V Rising slinked out of its coffin and into early access this week, joining the survival game ranks and the top of the Steam best sellers list. The comparisons with Valheim were instantaneous, and not entirely unwarranted. Both are novel early access survival romps boasting plenty of distinct twists that had great launches. But they also approach survival from very different angles.
Despite Valheim's escalating invasions and massive bosses, it's a fairly relaxing experience—if you want it to be—where you can just potter around with your mates and construct a cosy Viking town. In my first Valheim session, I built a massive longhouse and spent ages trying to make the perfect chimney. I raised some pigs. I befriended some bees.
In V Rising, I spent my first moments traipsing around the graveyard re-killing the undead, and then I moved to a forest where I fed on the living to fuel my awful unlife, murdered my way through hordes of warriors and poachers, started work on my ominous castle and made a lovely little blood altar.
There's plenty of stuff to craft and build, but V Rising is a more aggressive strain of survival game, blending the perspective and combat sensibilities of isometric action-RPGs with a familiar crafting and gathering loop. Fights are brisk slaughters, and right off the bat you've got a magical ranged attack and a supernatural dash, as well as the ability to regenerate health from your stolen blood pool.
When your foes are close to death, that's when it's dinner time. That'll refill your blood pool, but there's more to a meal than quantity. Blood from different enemies can have different effects on you, and there's also the question of quality. So animals can give you boons like greater speed or resistance to the devastating impact of sunlight, but you'll need to feed on creatures with better quality plasma to get the higher tier bonuses.
It's a novel way of emulating cooking systems in other survival games, or at least the benefits of them, for a character who drinks blood instead of munching on bread. And, frankly, it's a lot more fun to drain enemies of their blood instead of waiting around for my campfire or stove to incinerate some chow.
The vampiric curse also inspires V Rising's approach to environmental hazards. Typically, survival games make you vulnerable to extreme weather or, even more often, the night itself. It's the worst time—when visibility is at its lowest and monsters are ravenous. But this time you're the monster, and thus the night is your friend. It's the sun you've got to worry about. Get caught out of the shade and within a few seconds you'll start to get a bit crisp.
Since half of the game is like this, it's a major obstacle, but not insurmountable. You can wait it out, preferably in your coffin, since any spots of shade are likely to vanish as the sun continues its journey across the sky, but if you don't mind being kept on your toes you can still get a fair bit done during the daylight hours, especially if you're hanging out in the forest, using the trees for shade. Eventually you'll find other ways of countering it like, as mentioned above, eating some high quality animals.
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The sun really gave me some trouble during a hunt when I was searching for an alpha wolf, one of the boss-like encounters that give you new vampiric powers. Unlike Valheim, it proved to be an understated confrontation against a wolf that was only slightly bigger and tougher than normal. The real challenge was that he only appeared in his den during daylight hours. It was the sun that kept killing me. But after a few failures, I got to know the den pretty well, and where the shadows were at specific times of day, allowing me to plant myself in a safe spot and await my prey.
While the wolf itself was a bit anticlimactic, I have encountered some larger, tougher beasties. Giant stone guardians and ents chill in the forest where I've made my home, and so far I've been unable to dent them. They're just too beefy, too high level. It's worth noting that levelling up is not a matter of gaining XP, with the number instead relating to the power of your gear. To increase your level, you've got to craft new armour, weapons and accessories.
The crafting is bog-standard stuff and doesn't exactly scream "lord of the undead", but I do dig the way that its ARPG sensibilities have affected gathering. Instead of getting a very boring axe to chop down trees with, for instance, V Rising gives you twin axes, with an aesthetic that suggests they're really designed for carving a swath through your enemies. They aren't, though. I mean, you can use them in fights, but they're still really for murdering trees. The thing is, you don't really chop them. You fight them. The animation suggests battle, not gathering, and while the result is the same, I much prefer it this way.
You also get loads of resources with every strike, and while your crafting and construction projects will demand a lot from you, in the early game you're only ever a few swings away from getting resources in their hundreds. Like the combat, it's all pleasantly brisk.
I'm still really just starting out. My castle is just a few walls with some junk inside it, though I did choose to build inside some ancient ruins, which gives the rickety structure a lot more gravitas. I've got some more vampiric powers, too, like the ability to transform into a wolf, which makes travelling across the map a bit less of a hassle, but there are a lot more to find.
V Rising kept me playing all night—which I'm suffering for terribly today—and I'm actually happy that the Valheim comparisons were a bit exaggerated. I adore Valheim, but it already does exactly what I want from a survival game of its type. This is something different, but potentially just as compelling. I've only played solo so far, but I've got a co-op date coming up and can't wait to drain the world dry with a bud in tow.