead Redemption, I decided to 100% the game. It took about 30 hours, but it sure felt like 30 hours well spent. Then the DLC dropped and I had even more to do. For a game like this that offers so much and is so modest in it’s price, I’m happy to drop money for new content too.

Seriously, this game is only £4.99 on Steam. That’s insane. The DLC is £2.99. And the value for money is ludicrous. It’s a game that’s core design philosophy is to be fun, and is cheap as anything so anyone can get their hands on it. I love it.

And that is Vampire Survivors. An extremely casual but fast paced power fantasy. It’s only £3.99 on Steam and Xbox, which is bafflingly good value for money. It’s also free on mobile – the whole damn game – if you can believe it.

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