The opening of V Rising is gloomy, miserable, and lonely — and it’s absolutely perfect. This early access bite-‘em-up’s first chunk nails the sheer misery of being undead in a way that many vampire games gloss over.
Admittedly, vampires don’t have to be miserable, but I’ve always been fascinated by the way that those afflicted with the condition in fiction wouldn’t necessarily agree. There’s a fantastic scene in Shadow of the Vampire where Willem Dafoe’s Count Orlok (who, unbeknownst to the cast, is a real vampire) expresses his sympathy for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, explaining how much the count has lost. When Dracula is driving Harker’s coach, it’s not because he doesn’t trust anyone else to do the job; it’s that there is no else to do it. His relationship to his “brides” is frosty, and for all intents and purposes, he’s alone.
And that’s how V Rising begins, in solitude. Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain at least gave you a crypt to call your own, due in part to your nobility. But in the opening of V Rising you have nothing; you’re just one more corpse in a massive, neglected mausoleum. You’re utterly, utterly alone, dormant for so many years that whatever history you had, vampiric and mortal, is totally immaterial.
The game underlines your lowly status at every turn, tasking you with crafting weapons and armor from the bones of the dead. It’s an intentionally grim task that, more than just being macabre, undermines any sense of self-respect your bloodsucker might otherwise have had. It makes you wonder: Were you carried here by your mortal servants, or did you hide somewhere you hoped the pitchfork and torch-wielding peasants would never dare to tread?
This is not the only way developer Stunlock Studios crushes your spirit, further diminishing whatever lofty image you had of vampires. By surrounding you with skeletons, animated and otherwise, V Rising ensures your only initial source of blood is rats.
Rats were a last resort in Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines. You’d find yourself gnawing down on them if you forgot to bring enough blood bags into the sewers, but otherwise, you could turn a corner and sink your teeth into a hapless victim. But in V Rising, you rely on rats enough at first that just feeding on a wolf — not even a human victim — is a blessed relief. It reiterates that you’re not an elegant creature of the night, wearing fine velvet and floating two inches above the floor. You’re cramming rodents into your face, clumsily wiping the splatter off your chipped bone corset.
Setting V Rising during the Middle Ages is another smart, if slightly sadistic move. Because no matter how much Vampire: The Masquerade harps on about the importance of concealing the existence of vampires from mortals, most of the populace don’t believe in vampires. Waltzing around Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines’ streets is a relatively chilled experience.
That’s a huge contrast to V Rising where, thanks to widespread superstition, people will panic and point the finger at anyone who looks or behaves a little differently. The same ignorance that sent too many innocents to their death is, against all odds, actually protecting these idiots. Even before you hit a village, people will descend on you with murder in their eyes. And in your weakened form, fleeing is often the safest option.
Sunlight too is merciless, and starting out, you’re either scrabbling for shade or struggling to build your own refuge. Crafting can be a real mixed bag sometimes, but making you the one to claw together a shelter, without so much as an insect-guzzling sidekick to help, is yet another reminder that being a vampire isn’t so great.
Eventually you craft your own castle and gather your own servants and thralls (though don’t think for one second they’re there for any other reason than you’ve enslaved them). Formerly formidable enemies become less challenging over time too; that bandit with the skull floating over the head, warning you just how outclassed you were? There’ll be a point when you can run back and divorce their head from their shoulders with one swipe of your hand.
But that opening chapter of V Rising stays with you, forever reminding you that you’re not at the top of the food chain, and as elaborate as your castle might look, you were the one clawing your way out of a coffin and running around in bone and fur armor not long ago.
I’m not going to pretend to be the world’s greatest Anne Rice fan, but the author’s description in The Vampire Lestat of the titular character dragging his burnt corpse out of a swamp, feasting on rats and insects, haunts me to this day. And no matter how far I push into V Rising, that opening chapter likewise haunts me, reminding me that my character’s vampiric powers don’t necessarily preclude ending up right back where they started.
But you know what? As miserable as my character may be, I couldn’t be happier. With The Legacy of Kain series laying as dormant as its protagonist, I’ve been craving a vampire game that oozes gloom, in the vein of Vampire: The Dark Ages. V Rising, even in its Steam Early Access state, more than delivers. The opening chapter sets up a true world of darkness, and no matter what finery you don, how many necks you pierce, that opening underlines that misery is your bloodsucker’s natural state of being.