Need to know
what is that A Castlevania themed roguelike where you try to survive waves of draculas, wolves and skeletons.
Wait to pay $5/£4
Release date October 20, 2022
Revised on Steam Deck, Core i5 12600K, RTX 3070, 32 GB RAM
Link steam (opens in a new tab)
Like many PC gamers, I’ve gotten a little spoiled spending single digit dollars on games on Steam after all these years. I managed to snag Deus Ex: Invisible War for 40 cents, which I’m pretty sure is what video games cost during the Great Depression. Never played it, but still, the value.
It’s with that exposure to cheap gaming in mind that I say Vampire Survivors is one of the best deals you can get on PC. It’s a resourceful, surprising bullet hell roguelike, one that will work on anything and had me muttering the disastrous “one more run” mantra at one in the morning after everyone in the house was asleep. As PC Gamer editor Robin Valentine put it on Twitter the other day, “It’s dangerous to have on your hard drive.”
Vampire Survivors is built around horde mode in simple, spread out maps. You choose a character from a selection of Belmont-likes as you try to fend off a horde of ghosts and ghosts, growing in power and number over a 30-minute timer. Vampire Survivor’s first big curveball is how it handles shooting. Each weapon is mechanically unique, with different AoEs, rates of fire and damage profiles. Instead of directly targeting enemies, the weapons have a timed firing pattern influenced by you and the positioning of your enemies.
Take my go-to character, Arca Ladonna. He starts with a relatively unforgiving early-game weapon: a wand that shoots fireballs at a random enemy on screen once every second or so. I have no say in where these fireballs are going, so I have to follow their lead in whatever direction they clear through the already claustrophobic masses of enemies, grabbing high-level gems in their wake.
Compare that to a different hero, Imelda Belpase (the vampire names are Castlevaniaworthy). She starts with a magic wand that shoots at the nearest enemy. Imelda can more directly target her enemies from the start, allowing for a more instantly familiar, aggressive playstyle. I still prefer the high risk, high reward randomization provided by Arca because it’s something unique to Vampire Survivors, but you have a lot of options from the start.
I enjoy the way these preset shooting patterns encourage me to build a complementary arsenal. For example, unwieldy but powerful fireballs pair well with something more consistent and accurate like Imelda’s wand or the boomerang crosses. This measured build-making in the early game pays off in an explosive, self-sustaining power fantasy in the last third of a run, and I think this gets to Vampire Survivors’ secret sauce.
With six weapons maxed out and at least some of them evolved with item combos, your character simply unleashes a constant stream of projectiles while fending off an endless wave of enemies. It almost plays itself out at this point, but that’s part of the fun. The closest thing I can compare it to is when you create a mob of units in an RTS or more tactical RPG. It pokes that same lizard brain pleasure center for me as when I drag to select a doom stack of Battleships in StarCraft or a group of mages with Melf’s Minute Meteors in Baldur’s Gate, click on an enemy and watch the sparks fly.
That does run the risk of getting boring, and the handful of times I lucked into an easy early game that transitions to a steamroller late game was when Vampire Survivors dragged. Luckily, there are game speed and enemy challenge modifiers to kick things up a notch, and Vampire Survivors’ plethora of hidden characters, challenges, and levels revived the fun for me after entering a slump. It reminds me of the big iceberg of the sequential end levels of Binding of Isaac or the lying secret levels and bosses in Ultrakill and Cruelty Squad. The secrets of Vampire Survivors help it feel generous and surprising.
One challenge that just blew me away requires you to kill a seemingly invulnerable boss that seems more like a rule of the game than something you can actually defeat. It requires moving to far corners of the map to collect special items. These items, when fully upgraded along with two specific weapon sets provided on level-up, unlock a pair of uber-weapons that allow you to kill that load, unlocking a hidden character.
I made two attempts at this run to no avail before lucking into both parts of the RNG side of the build during some casual play a day later. I frantically changed course to run the gauntlet, picking up everything I needed and fully upgrading it with only two minutes to spare. It was amazing to finally put it all together, although you could also just cheese the fight by standing in one place for 30 minutes with this new exploit build. (opens in a new tab). I think it’s a distinct strength of Vampire Survivors that it allows for such silliness.
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I certainly enjoy Vampire Survivors on my desktop, but I think it really sings on a Steam Deck (or, failing that, a thin and light laptop). I got most of my playtime for this review on my couch or out on the porch. Untethered from a desktop-grade CPU, Vampire starts to shake a little in those late steamroll sequences, but the game doesn’t really require twitch reflexes and I honestly like the effect—it feels like my Deck is tightening underneath. the weight of all those meteors. Creator Poncle does have plans to transition it to a new, hopefully more stable engine (opens in a new tab) until the end of the year.
Vampire Survivors is a killer little game, a fun roguelike that absolutely hooked me, a guy who is pretty tired of the genre at this point. It will also only kill your free time, not your wallet. With its current $4 sale through November 1st, you have your choice of either this amazing indie game, or one of the three cheapest beers at my old job.