Title: V Rising
Developer: Stunlock Studios
Publisher: Stunlock Studios
Release Date: May 17, 2022
Platforms: PC (Steam)
Note: This review is based off the 0.5.42591 version of the game. V Rising is currently in Steam’s Early Access program, so it is possible that details covered in this review will be altered by the developer.
Vampires are perhaps the most legendary monsters out there: they have a wide range of abilities, from turning into nocturnal creatures and having mind controlling powers; they live in luxurious, gothic castles; and, more often than not, they are quite the snazzy dressers.
V Rising is the latest game to let us live out our fantasy of being a blood thirsty vampire, casting us as a newly awakened creature of the night with the goal of trying to survive in a world overrun with bandits, sorcerers, and other undead.
The game comes from indie developer Stunlock Studios, and has quickly become one of the hottest titles around. A lot of this is due to its intriguing premise, but the game also largely borrows from wildly popular survival titles such as Rust, Don’t Starve, Minecraft, and Valheim. Add to that a game where you can compete against other real players on a live server, and you have a game that has near endless streaming appeal.
I want to note that the game is currently in Steam’s “Early Access” program, thus it’s still being rigorously worked on by the developers, and updates are frequent. There’s a good chance that any criticisms I have about the game will be addressed by the time you read this, so take that into consideration.
The first thing you need to decide is what type of game mode you want to play. Private servers let gamers enjoy the game at their own pace, either with select individuals, or alone. PvE servers allow players to compete against other vampires for control of the region, however players cannot actually attack one another. Thus, in this mode you are solely fighting for resources and territory. For those craving more direct combat, PvP servers are where it’s at. Standard PvP allows for players to claim valuable resources from the remains of fallen foes, as well as the looting of other’s bases. Full Loot PvP is much the same, though all of your possessions are up for grabs once you die, thus there is a much greater incentive to hunt down your competitors. In each of these modes, players can join clans to share resources and increase their chances for survival. The final mode, Duo PvP limits the size of clans to only two members, so there’s no threat of one clan becoming far too dominant.
The next thing you need to do is create your new vampire lord. Customization is a little light for a simulation game, but it gets the job done. You have plenty of options for your hair and accessories for instance, and a lot of pre-generated faces to choose from. You can’t fine tune the little details though, but that’s only mildly disappointing. Skin tones from across the spectrum are also represented; being a purple or green skinned monster is largely appropriate in this setting.
V Rising doesn’t ask you to provide a gender, but it does offer two body types to decide between. The thinner, “female” body type looks fitting, and easily allows you to craft a seductive queen of the night to role-play as. The masculine body type is much more exaggerated, with broad shoulders and an oak barrel chest. I can see this appealing to a lot of players, especially those that want a hulking behemoth, but for those like me that want to craft a more slender Count, well, we’re out of luck. Some more variety here is sorely needed.
After crafting your vampire’s appearance, you’ll emerge from your crypt and learn the basics of survival in a tutorial cemetery filled with roaming undead. You begin the game with a simple fireball spell, the ability to teleport a short distance ahead of you, as well as the standard attack of slashing with your razor sharp claws. I was a little disappointed that V Rising doesn’t allow you to choose from a few starting abilities, or that it doesn’t have a prominent class system. Part of the appeal of vampires is that there are so many different types, so having one that leans more towards shapeshifting and another preferring to use use standard weaponry could really aid in role-playing. This also hinders replay value a little bit, as you’ll always begin your adventure largely the same way.
When you first awaken, your vampire will be starving, and so you learn the importance of feeding fairly quickly. The best survival games in my opinion include a type of hunger meter that players will have to pay close attention to, and V Rising nails this aspect of the genre. Vampires will slowly lose blood over time, and once their supply empties, their health will quickly begin to deteriorate. Players will need to find a living being–be it an innocent deer or a blood thirsty bandit–to prey upon. Usually feeding upon one victim is enough to sustain you through the night, but you’ll quickly be on the hunt again once the next moon rises.
Blood plays a much larger role in the game than simply serving as a meter to keep full. The most efficient way to heal your wounds for instance comes from tapping into this blood supply. The “Blood Mend” ability drains your blood reserves and converts it into health; this is a fundamental skill to learn if you mean to survive in the wilds. The “Expose Vein” skill is also immensely useful when playing with others, as it allows friendly players to feed upon your slit wrists to recover their own amount of blood
Drinking blood is also where the game’s quasi class system comes into play. As stated before, you don’t get to choose a class at the beginning, but you can adopt a class short term by feeding on your victims. Every living being in V Rising belongs to one of six classes, represented by their blood type. Each of these classes too have five tiers of strength, with each tier granting additional bonuses. For example, an enemy with a Scholar blood type provides bonuses to your spells. You may encounter a weakling Scholar of only 10% of their blood type, thus you’ll only have the most basic of bonuses if you feed from him. However, you may find a much more potent enemy with a 100% blood type, which will give you the very best boosts you can get. These percentages are largely random, and at any given time you may come upon a foe with a blood type you just can’t pass up inheriting. The kicker is that you only maintain these bonuses until your next meal, and because you’ll need to feed quite frequently, you can never rely too much on the blood types that you consume.
Having a steady supply of blood isn’t the only thing a vampire needs to worry about, as the sun’s rays prove to be much more deadly than any sharpened blade. Just as the legends say, being caught out during the day can quickly result in your mighty vampire turning into a pile of dust in a matter of seconds. Fortunately, maneuvering about during the day isn’t impossible; you just have to be careful. As the sun rises, players will either need to head indoors to their settlements, or take to the comfort of the shadows. Every object casts a shadow that one can hide in. One awesome detail is that as the day progresses, shadows shift about, making noon particularly dangerous as the sun beams directly overhead, and shadows are at their smallest. It also helps that daylight only lasts for about five minutes real time, and then you are welcomed into the night’s embrace, which lasts about twice as long.
After feasting upon your first victim, you’ll quickly learn about crafting gear. Crafting from your collected materials is a major part of V Rising, perhaps even more so than slaughtering your prey. You’ll need to chop down trees for wood, break rocks for stone chunks, hunt wild game for their pelts, and plenty more. You’ll use these materials to craft everything from more formidable tools, to erecting walls and building your base.
Base building is the area that will make or break the game for most players. Having a settlement of your own is essential to survival. As previously stated, you’ll need to find solace from the harsh sunlight during the day, but you’ll also be utilizing crafting stations a great deal. You have forges for smelting ore, sawmills for churning out lumber, and so on. If you’re the kind of gamer that likes to collect and utilize nearly everything that you find, this is going to be a part that you fall in love with.
For other players though, this can feel a bit cumbersome. Crafting is nowhere near instantaneous, and you’ll want to make multiples of each station so as to have enough materials in any timely manner. As the game progresses, your castle will become more like a factory’s assembly line, as you move resources from one station to the next to get those more valuables supplies. This constant push for crafting materials doesn’t always gel well with being a vampire, either; sometimes I just want to slaughter villagers for their blood, not chop down trees for several in-game days to have enough wood to build a desk for my library so I can learn to build a new set of armor.
Still, constructing massive castle out of nothing is immensely rewarding. I love these creative outlets in games like this, where I can personalize my space the way I see fit. V Rising has an abundance of decorative items that you can place in your castle, such as horrific statues, imposing suits of armor, suspended torches, and loads more. Just collecting and making all these items to make the most terrifying vampire abode will be gratifying enough for many gamers.
Players can design their castles as they see fit, crafting individual rooms that can serve various means: throne rooms to dish out orders to their minions, dining halls to entertain guests, laboratories to conduct research, and even dungeons to inflict their dominance over mere mortals.
Although V Rising is technically open world, it follows a rather linear structure in the form of quests. A lot of progress is tied to completing these quests, as you will be unable to craft certain necessary items or gain access to abilities without completing them. These range from harvesting a certain amount of a resource, to building a particular object, or even defeating a named enemy. I do like that V Rising gives you steady goals so that you never feel completely lost, but I do wish that the game was a bit more free; part of the appeal of a simulation is being able to do what you want, when you want to, and V Rising doesn’t always allow for that.
V Rising‘s map is also rather restrictive, at least when it comes to multiple playthroughs. After leaving the tutorial zone, you’ll enter the starting region of Farbane Woods. Players get the option of starting their conquest on either the eastern or western entrance to the woods, which is fine for the first go around. After multiple sessions though (and especially when playing online, but more on that later), the allure of exploring a new place quickly wears off. It doesn’t help either that maps in V Rising aren’t randomly or procedurally generated, thus gamers will quickly grow accustomed to their environment and more likely to tackle their campaigns in much the same way each time. I love my simulation games to have a bit of randomness to them, and I’m sad I don’t quite get that here.
Eventually you’ll need to hunt down bosses: powerful, named enemies that all have a unique skill in which to kill you with. You need their blood, and after slaying them and drinking their delightful life essence, you’ll gain the powers that they posses. Bosses are one of the absolute highlights of V Rising. The fights with these foes are almost always entertaining, and more often than not a great challenge. Claiming their abilities Mega Man style also makes for a satisfying reward, and the thrill of uncovering what comes next really drives you to take on another hunt.
Abilities are wide ranging, from using frost magic to slow down your opposition, to transforming into various wild animals, and even causing corpses to explode in a violent manner. The one downside is that you have a very limited amount of skills that you can equip at a time: one travel ability mapped to the spacebar by default, two basic abilities, and 1 Ultimate ability. You also have one powerful skill based on your equipped weapon in addition to your standard attack. All of your abilities, save for standard attacks, have a cooldown, so you can never spam your abilities at the cast of mana or something similar. Your ultimate abilities are extremely powerful spells that can truly turn the tide in battle, but they also have an extra long cooldown, thus you’re unlikely to use them more than once per combat. I do kind of wish that there was a magic meter for some of your spells, as I desperately wanted to hurl fireballs or other ranged magics at my foes, but instead had to carefully consider when best to apply them. Using MP adds a layer of resource management and strategy that I think works really well in this style of gameplay, so its absence is felt, but it definitely doesn’t ruin the gameplay for me.
Players gain levels in V Rising not by defeating enemies or harvesting materials, but by equipping better gear. This again goes back to progress being tied to your quests, as many times you’ll be unable to craft more advanced weaponry or armor without doing the necessary tasks. All of your equipment has a level attached to it, and your total strength is the sum of all these numbers. This is perhaps the first game I’ve played where I can actually go down a few levels by switching to a different weapon or by having my armor’s durability reach zero.
V Rising controls using a WASD format with mouse aiming. This works for the most part, though I did find myself wanting to lower the camera down a bit closer to my created character. As it is, the camera hovers overhead at a small slant, thus you never get a really good look at the creature you’ve crafted. Jumping is performed automatically; you just hold the left shift button when approaching a ledge, and your vampire will simply leap down. This may anger those that like to communicate by performing little hops, but honestly I like not having the temptation to just jump about when traversing the world.
As mentioned before, V Rising can be played on either a private server or publicly against other internet users. I largely played single player on my own server, and while I think I got a feel for a large range of what the game offers, it did limit my experience somewhat. For starters, all settlements have a “castle heart” that powers the things in your territory, and you’ll need to feed it with precious blood to keep things running. These castle hearts only lose blood while your server is active, so if you’re on a private server then the heart will drain its reserves it only while you are actually playing. Supplying the castle heart with enough blood to last for several real world days doesn’t take that long of time, since you’ll acquire blood from every living creature you kill, so in essence you never really need to worry about that when playing on your own.
Defenses are also unnecessary, as you never need to protect your spoils from computer controlled enemies. It would be a bit thrilling to have vampire hunters locate your abode and attempt to burn it to the ground with you in it, but alas that appears to be nothing but a pipe dream.
Death in single player isn’t that big of a deal, either, and that’s a problem in a survival game. Should you perish, and you most certainly will at some point, you’ll drop most of your supplies, and will be forced to return to the place you fell to retrieve them. Your equipped gear will also suffer some durability losses, but otherwise you’ll quickly be right back where you were. Multiplayer makes death feel a bit more punishing, as on most servers you’ll at least lose some of your valuables (or all of them if you choose that mode) to other players, thus the threat of death is always something to be feared.
Lastly, competing for resources is also not really a thing. No other creatures in the game need wood from the trees or ore from the mines, so you’re free to roam and gather as you please. This may be far too ambitious, but having AI controlled vampires that are also journeying about, claiming their own stakes on land, could make playing on a private server feel much more alive.
Playing on a multiplayer server has its unique drawbacks, as well. For instance, because there are only two starting points in Farbane Woods, there are far too many settlements in these two spots. In the first public server I joined, I was forced to settle quite a ways from the starting area, thus I was quickly being maimed by enemies outside of my level range. This made the early goings quite a slog, as I had to make frequent trips to-and-from my settlement, often at the risk of being slaughtered along the way.
Players also tend to erect their settlements in areas that serve as convenient shortcuts, or in places that encompass valuable resources. I understand that this is part of most all survival games, but because V Rising doesn’t have a randomly generated environment, it becomes quite easy to beeline to a valuable hotspot and stake your claim simply to be a nuisance to others.
Finally, while the castle heart loses blood far too slowly in single player, it can be rather demanding in multiplayer. As such, if you want to ensure you keep your settlement and most of your valuables safe from harm, you’ll need to log in at least once a week, if not more frequently, to supply it with that sweet red, red kroovy.
V Rising has the makings of a great vampire sim; it has lofty ambitions, and largely nails the feeling of being a powerful night stalker right in the heart. Constructing your brooding manors can be great fun, and boss fights never cease to be thrilling. The crafting and collecting aspects perhaps dominate too much of the overall experience, thus some balancing could go a long way in alleviating the tedium of amassing all the necessary materials. For a survival title, V Rising also plays a bit too linear, preventing gamers from experimenting or having a fresh experience on subsequent playthroughs. With some fine tuning, V Rising could become a genre defining title, though as it stands currently it’s a flawed but immensely fun vampire sim.
Images Source: Stunlock Studios
Josh Cornett is a lifelong gamer who enjoys games across all platforms and genres. He has gone by the alias of “Block” ever since college, when he was nicknamed “Blockbuster” for his extensive video game and movie collection. Currently, he reviews a wide variety of games on his Youtube channel, and talks about all things gaming related on his Twitter and Facebook pages.