Dracula himself looking at camera face on with blue background and castle off to side
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Vampire Survivors review

An engrossing roguelike that can win over the roguelike-avoidant.

(Image: © poncle)

Our Verdict

Vampire Survivors has been an early access sensation, and its full release would be well-worth your time even if it wasn't the price of a large latte.

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Need to know

What is it?   A Castlevania-themed roguelike where you try to outlast waves of draculas, wolfmen, and skeletons.
Expect to pay $5/£4
Release date October 20, 2022
Developer poncle
Publisher poncle
Reviewed on Steam Deck, Core i5 12600K, RTX 3070, 32 GB RAM
Multiplayer? No
Link Steam (opens in new tab)

Like a lot of PC gamers, I've gotten a bit spoiled spending single-digit dollars for games on Steam after all these years. I managed to snag Deus Ex: Invisible War for 40 cents, which I'm pretty sure is what videogames cost during the Great Depression. Never played it, but still, the value

It's with that exposure to cheapo gaming in mind that I say Vampire Survivors is one of the best deals you can get on PC. It's an inventive, surprising bullet hell roguelike, one that'll run on anything and had me muttering the disastrous "one more run" mantra at one in the morning after everyone in the house was asleep. As PC Gamer editor Robin Valentine put it on Twitter the other day, "It's dangerous to have on your hard drive."

Vampire Survivors is built around a horde mode in simple, sprawling maps. You pick a character from a selection of Belmont-alikes as you try to outlast a horde of ghoulies and ghosties, growing in power and number over a 30-minute timer. Vampire Survivor's first great curveball is how it handles shooting. Each weapon is mechanically unique, with different AoEs, fire rates, and damage profiles. Instead of directly targeting enemies, the weapons have a timed firing pattern influenced by you and your enemies' positioning.

Take my go-to character, Arca Ladonna. He starts with a relatively unforgiving early game weapon: a wand that shoots fireballs in the direction of a random enemy on screen once every second or so. I have no say in where these fireballs go, so I have to follow their lead in whatever direction they clear through the already claustrophobic throngs of enemies, grabbing level-up gems in their wake. 

Contrast this with a different hero, Imelda Belpase (the vampire names are Castlevaniaworthy). She starts with a magic wand that fires at the closest enemy. Imelda can more directly target her foes from the get-go, allowing for a more immediately familiar, aggressive style of play. I still prefer the high risk, high reward randomization afforded by Arca⁠ as it's something unique to Vampire Survivors, but you've got a lot of options from the get go.

The closest thing I can compare it to is when you whip up a deathball of units in an RTS or more tactical RPG.

I enjoy the way these pre-set firing patterns encourage me to build a complementary arsenal. For example, unwieldy but powerful fireballs pair well with something more consistent and precise like Imelda's wand or the boomerang crosses. This measured build crafting in the early game pays off in an explosive, self-perpetuating power fantasy in the last third of a run, and I think this gets at Vampire Survivors' secret sauce.

low level Arca play on the library level

(Image credit: poncle)

With six weapons maximally upgraded and at least a few of them evolved through item combos, your character just lets out a constant torrent of projectiles pushing back an endless wave of foes. It practically plays itself at this point, but that's part of the fun. The closest thing I can compare it to is when you whip up a deathball of units in an RTS or more tactical RPG. It pokes that same lizard brain pleasure center for me as when I drag to select a doomstack of Battlecruisers in StarCraft or a partyful of mages with Melf's Minute Meteors in Baldur's Gate, click on an enemy, and watch the sparks fly.

That does risk getting boring, and the handful of times I've lucked into an easy early game that transitions into a steamroll late game have been when Vampire Survivors has dragged. Luckily, there are game speed and enemy challenge modifiers to ratchet things up, and Vampire Survivors' bevvy of hidden characters, challenges, and levels revived the fun for me after entering a doldrums. It reminds me of the great iceberg of Binding of Isaac's sequential final levels or the mind blowing secret levels and bosses in Ultrakill and Cruelty Squad. Vampire Survivors' secrets help it feel generous and surprising.

Bonus round

explosion of spell effects on the dairy level in Vampire Survivors

(Image credit: poncle)

One challenge that just blew me away requires you to kill a seemingly invulnerable boss, one that seems more like a rule of the game than something you can actually overcome. It requires hustling to far-flung corners of the map to collect special items. These items, when fully upgraded alongside two specific armaments afforded on level-up, unlock a pair of uber weapons that enable you to kill that juggernaut, unlocking a hidden character. 

I made two attempts at this run to no avail before lucking into both portions of the RNG side of the build during some casual play a day later. I frantically altered course to run the gauntlet, picking up everything I needed and fully upgrading it with only two minutes to spare. It felt awesome to finally bring everything together, though you could also just cheese the fight by standing in one place for 30 minutes with this novelty exploit build (opens in new tab). I think it's a distinct strength of Vampire Survivors that it allows such tomfoolery.

I certainly enjoy Vampire Survivors on my desktop, but I think it really sings on Steam Deck (or, failing that, a thin and light laptop). I got most of my gameplay for this review in on my couch or out on the porch. Untethered from a desktop-grade CPU, Vampire does start to chug a bit in those late run steamroll sequences, but the game doesn't really demand twitch reflexes and I honestly kind of like the effect⁠—it feels like my Deck is straining under the weight of all those meteors. Creator Poncle does have plans to transition it to a new, hopefully more stable engine (opens in new tab) by year's end.

Vampire Survivors is a killer little game, a fun roguelike that absolutely hooked me, a guy who's pretty fatigued of the genre at this point. It'll also only kill your free time, not your wallet. With its current $4 sale until November 1, you've got your pick of either this fantastic indie game, or one of the three cheapest beers on tap at my old job.

The Verdict
Vampire Survivors

Vampire Survivors has been an early access sensation, and its full release would be well-worth your time even if it wasn't the price of a large latte.

Associate Editor

Ted has been thinking about PC games and bothering anyone who would listen with his thoughts on them ever since he booted up his sister's copy of Neverwinter Nights on the family computer. He is obsessed with all things CRPG and CRPG-adjacent, but has also covered esports, modding, and rare game collecting. When he's not playing or writing about games, you can find Ted lifting weights on his back porch.