The sun sets, and like clockwork my coven comes alive. We rise from our stone coffins to gather in the main hall of our shared castle. Once we have decided upon our mark — in this case, Tristan, a vampire hunter that plagued our early forays into Farbane — we waste no time. In an instant we’ve transformed, running as a pack of wolves through the dense forests outside our stone castle walls. We relish in the light of the moon, eager and hungry for blood. We are vampires.
V Rising is a hybrid survival-action game that draws deep inspiration from the Gothic lens of vampire fiction. At the beginning of the game, you’re thrust into the world as a sole survivor, your coffin hidden away deep within the recesses of a forgotten cave — your objective is to claw your way back to power.
The written narrative is relatively sparse, as interactions with NPCs are reduced to cowering or single lines of spoken dialogue. But V Rising’s interlocking systems give rise to player-generated emergent stories. This has facilitated the growth of a slew of role-playing servers in various languages; some server owners have crafted entirely unique world rules. One German role-playing server I joined sorted players into distinct covens governed by individual vampire lords, and in some cases, entire councils. I witnessed power struggles in which members were ostracized and alliances torn apart. These tantalizing bits of drama and intrigue kept V Rising feeling fresh, as fellow players dictated the flow of the game outside of the immersive vampire mechanics that developer Stunlock Studios laid as a foundation.
Speaking of: The sun was perhaps one of the greatest inconveniences to me during the early hours of the game. But I loved it. I enjoyed having to sulk in the shadows as the sun crossed over the sky while making my first, and somewhat poor, attempt at building my own castle. It’s a great use of what would otherwise be an inconsequential environmental detail in any other game. It added to the Gothic aesthetic and immersive tension, and caused me to more carefully contemplate how I would approach certain challenges (like bosses) within sometimes tight time constraints. There are other little touches that go a long way to adding vampire flavor, like weaknesses to garlic (which players can circumvent with craftable potions).
But V Rising’s most compelling gameplay systems are V Blood and Blood. As vampires, you need to consume blood to survive — but each individual enemy has a specific blood type, which each has its own stats. Drinking from a wolf or deer will grant you increased movement speed, for instance, but drinking from human enemies that have the Rogue blood type will increase your critical hit rating. There are also varying qualities of blood that impact just how much these secondary stats are boosted, along with how good your innate healing ability becomes.
V Blood, on the other hand, is a different thing altogether. You gain additional skills by killing bosses strewn throughout the world. These can come in the form of transformation, or more combat-oriented skills like frost or blood-tinged attacks. These abilities create more diversified play styles between vampires. I preferred to use Frost abilities, as the Chill effect either slows enemies — be it a player or NPC — or freezes them entirely. This made it easier for me to secure kills, and keep many approaching threats at bay. After obtaining the Frost Bat ability, hunting bosses became infinitely easier — it made it that much simpler to maintain adequate range from my prey.
But certain spells and abilities are clearly better than others, leading to severe power disparity in PvP servers. Because player level is decided by the armor and weapons each player has equipped, and certain abilities are tied to specific late-game weapons, high level players can prevent new players from accessing certain abilities. I witnessed this happen several times, watching as a high-ranked vampire blasted away a group of fledgling players with the Crimson Beam ultimate ability (a powerful ray of blood magic that not only deals massive amounts of damage but also heals the user with each hit). Because there’s nothing stopping veterans from roaming the land, they can effectively gatekeep late-game abilities and content. What’s more, they can prevent early players from developing their own castles.
These lairs serve as strongholds where you can commune with other players, form covens, and craft equipment. They’re effectively your base of operations where you can hang back and choose your next objective. You can add furnishings and decorations, better crafting benches, and even coffins for thralls that can do your dark bidding while you’re busying yourself with other tasks. However, customization for your castle can be a chore at the moment — better walls, windows, and other furnishings are locked behind hours of gameplay. Still, if you don’t mind the grind, the limited options can result in some impressive abodes: One player on my dedicated community server created a three-story castle, complete with an art gallery and a basement for draining the blood of humans they had kidnapped from a nearby village.
Unlike games like Rust or Valheim, however, V Rising’s Gothic creations often serve secondary purposes. For example, harvesting enemies’ blood essence is essential in feeding the heart of your dark lair, and thus, keeping everything functional. Abstaining from doing this will cause your castle to deteriorate. I found this to be extremely tedious — although it gave our collective something to do, the castle would continue to absorb essence even after we had all logged off. Thankfully, you can toggle this off in the server settings at any time.
There are a myriad other ways in which V Rising attempts to encapsulate the experience of being a vampire, drawing clear inspiration from classic literature like Dracula and pieces of pop culture like 30 Days of Night. You can make your vampire look like a modern grotesquerie, rows of massive teeth and all; you can opt for long, flowing locks that ooze the look of the mid-’80s-to-early-’90s goth subculture; there are even options of the aristocratic nature, including rococo-inspired updos and waves. The clothing options are somewhat lackluster in the early levels, but you can find and create hats to compensate for the lack of style.
In this way, V Rising is a game very obsessed with the processes of being a vampire, if not the overarching implications. It’s a game obsessed with the surface-level aesthetic and popular mythmaking surrounding the creature — but it doesn’t provide an allegorical, or even satirical, storyline about a creature that has haunted and enamored audiences for centuries. However, this in itself merits a discussion about what V Rising chooses to prioritize, and how survival games of this ilk often fall into similar narrative-lite gameplay loops: explore, discover, take, rebuild, and control. This is what V Rising is fundamentally about, albeit with intricate systems that only vampires can provide.
On the surface, V Rising appears to be just another survival game, slathered with a different coat of paint. In many ways, it’s hard to argue otherwise. However, it manages to layer complex systems inspired by the popular mythology of the vampire to distinguish it from the sea of survival games. While V Rising hasn't completely satiated my thirst in its current form, I’m hopeful that it will somewhere down the line.
V Rising was released in early access on May 17 on Windows PC The game was reviewed on PC using a pre-release download code provided by Stunlock Studios. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.