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Swarm survival games have been around for a while, but one game opened the floodgates for this genre to thrive and come to the forefront of gaming. In an era where AAA titles are sucking $70+ out of your wallet only to give you a disappointing and mediocre experience, Vampire Survivors has taught us that you can get great value for just $5. Typically, when games are that inexpensive, the quality shows. Does Vampire Survivors fall into that same trap?

Title: Vampire Survivors
Platform: PC (Steam, Game Pass)
Developer: Luca Galante
Publisher: Games Delta
Release Date: October 20, 2022
Price: $4.99

Vampire Survivors has such a simple concept. First, pick a character. Second, pick a stage. Third, survive an onslaught of increasingly difficult enemies for thirty minutes and then get killed by the grim reaper.

That’s all there really is to it, so how does a game like this captivate an audience? The answer is simple… the gameplay itself is fun, addicting, challenging, rewarding, and every other word you could use to describe it. While the game’s concept is very simple, there is a lot of depth when it comes to your builds. Before we get into things such as unlocks, stages, etc., let’s take a look at how you build a character.

Building Your Personal Bullet Hell

Every character in the game has a starting weapon. When you kill enemies, they drop experience gems. Collect enough of these, and you will level up… just as you would expect from any game to ever exist with RPG-like elements. When you level, you are given a choice of three (or four with enough Luck) items. These items can be weapons or passive items. You can choose a new weapon to add to your arsenal or, if the choice is there, level up your existing weapon.

With some exceptions, most of the weapons in the game have a maximum level of eight. Passive items have a maximum level of five (again, there are some exceptions to this). If you have the right weapon AND the right passive that matches it, you can evolve that weapon. To evolve a weapon, simply kill any boss after the 10-minute mark and collect a treasure chest. When a weapon evolves, it will become incredibly powerful.

Magic Wand in action in Stage 1

You can have up to six weapons and six passives (for the third time, with some exceptions. We’re getting to that!). At face value, you grab five additional weapons to the one you start with, grab the six passives, and evolve them all until you’re an unstoppable bullet hell machine; however, as I mentioned three times, there are ways around these 6-weapon and 6-passive item limits.

For example, there are two birds in the game… Peachone and Ebony Wings. This is an outlier where these birds only need each other to evolve, meaning they do not require a passive item. This frees up two whole passive items for you to collect… or you can collect a passive item for a future weapon. Once both birds reach level 8, they will evolve into a single bird named Vandalier. Because two birds become one, it frees up a weapon slot.

Runetracer just ruining all of these poor monsters’ day

Other examples are the guns, Eight the Sparrow, and Piera Der Tuphello. Once both guns reach level eight AND if you have the Tiragisu passive item, the guns will evolve into Phieraggi, freeing up a weapon slot. In addition, Tiragisu is one of those passive item outliers that maxes out at level two. It revives you with 50% health when you die, consuming a charge. This means when you evolve the guns, you no longer need Tiragisu, so you can die twice to consume the charges, thus eliminating it from your passive item list, and freeing up a slot.

Another way to game the system is to look for the passive items that are given to you for free in each stage. For example, in Stage 2, the Inlaid Library, you are given Stone Mask (increased gold), and Empty Tome (reduced weapon cooldowns) for free, so there is no need to pick them up if they are offered when leveling up. Simply fill up your six passive item slots first, then get the items the stage offers you. Empty Tome and Stone Mask will become your seventh and eighth passive items, meaning that you can actually get more than six if you’re smart about it.

Queen Sigma’s evolved weapon, Sole Solution. It really is the Sole Solution to everything

Realizing what passive items go with which weapon, which items are offered for free in a stage, and which weapons can combine to free up weapon slots allows you to customize your build in many different ways by playing the long game. With each stage lasting thirty minutes, there’s plenty of time to level up weapons and passives to create an unstoppable build.

Unlocks, Unlocks, and More Unlocks

One of the best things about Vampire Survivors is that you can unlock new weapons, new passives, new stages, new game modes, new game modifiers, and new characters all within the game. Yes… no cash shop, no DLC, none of that modern-day BS. Just like older gamers did back in the day, simply just play the game to unlock everything (heck, you even get a new character for unlocking everything the game has to offer, and yes… Queen Sigma is basically God Mode.)

Just how many unlocks are there? A lot, actually, with 140 unlockables, 129 collectibles, and 14 secrets. In other words, you’re going to be busy for a while.

A new character has joined the battle!

Characters are unlocked in a bunch of different ways. You can find them in coffins scattered around the different stages, some require you to enter codes, some require special things to be performed, certain pre-requisites to be met, or some rather unorthodox methods (before there was a legit way to get the Missing N secret character, you had to hack your save file to unlock it.).

Customization is the Key to Fun

This section goes hand-in-hand with unlocks because some of the unlocks you can get is called Relics. Relics are items found hidden in stages that unlock different ways to customize your game. One of the biggest ones is the Randomazzo relic found in Stage 4, Gallo Tower. This unlocks the Arcana system, where you can choose an Arcana at the start of a stage. Each arcana does something different. For example, Silent Old Sanctuary increases your damage for every weapon you don’t have. (Yes, there is also a relic that allows you to set the maximum number of weapons you can collect in a run between 1 and 6).

There’s another Arcana called Awake that gives you three revives and increases the damage dealt each time you die and revive. Another such as Game Killer, turns experience gems into exploding projectiles for a whole new way to play the game. There are a lot of Arcanas and yes, they are part of the unlocks in the game, too. Usually, it’s getting a certain character to level 99 or surviving to minute 31 in a stage (meaning you have to hold the Grim Reaper at bay for a full minute) to unlock them all.

Other relics unlock hurry mode where you can complete stages in 15 minutes, hyper mode which increases the speed and difficulty of enemies, inverse mode where stages are inverted with enemies having 200% more health, or endless mode which is… well… endless.

Other relics unlock Golden Eggs which increase the power of a character (you can see how many eggs a character has collected), or a Limit Break mode where you can level your weapons beyond max level (this includes evolved weapons).

The best part is, if you’re a purist and don’t want to experience the game at broken levels, you can turn all of these modifiers off once you unlock them!

In addition to all of that above, you can collect gold during the stages and use them to buy power-ups. These power-ups permanently increase your damage, pick-up radius, movement speed, and so many other attributes. It will take a LOT of gold to get them all, but, in the end, it will make the game easier, especially since stages do increase in difficulty. If you made a mistake or simply don’t want to have power-ups, you can refund them all and get your money back without limitation.

The World is a Series of Stages

Vampire Survivors has one stage at the start. Beat it to unlock Stage 2… and so forth. There are five main stages to unlock but if surviving for thirty minutes gets boring, don’t worry. There are two bonus stages, three challenge stages, and a special final boss showdown stage for you to play in, all with different goals and objectives. For example, in Il Molise, you run around and kill (or heal) flowers with a 15-minute time limit. There’s also a challenge stage where you participate in a Boss Rush for 15 minutes, too. Moongolow gives you every passive item in the game and lets you have a bit of fun.

Some stages have different modifiers such as extra gold, extra enemy health, extra move speed, no item drops, etc. Characters also have their own modifiers such as extra experience, extra gold, extra luck, extra move speed, etc. Matching up the right characters with the right stages can produce insane results (like trying out O’Sole in Il Molise, for example)

Vampire Survivors
Pick your stage and go to town!

If you don’t want to go through the trouble of picking a character and a stage, the game has an unlock called Quick Start. Selecting that will pick a character and stage at random, and off you go!

Overall Thoughts

The game was in early access for the longest time and only set you back $2.99. Now that it’s out of early access, the game is up to $4.99, but even with the price hike, the value you get out of this game far exceeds the price. The game really brought swarm survival games into prominence, and now, there are games being released that are calling themselves a “Vampire Survivors Clone” or “Inspired by Vampire Survivors.”

The genre is starting to gain massive momentum, and we’re starting to see variations on it such as some games adding twinstick controls, some having you raise an army rather than getting weapons, etc. The core gameplay for this genre hasn’t really changed in its infancy, but creators are starting to get pretty creative with their spins on it.

The only complaint I have about this game is that it’s called Vampire Survivors, and there isn’t even a single vampire in it. Once you get into the game and see the type of humor it throws in, you’ll begin to understand that the name of the game is just another thing to make you chuckle.

Addicting. Challenging. Fun. That’s the best way I can sum up this title. If you want to give swarm survival games a try, this should be the first one you start with. It’s very easy to pick up and play, very easy to learn, and while there is some depth and strategy, it’s not all that hard to master. Oh, and in case you were wondering, it has an absolute banger of a soundtrack. My personal favorite would be Stage 3: Dairy Plant. In the earlier versions of the game, the challenge stage, The Bone Zone, used a slowed-down version of this theme. They have since removed it from the game, giving the stage its own unique theme but man, I miss it. I wish they included that in the game’s soundtrack.

For those playing it for the first time in version 1.0… here’s the now-deleted track so you can experience it for yourself:

YouTube video

Whether you play it at face value or you unlock everything you can to customize your experience nearly fully, this game will have you playing for hours and make you lose track of time!

Vampire Survivors

Summary

Vampire Survivors is the perfect introduction to the swarm survival genre. It will provide hours upon hours of fun that will leave you wanting more!

Pros

  • Simple to learn
  • In-depth strategy
  • TONS of unlocks
  • Amazing soundtrack
  • Highly customizable experience

Cons

  • No vampires
  • All builds are viable but sometimes becoming overpowered gets a little old
  • The game does not care about balance