Revisiting Vampire Survivors post-DLC

If you want to reread my original review of Vampire Survivors or you missed it the first time, click here.

I actually had another review to post this week, but as I managed to get ahead of schedule for once, I decided to get the second DLC for Vampire Survivors, Tides of the Foscari. I’d already bought Legacy of the Moonspell and was left feeling underwhelmed by the experience. It’s less that there’s only one new area to explore, and more that aside from Miang Moonspell, most of the new survivors proved to be difficult to get past their fragile stages. (If you can do it, they get better, really.) On top of that, making unique builds for them felt like a chore. Lastly, given that a third of the new area is mazes, the standard map that works fine for the base game becomes totally useless.

Going into the second DLC, I found a similar maze set up, but then I found a map that actually showed the area properly. I wondered, did they add a map to the other DLC? Yes. Then I thought maybe I was confused and they had always had maps. But no, I checked the patch history, and the game makers added in maps for both new areas. With maps, both stages are vastly improved, leading me to ask, why make me find a map at all? Why not just bake it into the stage and be less obtuse?

Before I go on, I should mention that I have at this point finished one hundred percent of the trophies for this game. Every area, character, DLC character, and secret character has been unlocked. So when I say I’ve thoroughly combed through the whole game, I mean it. Hell, I’ve even taken to doing single weapon challenge runs just to sort out which characters are really OP. (Hint, they’re Pugnala, Queen Sigma, and Cavallo, as well as DLC survivors Miang, Lumaire, and Sammy. Many others are good for a challenge run, but these beasts can be good to go within six minutes of starting a single weapon run.)

Playing the first DLC and having unlocked most of the secret characters from the base game, I started feeling frustrated by many characters and my inability to make decent unique builds for them. But it wasn’t until the second DLC that I realized what the real problem was. As with any game that keeps adding new items to the pool of weapons, eventually the random generator begins tossing out the same options I don’t want and refusing to offer the ones I do want. I can banish and skip twenty times, re-roll another ten, and still end up waiting twenty minutes to get the weapons and evolution items I want. This is fine if I’m playing on endless mode, but when I’m playing the usual thirty minute run for a challenge, that usually leaves me about three minutes to enjoy the build before it’s over. Which sucks pretty bad, in my opinion.

It’s not always bad luck with the RNG, and I’ve had certain runs where I got everything I wanted for the build in the first five minutes, and then I got everything evolved and ready to rock in ten. When that happens, I have more of a chance to assess the strengths and weaknesses of each character, and then to fine tune what would make a better build for them rather than just going with the standard “circles of death” build that I favored way too often in the base game.

(FYI: Circles of Death is King Bible evolved to Unholy Vespers, Garlic evolved to Soul Eater, Phiera Der Tuphello and Eight the Sparrow evolved to Phieraggi. The result is two large wheels of high damage before enemies move into the defensive zone of the Soul Eater. Most mobs never get close enough to make this an issue, and that’s even before factoring in limit breaks to allow weapons to go WAY above their original power levels.)

That’s why I feel so conflicted about games that have huge pools of items. Yes, it’s entirely possible to make something like a “Fourth of July” build with the Party Popper, Greatest Jubilee, Cherry Bomb, and Prismatic Missile. (Very pretty, but good luck trying move or identify items with all the flashing fireworks covering everything.) Or you can go with all the swords in the game, leading to “The Four-Armed Samurai.” (Victory Sword not evolved, Night Sword not evolved, Eskizzibur not evolved, and Cross evolved to Heavenly Sword. Very tricky to make work, but loads of fun on a hyper run.)

Obviously I’m making up the names of these builds, but the point is, when I get an idea for something I want to test out, I want RNG to be nice and just let me do the thing. But sometimes, it doesn’t work and I have to restart. Sometimes, I have to restart several times to get a build set up.

And I know, I do. You’ll ask, “Why not just play with whatever you pick up?” Well I already did that for the first hundred hours I played. I’m now in hour two hundred and nineteen, so no, I want to test specific ideas to see if they work or not. It’s like how I’m still playing the Dark Souls games after sinking in thousands of hours. I need to go in with a plan if I’m going to see it through to another finish line. I mean, if I’m trying to play as a tree with the walking speed of a half-dead slug, I need to know what I’ll be picking up before shit hits the fan at the fifteen minute mark.

(I’m not kidding, y’all. There’s a playable tree in the game, and even after collecting wings to improve its speed, that tree is SLOW.)

Plus, now having unlocked everyone in the game, I feel like most of the secret characters just weren’t worth the effort, especially when you compare them to the crew of survivors found in the base game. Yes, there are exceptions like Boon Marrabio, who starts with an evolved weapon, Thousand Edge. Playing with him the first time, I was grinning over how insanely powerful he is. But for every glorious beast, there’s a whole slew of hidden survivors who are just annoying to try and build for.

I will say this, though. The second DLC did a much better job with both the unlockable and secret characters. Eleanor, Maruto, and Keitha all have a story built into their stages, Lake Foscari and Foscari Abyss. Each one needs to find and break a special magic crystal so Eleanor can fight a monster boss called Je-Ne-Viv, which unlocks the much less monstrous Genevieve. After that, anyone can go to the other side of the abyss to unlock Luminaire.

Both of these DLC characters are amazing. Every time Genevieve levels up, she triggers an ability to pull all XP crystals to her, making it really easy to keep leveling up. Every time Luminaire levels up, she wipes the entire screen clear of enemies, so in the closing minutes of a thirty minute run when she’s pulling in crystals like a Hoover and limit break is set to Always Random, she can wipe the screen every two seconds.

(Oh, but Keitha is fucking awful. Her base weapon has a rate of fire slower than a musket, and it’s hard to tell where she’s even aiming. I lost time of how often I shouted “Are you fucking kidding me?” because an arrow went flying off the screen without hitting a single enemy instead of huge mob I thought I was aiming at.)

I realize that if you haven’t played the game at all most of these terms are going right over your head. To explain it all, I’ve have to write a review about half as long as a Wiki. The point is, when you start the game, you have a character, and one challenge: survive for at least fifteen minutes. Then you unlock someone else and do it again to get access to their weapon. Then you start finding coffins to unlock even more characters. Then you find relics that all unlock other features in the game. It’s all fed to you in little bites, so it’s never overwhelming, and for the most part, all those unlocks feel very satisfying. They’d have to, or else why would I spend over two hundred hours getting to one hundred percent completeness?

And yet, at the same time, getting to this point means that the huge pool of options also takes away from the fun of those earlier runs. It gets harder to build what I want, or it takes a lot longer, forcing me to sit through a long dull wait before finally granting me my dopamine supply.

A lot of the trophies I’ve collected in the last few days, only three to five percent of all players have ever completed. I don’t think that speaks to how awesome I am as a gamer, either. Instead, I think it speaks to the problem that creeps in as players progress. What kept those first hours feeling fun and fresh were the discoveries that led to instant gratification. Oh boy, here’s a new character and a new weapon. Woot, this survivor is really cool and fun to play! Gee, I wonder what’s coming next!

But once you’ve reached the point of unlocking all the base characters, building original combinations instead of just making the same thing over and over gets a lot harder. So I think rather than try to struggle through that grind to find new ideas, lots of players decide to wander off and play the next new game.

That’s a shame because now that I’ve truly finished the whole thing, I can say Vampire Survivors was worth both my money and time. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t test my patience many times recently. So if you played it, but bounced off of it without unlock all its best toys, I totally feel for you.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to see if I can make a viable tree build one last time before I give up and go play a different game.