I have complicated feelings about the modern vampire story. Violence is cheap. Tasty humans are plentiful. And skyscrapers provide ample shelter from the sun. The sanctity of human life doesn’t mean much to creatures that will kill people over a simple meal. It can feel powerful to be so far removed from the life-or-death considerations of mere mortals, but such settings can also feel deeply alienating. Thankfully, the new survival game V Rising resolves my main gripe with properties like Vampire: The Masquerade– that the creatures of the night, the so-called underdogs, are too powerful. In order to be an oppressed minority, the player must struggle, and in V Rising, you most certainly do. The base-building survival game does not hold back in trying to kill you via exposure, starvation, or angry wildlife. It departs from the too-common, VtM-esque model of vampires as a player-centric power fantasy.
V Rising, which has been tearing up the Steam charts in recent weeks, is billed as a multiplayer vampire action-survival game, but you can also play it in single-player mode. According to its Steam page, you can build sprawling castles, fight holy warriors, and pillage villages. And if you watch the videos, the main draws are the gorgeous castles and flashy magical attacks. Which I wouldn’t know about, because I’m still a fragile new vampire just grinding for recipes and mining copper for gear. Unlike what you see in the flashy promotional videos, you won’t be curb-stomping your rivals immediately. You start with next to nothing and have to scrounge your way up in terms of both power and resources. Most of the game–at least at first–is about killing enemies for their bones, any scraps of paper in their pockets, and their firstborn child. OK, maybe not the last one.
V Rising’s real-time combat is fast and messy, but the other half of V Rising is a careful inventory management game. If I want to live in my own abode without burning alive during daylight hours, then I have to throw bones into the mist brazier that shields me from the sun. If I want a roof over my head, then I have to constantly supply blood to my fortress. I can harvest the blood by slaughtering my victims, or I can build a rat farm to lure unsuspecting rodents into my abode. If all that logistical decision-making and supply management doesn’t sound appealing to you, then you might want to give this survival game a pass. But the game felt rewarding to me because of the crafting, not in spite of it.
Maybe I’ll eventually get to the point where V Rising feels like a power fantasy. For now, the game takes every opportunity it can to remind me that vampires are mortal, and that I have to fight for every second of life that I have. Surviving the fantasy lands of Vardoran feels like an accomplishment because it’s genuinely difficult to gather supplies as a vampire. You can venture away from your fortress to gather more valuable materials, but there’s a catch — if you’re carrying any resources, then you can’t use fast travel points. And if get one-shotted by a sentient tree or sniped by a wayward bandit, then you drop your entire inventory at that spot. Every piece of copper, every roll of fabric, and every whetstone I gather can feel like a small miracle. Nothing is cheap, easy, or disposable. You’re a vampire, but the game forces you to be a laborer, too. Over time, I started to feel that my character was actually a natural part of the setting, rather than an encroaching outsider.
There are ways to automate the work, like luring rats to your den for extra blood or raising skeletons from the grave so that you can grind their bones into craftable dust. But some key resources can only be obtained by raiding bandits or killing minibosses. Which means placing yourself at the mercy of the sun. Oftentimes I’d be hurrying back from a successful bandit raid, only to be caught unawares by the daylight. But instead of just feeling vaguely ashamed about my all-nighter like I do in real life, my vampire would almost immediately catch on fire.
Despite its lethality, sunlight is my favourite mechanic in V Rising. The only way to avoid being burned alive is to wait patiently until nightfall (boring) or scramble toward the nearest tree or pillar for shade. At first, I thought that I could simply loiter around a tree and wait a couple of in-game hours for the sun to go down. Nope. My character caught fire, and I realised that the shadows moved just like they do in real life. This also meant that I had to be conservative about logging trees or mining rocks during the daytime, lest I deprive myself of life-saving shade. I was constantly diving for cover, but I enjoyed that touch of realism from the designers. It made the world feel terrifying and alive, rather than simply a pretty backdrop for me to loot.
The combat feels smooth, and it’s technically possible to beat any enemy you come across through careful dodging and ranged attacks. In practice, the real enemy is time. Whittling down an enemy’s defences isn’t always the best option if you only have about six hours until sunrise. Taking too long to get to a far-off boss lair often means having to return home before sundown, or camping out next to a cliff for a few hours.
One thing to note about the early game is that it’s very light on scripted storytelling outside of interface text. You’re dropped into the world and expected to figure out the systems with almost no tutorials. Death is your main teacher. If that’s something that you enjoyed about Elden Ring, then this may not be an issue. I find that the most interesting stories are the situations that I stumbled upon by accident. Once, I was badly injured by a carnivorous plant. To avoid the sunlight while my health was low, I ended up building my first home base next to a deadly Treant. Since I mostly watched it beat up wild animals, I had no idea that it was one of the strongest enemies of the early game. Another time, I was ambushed by a vampire hunter during my third showdown with a bandit that had already killed me twice prior. And I can’t forget the time that I was able to harvest 800 pieces of lumber in one go, because I had accidentally run into a necromancer who gas-bombed (don’t ask) the entire forest while he was trying to kill me. V Rising’s world is full of possibility and danger, liable to kill you in wonderfully unpredictable ways or grant you good fortune when you least expect it.
Despite the inconveniences, V Rising manages to be fair about its challenges. You either learn to play conservatively, or you will die very quickly. And no matter how good you are at its combat system, your victories don’t mean anything if you can’t safely bring everything you gathered back to the base. And it’s a fascinating formula that’s already captured the attention of a million players. V Rising doesn’t offer players a world in which we’re gods. It gives us a hatchet and tells us to get to work.