V Rising is all the rage right now and if you spend half an hour with it, it’s not hard to see why. It’s such an appealing idea it hits like Dungeon Keeper did all those years ago. Be the baddie! Okay yes please! Or in this case, specifically: be a vampire reawakened after many years to find the land they once dominated taken from them by snivelling humans, and now you’re going to take it back.
You go about this gradually because you’re no Dracula yet, and doing so involves two interlinked systems: combat and building a bigger base. And that base, yes, is a gothic vampire castle pieced together bit by bit, one wall at a time.
In essence, then, it’s a base-building and crafting game, and when you mix in multiplayer, which is a huge draw here, it begins to feel a lot like games you’ve played before: Valheim, Grounded, Conan Exiles – there are lots of them. Except here, there’s less of an emphasis on survival and more on combat. The experience of playing V Rising is much more like playing an action role-playing game like Diablo, with a huge base-building and crafting element added to it.
Hunger and thirst, then, don’t really exist, although this wouldn’t be a vampire game without your having the ability to drink blood, which you can, except here it fills up a blood pool that you can draw on to heal yourself after fights – it’s more of downtime-reducing thing than everyday necessity for staying alive. There are also some interesting ideas revolving around types of blood, and the effect they have on you, when you drink them. Drain a humanoid rogue, for example, and you’ll get some rogue-like buffs for it. Or track and defeat special enemies, and feed on them, and you’ll unlock new abilities (and crafting recipes) to fight with.
It’s in systems like this that V Rising really works – vampire-themed systems that make a fairly familiar game seem exciting and new. It’s in the way you don’t just wake up in the world but levitate right out of your coffin, like Alucard in the Castlevania anime. It’s in the vampirey things you build in your base, like Bone Altars and Blood Presses and Mist Braziers that blot out the sunshine. Most of all, I suppose, it’s in the way that for the first time I can recall in a game such as this, the night is not your enemy but your friend – it’s the sunshine you have to watch out for (linger too long in it and it will roast your pasty ass). It’s the tone, the atmosphere and the styling; being a vampire reclaiming their land just feels cool.
But there are moments where it sags, too, and it’s to do with your advancement being tied to your base’s capabilities, and the fact that building a capable base with the right machinery takes a long time on your own. Your power in the game is equated by your gear level so it’s intrinsically linked to the equipment you wear. And while it doesn’t take long to get an initial set of bone armour and weaponry crafted – the game is really good at letting you do other things while crafting items – advancement begins to slow down when base-building is introduced.
Base-building involves placing a castle heart (a bit like a dungeon heart in Dungeon Keeper) and then claiming tile space around it. The tiles are large but you’ll need a few of them to make even a small, square base, and the tiles have a resource cost associated with them. As do the walls the game will ask you to build, as do the machines it will ask you to build. It won’t be long before you find yourself doing a lot of wood chopping or rock bashing to satisfy these requirements. And then the game will start asking you to refine these resources in various machines, which takes more labour, then build stone walls and stone floors, which requires yet more labour.
This is the sag, and while it’s possible to cope with, with a couple of hours of dedicated play, it’s not particularly fun to do. But there’s a reason for this, I think, and it is… friends.
Simply put, V Rising wants you to play with other people and you can feel it.
Together, you can form clans of four (you can alter this in server rules) and share a base, all collaborating on it. This not only speeds the labour involved in building but helps you while hunting too, because again, you’ll soon find that the world is tough for someone alone to succeed in. Take those special enemies I mentioned above, which you have to track and kill in order to progress: even when they’re at your level, they’re usually hard to get to because they’re located in places swarming with foes. Again: it’s possible but it’s hard (and a little bit thrilling when you manage it but I digress!).
The friend requirement isn’t a bad thing but it’s something to be aware of. Play with friends and the whole thing opens up. You’ll not only be capable of achieving much more, and more quickly, but you’ll also be able to start thinking about the holy grail in the game, which is PvP. To be clear, there are PvE servers where you can’t fight each other and PvP servers where you can – and even special PvP servers where full looting rules are enabled. There are also private servers where you can simply play on your own or with invited friends.
It’s in PvP, though, where the game really makes sense, where clans are a necessity for survival and strong walls do more than simply look imposing (I don’t know if they’re tested at all in PvE). It’s where survival takes on a much stronger meaning. You won’t find bases dotted higgledy-piggledy everywhere but huge fortresses on the tops of hills guarded by teams of dangerous, toothy vamps.
That’s clearly the endgame, then, the place you go when you’re familiar with how V Rising works and want to test your skills, but that’s not where I’m at. I actually found it quite hard to find people to group with at all, which is probably down to my personality. I do talk a lot. But all is not lost because there is still a sedate charm in pottering through the tech-tree alone, seeing what the V Rising world has to offer – and the indication is that there’s a long, scaling list of computer-controlled enemies to advance through as your power grows. This side of the game seems remarkably fleshed out.
However you play it, then, V Rising is undeniably a very playable game, and for an early access release, surprisingly robust too. And the prospect of more in the months to come – more variety, more tuning – excites me no end. Developer Stunlock shouldn’t want for resources given the game’s success, either. So I say go ahead, sink your teeth in.