I’m generally not that interested in survival games these days, as it’s a heavily oversaturated genre and most new games don’t do enough to stand out. The recently released V Rising ended up being one of the rare exceptions, though, as its unique vampiric twist on the survival formula sounded fresh, different, and exciting. Curious to try out the vampiric Early Access title firsthand, I sank my fangs into V Rising and have spent the last week building a gothic fortress, turning humans into thralls, and drinking lots and lots of blood.
On the surface, V Rising isn’t actually that different from most other survival games. Make an axe, chop down some trees, build yourself a shelter — you know the drill. But while this core loop of looting, crafting, and building is relatively standard, the process of hunting for what you need is anything but. As a vampire, the sunlight is dangerous, which flips the usual rule of, “Don’t go out at night” on its head. In V Rising, the night is your friend, as it’s easier to move around the map, and some enemies can be drained of their blood while they’re sleeping.
Things are more difficult during the daytime, as standing in direct sunlight for more than a few seconds will set your undead skin aflame. For a while, the only way to stay safe while the sun is up is to use the shadows as cover, but since they change based on the sun’s position in the sky, you can never stay in one spot for long. This mechanic forces you to get creative with your positioning and movements if you plan on gathering supplies or raiding human settlements before dark, which I’ve had a lot of fun doing. Later, you can gain resistance to the sun’s effects by drinking the blood of certain creatures. Other types of blood can also boost your material gathering speed, improve your combat effectiveness, and more.
Combat in V Rising is MMO-style, complete with cooldown-based vampire powers and simple weapon attacks that you can spam when you’re not devastating opponents with blood magic or icy frost powers. Spacing is also an important part of engagements when facing tougher enemies or groups of ads; successfully dodging a big attack with your dash dodge or effectively crowd-controlling a mob with kiting tactics is often what spells the difference between defeat and dominance over your next fleshy snack. Overall, even though the combat is simple, it’s very enjoyable.
Another thing I love about V Rising is how dynamic its world is, which isn’t always a common trait of survival games. Pretty much everything is hostile towards you, but many creatures and entities are hostile towards each other as well. They’ll begin fighting whenever they encounter each other, which you can take advantage of by waiting for the battle to end and then finishing off the weakened survivors. You can also strategically bait one group of mob into another. In one instance, I was able to distract an entire bandit camp by leading a pair of bears into the outpost. This allowed me to take the camp’s leader down mono a mono before her allies were able to kill the bears and turn their attention to me. In another engagement, I led a werewolf into a village, stealing all of the loot while its occupants were busy fending off the vicious lycanthrope. Making the most of opportunities like these is awesome, and it feels great to be rewarded for using a clever tactic.
Despite how much I enjoy V Rising’s creative spin on the survival gameplay formula, though, the game falters significantly when it comes to the core fundamentals. My biggest issue is with the progression, which is painfully slow. It’s fast and easy to get basic materials like lumber or stone, but anything more advanced than that can only be obtained through refinement or enemy drops and chests. The former takes way too long and the latter is completely RNG based, often resulting in frustration.
Progression is extremely linear, too, which I don’t enjoy much. Instead of giving players multiple different ways to make progress at any given time, V Rising forces you to follow a single thread you can’t deviate from. In Valheim, I could work on making stronger mead, growing better food, taming more animals, and fortifying my house even if I wasn’t ready to take down a boss or hadn’t come across an item I needed for a particular upgrade. In V Rising, I find myself frequently hitting walls that force me to go kill the next boss or grind enemy drops if I want to get stronger.
I’m also not a fan of V Rising’s castle-building systems. It’s grid-based and there aren’t many different types of structure pieces you can build with, resulting in every castle looking very cookie-cutter. You can add some personality to your structure with decorations, but overall, I can’t do much to make my castle feel like my castle. You also can’t make multiple castles, and since you can’t teleport while carrying loot, pushing into new areas far away from your home feels incredibly awkward. Sure, you could rebuild your castle, but having to deconstruct everything you’ve made and then rebuild it somewhere else is a massive pain. Players should at least have the ability to make a temporary forward operating base of some kind.
Ultimately, there’s a lot to love about V Rising, and between it and 2021’s Valheim, it’s exciting to see creative new games come to the survival genre. With time and some updates, there’s no doubt in my mind that V Rising could easily grow into one of the best PC survival games out there.
Unfortunately, though, the game’s core progression is much, much slower and more frustrating than it should be, and there’s very little room for players to get expressive with their castles, either. An entire subreddit dedicated to showing off player creations sprang out of Valheim’s versatile building system; it’s a bummer that V Rising players don’t have powerful tools like these. The inability to create additional shelters also makes exploring new lands inconvenient and tedious.
I’m interested in seeing how V Rising evolves over time as the folks at Stunlock Studios continue to iterate on the game in Early Access. If the issues with the game’s progression and building systems are addressed, I’ll definitely be back to slake my thirst for in-game adventures. Until then, I’ll be asleep in my coffin.