Vampire survival game getting major free update that overhauls combat, castles, necromancers, and more

A vampire's castle loomingly menacingly over the horizon.
(Image credit: Stunlock studios)

Early access game V Rising has, since launch, amassed a sizeable audience of wannabe bloodsuckers, dedicated to building majestic castles and striking down the holy. At the start of the year developer Stunlock Studios announced it would first of all be improving what one might call the castle fantasy of the game: You couldn't build vertically, so vampires were reduced to building up hills in order to get that essential looming gothic vibe, but very soon you can.

Stunlock has now detailed what will be the game's first major (and free) expansion, though this doesn't mean it's leaving early access. There's some major changes incoming, including an overhaul of the spellcasting and magic system that's at the beating heart of the game's combat. Arriving in May, it will "let you build bigger and better lairs with more control than ever, wield new weapons and magic, explore new areas, and encounter new bosses and factions."

Spells are being changed to give each build type a clearer focus, and increase the number of potential combinations between different techniques. V Rising already has a lot of spells as it is, and five specialisations, so this is no minor change but pretty fundamental to how the game will feel.

The developers say they've "created better cohesion within specialized schools by adding debuffs that benefit from stacking. This will encourage leaning into the individual magical archetypes but shouldn’t be so beneficial that they discourage a smart Vampire from mixing techniques for other strategies." Just in case players work out a way to get some overpowered debuff stacking on the go, there's also likely to be a system of diminishing returns built-in by the time the update's finished. There's also a sixth school of spells being added, though no details on that yet.

Part of the change is a new item type, jewels, which will strengthen and modify individual spells (these attributes will be randomised, and high-level jewels will have up to three modifiers). Each spell can have one jewel assigned to it and, if equipped, they won't be lost upon death. One of the quite charming things about Stunock as a studio is it doesn't just give you a list of changes, but embarks on little flights of fantasy about them: "We want you to become the dark warlock of your dreams, whether that means turning your surroundings into hell frozen over, ripping the life essence out of anyone who dares to challenge you or moving through the battlefield shrouded in illusions like a phantom assassin."

Sounds exciting. There are also changes to core vampiric blood abilities, and the best class of all, necromancers, are getting more ways to summon an army of undead and their own bespoke jewels: So things like exploding skeleton minions, or aim-hacking skeletal mages.

V Rising vampire with crossbow

(Image credit: Stunlock Studios)

Illusions are being changed to become, well, more illusive than ever. This lot are a kind of defense/support hybrid and their spells both buff the player and debuff enemies. The example Stunlock gives is the ‘Phantasm’ buff, which will stack with each cast, and each stack moves you closer to bypassing spell cooldowns and having a 'free' ability cast. The idea is that an illusionist is making up for their defensive style by flinging out more spells, more often, and also getting new ones, like a crowd control fear effect, as well as nicking some abilities from other specialities: Unholy’s Mosquito and Blood’s Crimson Aegis are now on the side of the illusionists.

The studio is also considering adding legendary weapons. Like the jewels these will have randomised abilities, but they're not a cert for this update. The final major addition is also in the same spot. V Rising is looking to add a feature that allows vampires to claim plots of land, instead of the current system of placing a castle heart and expanding tile-by-tile.

This idea of territories is about fitting more players into the world and reducing friction, because players were either unwittingly or otherwise able to block each other's castles and could end up stuck with no room for expansion. It should also tackle the issue of clans building extra castles just to buffer the 'main' castle.

"This may also set the stage for us to build a lot of interesting systems much more easily," said Stunlock. "We’ve discussed using this to implement a mechanic to move your castle between two territories. This would open up possibilities for servant-to-player interactions and missions like infiltrations, invasions, and spy missions. There could be mechanics like PvE territory holders that you have to defeat to take over an area, preventing players from rushing the best spots on a new server."

The studio's still not certain that the tradeoffs will be worth it, most notably that players won't be able to build freely in any location outside those restrictions. So this may not happen, but Stunlock is asking for feedback from players on the proposal so watch this space.

This expansion does not mark the full release of V Rising, which first released in May 2022. Stunlock says it is currently planning the game to enter full release in 2024. The update ends with a simple truism: "2023 is a glorious year to be a Vampire."

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."