Remember when Count Dracula spent several sleepless nights deforesting an entire hillside so he could manufacture industrial quantities of wooden planks to build his castle? Yeah, I don't either – but in V Rising, that's a big part of your vampire lifestyle. Luckily, it's also got some fast and exciting ARPG combat to make up for that thematic weirdness. Even fresh into Early Access, the variety of enemy types to discover and challenging bosses to face off against are ultimately worth the drudgery of grinding for resources.
As a newly-resurrected vampire coming into a world where humans have mostly chased your kind into the shadows, this mashup of Diablo and ARK: Survival evolved doesn't waste a lot of time on storytelling. The descriptions for its varied bosses give some sense of how the world is put together, but there's not really a plot to follow. You build a blood altar, you get a list of special enemies you need to kill to unlock new abilities and better technologies, and you're off on the hunt. This doesn't bother me too much, but I do occasionally find myself wondering what my ultimate goal is supposed to be.
Part of that is because a lot of V Rising kind of feels like a slog. Gathering resources is slow going, and refining them at crafting stations takes even longer. Thankfully, if you're playing solo, you can set up a world where trees and ore veins yield more resources and refining goes much faster. This is probably the only way to make the experience tolerable if you don't have a vampire clan to help with all the crafting chores.
And even then, there's a lot of waiting around for ore to smelt or boards to be milled. You can go do other things while this is happening, but progression is hard-locked behind crafting recipes that require these refined materials, so there's not much meaningful to do in the meantime. There aren't even experience points – all of your power is tied to crafted gear. So you're mostly restricted to gathering more materials.
I'm no stranger to survival games. I have hundreds of hours happily sunk into Valheim, ARK, The Forest, Subnautica, and Factorio. You can go check out my IGN reviews of all of them if you want to compare. It's just that none of these tasks feel like very vampire-y activities, you know? I can understand having to mill planks to build a house if I'm a naked guy who woke up on dinosaur island. But here, it doesn't quite fit with the fantasy.
At some point, I found myself asking why I, as a vampire with my own castle, wouldn't simply have minions to do my wood chopping for me. And it turns out, eventually, you can charm NPCs and make them work for you… just very slowly. The missions you send them on can take up to a whole day in real time to complete, which is a bit steep. And if you have an offline save, that timer is only active when you're actually playing. So unless you set up a dedicated server or leave the client running around the clock, those can take an absurd amount of time. Still, it was nice to eventually be able to delegate a lot of the grunt work.
Children of the Night
Playing on public servers allows you to team up with other vampires and engage in PvP, including sieging enemy castles on some server types. But that introduces its own set of problems. For example, I picked a lower population server on the second day of Early Access and found that, even there, basically all of the good castle spots were already taken. I had to go to a higher-level area where the enemies could almost one-shot me to build my home base. Other players’ castles can also block off convenient shortcuts, making the world harder to get around. And worst of all, if there are like, 50 gothic vampire fortresses in this one little forest, mine doesn't feel very special. It's less of a living dark fantasy world and more of a spooky suburb at that point.
All of that being said, the combat is pretty good. The broad array of flashy, fun, and deadly active abilities to unlock allow for some awesome builds. I particularly liked the Blood tree, which focuses on healing yourself throughout battle. The one thing that bugs me is that there's no mana bar or anything like that, so all of your active abilities are on fairly long cooldowns. This can lead to moments of powerlessness if everything is on cooldown at the same time, which happens to me a lot, and I miss the in-combat resource management and builder/spender abilities of more traditional ARPGs. At least giving me more than one use of my dash before I have to wait several seconds, or basing movement powers on a stamina system, would have been great!
The bosses are really challenging and well-designed encounters, though. They're really the highlight of V Rising. From zealous human hunters to creepy necromancers, no two feel alike in fighting style or personality, which really keeps things interesting and served as a strong motivation for me to see what else they could throw my way. It took me over 80 hours to take down all 35 of the main baddies on my solo file, and the later ones can be cleverly and mercilessly difficult, which is only a good thing in my eyes.
While I might not exactly feel like a badass vampire when I'm running around doing chores, the survival mechanics do a good job of making up for this. There is a full day/night cycle, and standing in the sun will start to drain your health quickly after a short grace period. Moving about by day is still fully possible if you're careful, thanks to the fact that anything that casts a shadow in the environment can serve as a safe haven. That’s a really cool touch. Shadows even shift throughout the day, so noon is a more dangerous time to be outside than dawn or dusk.
Keeping your blood supply topped up is also appropriately essential, as it's your main way of healing outside of combat. Taking enough damage will eventually reduce not just your current health, but your maximum health, and digesting blood is the only way to restore it. What's even better is that the blood type of the last enemy you fed on temporarily gives you a character class, which comes with handy bonuses like increased critical chance for rogues or damage resistance for brutes. How much of a bonus is based on the Blood Quality of your victim, which is semi-randomized and encourages you to seek out particularly tasty prey. I enjoyed how this system let me customize my fighting style on the fly and encouraged me to act like a discerning hunter.
Customizing your personal castle is a lot of fun too, with tons of functional and cosmetic items to unlock from eerie, floating candelabras to a hungry treasure chest that recycles unwanted items into their component materials. You do have to continue feeding your castle blood essence to keep it active, which comes from just about any enemy you kill. This isn't much of an issue in an offline game since essence will only be consumed when you're playing, and you can save up several real-world days' worth, so you're unlikely to ever run out. But on a public server, if you don't log in at least once or twice a week to top it off, you will eventually lose your spot. So it’s kind of a needy game.
I really like the art direction overall. It's a bit stylized and cartoony, but not in a way that detracts from the horror aspects. Whether I'm exploring a misty, haunted forest, slashing my way through a skeleton-infested graveyard, or sneaking into a pastoral human village – bundled head-to-toe in rags, which isn't suspicious at all – everything is very readable and eye-catching. It's never a pain to figure out what's going on in combat, and the environment artists have made great use of color to create a range of moods and vibes. This is only helped by the soundtrack, which does generally fit what I'd call stereotypical vampire music – all mournful strings and melodramatic piano melodies – but it's executed well.