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V Rising early access review: streamlined survival for all types of bloodsucker

Will encourage you to keep a vampire diary

V Rising is an early access survival game with a big focus on crafting and a tinge of MMO. It's being developed by Stunlock Studios, the folks behind arena-brawler Battlerite that lifts the fights from MOBAs like Dota 2 or League Of Legends and cuts away all the tedious build-up. So quite the departure then? Yes and no. V Rising strikes out as its own thing, but Stunlock's back catalogue definitely bleeds into its combat and exploration and easygoing attitude. This is a game that'll sink its teeth into you, which in turn, will make you want to sink your teeth into it

Boot up the game and you'll first need to pick a server for your vampiric activities. The most in your face are the public PVP and PVE servers, all capable of housing 40 vampires in total. Whichever you choose will come down to whether you'd like to battle other vampires or keep things strictly between you and the environment. If you’d rather tackle things solo or create the equivalent of a private isle, you can set up your own world with its own ruleset, then invite your mates in too. Basically, the options are plentiful! And the process of dipping in and out of them is incredibly smooth.

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"Smooth" defines the game, I think. Everything, from running animations to the way loot plops to the ground with silver glints, fulfils its role with an almost elegant simplicity. It's as if Marie Kondo combed through the game's code, questioned whether every strand of spaghetti sparked joy, and rolled the superfluous bits up with a fork and pinged them into the bin. Yes, this is a top-down survival game with crafting, but it makes great efforts to dispose of the genre's more finicky business without necessarily replacing it with anything. The game streamlines vampire living to maximise action over tedium.

Little cogs within V Rising's grand systems make even the most laborious things respect your time. For instance, the basic act of harvesting materials is no different to giving an enemy a quick smack round the chops. Simply hold left click next to some rocks or trees and you'll hit the resources straight into your backpack. Wolf nipping at your heels? Simply turn around and those same swings will start whittling down its health bar.

A player-built Waygate in V Rising, allowing fast travel to other areas of the map.
The "Massively Multiplayer Online" side of the game isn't massive; if anything, it's more "Middling To Minor Multiplayer Online". While you're not going to encounter hundreds of vampires pottering around, and global chats replete with sales pitches, the busiest public servers can still foster a strong community.

Even crafting stuff early on is a joy, as the game removes the survival stabilisers at a perfect pace. Direction is meted out at the top right of your screen, with clipboard tasks like "Craft a Bone Sword" and its shopping list just beneath. Quickly you learn that skeletons drop bones and deer drop animal skin, which you can use to make swords and greaves. You notice you can craft on the move and even queue up jobs, and that new gear makes your level rise. Within, say, another half an hour, you've got the beginnings of a home: a coffin (bed), a workbench, some walls, all of which are easy to rotate and snap on land, with expansion or deconstruction a breeze.

The tasks keep coming as you play, but they're no longer as simple. Getting A to make B requires building C... which leads to D. This is where the game's crafting loop sinks its teeth in, as the prospect of a new furnace means you can crack on with that other thing you saw in the crafting menu. It's by no means an innovative new take on the survival genre, steering very close to Valheim's template, but hey, it works a treat.

And one of V Rising's biggest takeaways from Valheim is its boss-focused progression. In Valheim your ultimate aim is to gather resources and power up enough to take on progressively difficult bosses dotted around the map. Defeat one and you'll get the keys to the other. V Rising borrows from this idea heavily, tying a massive list of bosses to essential – and some non-essential – rewards you need to get more powerful stuff. Again, it's not new, but when the process is a glorified re-unification of the belts, it's hard not to get excited when hard graft helps you forge a path to undisputed heavyweight champion of the nocturnal world.

V Rising Alpha Wolf Blood Altar tracking page, showing an image of the snarling alpha wolf on the right and a list of bosses on the left
You'll track bosses through the Blood Altar in your base. It's a bit like following your Witcher senses, as a red trail will periodically waft your way and indicate where so-and-so is lurking around.

Fights with bosses are tense affairs, with strong influences from the dev team's Battlerite days. They're all about weaving in attacks between dodges and using your vampire abilities to knock those health bars down further. Enemies spit area-of-effect acid pools or spray arrows in an arc, so there's strategy in biding your time and hitting them with a riposte. But don't expect MOBA-level fights where positioning is vital and cooldown management is king. So long as you pay attention, hold left click, and smash your ability buttons, you'll be fine.

Combat picks up when you've tackled a few of the bosses, as you add their abilities to your repertoire once you've had a nibble of their necks. Big orbs, ice blasts, poisonous explosions, shadow dashes: yep, they're a good time alright, and reinforce the fact that, yes, you're a vampire. With all the focus on building sawmills and chopping lumber, it's easy to forget your identity as a lord of the night sometimes.

Forcing you to flit between slices of shade is a novel idea that lends the world an organic feel, but it's a bit of an irritant.

Reminders come in the form of the sun, that bastard circle in the sky. Stand in his rays for too long and he'll burn you to a crisp. Thankfully the nights are longer, so that's when it's best to head out and get your jobs done. Forcing you to flit between slices of shade is a novel idea that lends the world an organic feel, but it's a bit of an irritant when you have a limited amount of time and just want to get things done.

The world itself is pretty and largely peaceful, which takes the sting out of exploration when the sun's out. It's a traditional fantasy setting, with oak trees and bandits, snowy mountains and brown farmland. So, no breathtaking views or surprises, really, but I like how it at least seems alive. You'll stumble into fights between wolves and bandits, or even between two bosses, where piles of loot are strewn all over dirt paths denote poor souls who've been caught in the crossfire.

With all this said, V Rising really is meant as a co-op experience. You can solo things just fine, but there's a lingering sense when you're out raiding bandit camps and constructing things that you'd rather celebrate these surprises and struggles and accomplishments with friends. Especially as mundane things like mining copper or waiting for ingots to tumble out of your furnace can - as streamlined as they may be - begin to wear you down. These quiet moments are best filled with Wagatha Christie chat, for sure.

V Rising player feeding on a bear with Creature blood type and 1% blood quality in a dark forest.
Lower an enemy's health bar low enough and you can choose to feed off of their blood supply, killing them instantly. You just need to pay attention to their blood quality, as the higher the percentage, the greater the temporary bonuses.

PVP also adds an interesting element of threat to proceedings, as other vampires can wrest that undisputed title from you. Personally, I'm never one for PVP, but I imagine it's a great time if you can get a clan together and go pillaging. Saying that, I don't feel like I've missed out, really. PVE is my jam and the game lets me play it my way, with plentiful options if I'd want to branch out for a bit, and zero judgment if I come crawling back to my PVE ways.

V Rising has a little something for every sort of player and that's its biggest strength. It's not some mega-difficult survival sim where you sip your pee to stave off a dehydration bar, or are forced to craft a toothpick to prevent gum disease from melting your mouth off. Crafting and combat are easily accessible, with a lovely runway that steers you gently through its interlocking systems before it lets you take off on your own, like a Boeing 747, or a giant bat with furry jet engines and a cockpit for a nose. And it isn't even finished yet!

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