For the last week, Vampire Survivors took over Steam’s top charts and has become the most-played game on Steam Deck by a country mile.
And if you just look at the gameplay — a very basic rogue-like that simply asks you to kill mob after mob of undead enemies — you might not understand what all the buzz is about.
Underneath the game’s Windows 98 aesthetic and seemingly monotonous gameplay is something rather addicting: a character unlock mechanic that changes the game ever-so-slightly on each run and an arsenal of weapons that gets bigger with each run. Couple that with its quick gameplay loop that only takes between 10 and 20 minutes for each death, and you’ve got all the makings of an accessible — and addictive — game.
Why is Vampire Survivors so popular?
As I already mentioned, there’s not much to the game. You pick a character with one special ability to go into an open field and attempt to survive as long as possible.
As you’re killing swaths of undead, you’ll pick up experience points that will help you level up, granting you either a bonus to one of the weapons you already have or a new weapon to add to your arsenal. These weapons will attack on their own accord based on a cool down, so all you need to do is deftly strafe incoming monsters while the weapons do their thing.
Besides experience tokens, you’ll also pick up coins that can be spent on more characters. Currently there are officially 24 options to pick from in the game; however, there’s also hidden characters I won’t spoil here that help give the game that “one more run” feeling that you might have gotten from other popular rogue-likes in the past.
Key to Vampire Surivors' popularity is obviously its simplicity. Surviving is such an easy thing to do until it suddenly isn’t because your weapons aren’t strong enough or fire fast enough to repel the hoard that’s bearing down upon you. When that happens, there’s rarely anything to be mad about — the game wasn’t unfair in its scaling, and the only thing you could’ve changed were the level-up bonuses you picked or how you maneuvered in the last mob.
Otherwise, all you can do is try again. This time with a new character.
Vampire Survivors has an unmistakable Flash game vibe
If you’re of a certain age, you’ll no doubt remember Flash games — browser-based games that you could play on almost any computer (especially school computers) in your free time.
It could very well be argued that Vampire Survivors is a modern flash game. Not only is it free-to-play online like Flash games are if you don’t want to own the game on Steam, it’s also simple, fun and quick. Plus, Vampire Survivors rewards you for coming back to it.
It doesn’t hurt either that you can play a version of the game online free — in a browser, no less — by going to the developer's page on itch.io (opens in new tab).
Because the graphics aren’t that advanced, there’s no need to have a killer gaming rig in order to play it, and because each run is so short, it’s the perfect game for Steam Deck when you find yourself with a few minutes to yourself.
How long will Vampire Survivors hold its top spot?
This is where things get tricky. Games like these — short and sweet rogue-likes like FTL: Faster Than Light — tend to hang around for a few months while we learn their ins and outs. They draw us in and hold us while the devs work to squeeze out more content from a thin premise, until eventually, we move on to the next one.
That sounds a bit bleak when you write it out — and perhaps too quickly writes off games that hang their hats on simple gameplay loops — but that’s the cyclical nature of the gaming industry. Unless you’ve got depth, like say Skyrim, Grand Theft Auto or Red Dead Redemption have, it’s just not feasible to hold a top spot forever.
Smaller indies, especially rogue-likes, move in and out of fashion quickly.
Even when the time comes to hang up our survival shoes, it won’t be a sad day. Games like Vampire Survivors give us something to dissect, something to sink our teeth into that’s outside the normal coverage cycle. And as someone who still holds a soft spot in his heart for Flash games, Vampire Survivors was exactly the diversion I needed this week.
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