Vampires love castles. From Nosferatu to Castlevania, there’s just something that feels right about a blood-sucking monster setting up shop in such a grand locale. But unless you’re a count of some kind, castles can be hard to come by. Maybe that’s why more modern vampire stories tend to stick their undead anti-heroes in less flashy homes. If you’re thirsty for a vampire tale set in a more traditional Gothic haunt, one recent survival game might be more to your taste, and it’s free to play all Halloween weekend.
Currently in Steam Early Access, V Rising is the latest game from Stunlock Studios, the developer of MOBA Battlerite. Where Battlerite is bright and colorful, V Rising is dark and moody, drenched in blood red and shadowy black. In V Rising, you start as a lowly ghoul and immediately set your sights on that ubiquitous vampire status symbol: a castle of your own to lord over.
Awakening from your deathly slumber when the game begins, your vampire is a pathetic sight. To be fair, if you play around with V Rising’s character creator, you probably look pretty dope, whether your preference is ghastly fiend or weirdly hot monster. Regardless of how good you look, you’re going to spend the early moments of V Rising hiding from the Sun and sucking the blood from rats, so don’t expect to become a creature out of legend too soon.
Blood is even more central to vampires than any swanky castle, and V Rising has a fascinating way to represent that. At any time, you can suck the blood from living creatures around you, whether they’re wild animals or humans. Go too long without feeding and you risk dying (again), but you don’t always want to just sink your fangs into the first warm body you see.
The blood you drink actually affects your abilities in V Rising. Chowing down on a rat won’t give you any benefits, but drinking blood from stronger beasts or humans can boost your speed, strength, spellcasting ability, and more. They all have their uses, and keeping a balanced blood diet will make your journey to undead homeownership much easier.
Building a castle isn’t just about having a fancy place to put your coffin — it also keeps you from getting burned to a crisp by the Sun. So as you’re stalking wolves to fill up on blood, you’ll also need to dart from shadow to shadow or carefully plan your time so you’re only active at night.
Vampires are defined by their otherworldly power. Turning into bats, surviving mortal wounds, hypnotizing mortals — these things all make vampires terrifying in books and movies. But a video game where you’re the most powerful creature around doesn’t leave much room for challenge. Leaning into the vulnerabilities of ghoulhood turns the early hours of V Rising into a tense fight for survival.
Of course, you don’t spend the whole game hiding in the dark and munching on rodents. Eventually, you need to raid the human settlements dotting the map to gather resources for your own domain. V Rising is full of fun combat abilities that you gain from defeating powerful foes like vampire hunters. Multiple skill trees let you specialize in attacks that will debuff enemies, heal your with each strike, or just burn down everything around you. The robust combat makes hunting trips plenty of fun even when you come back empty-handed.
All your fighting and resource gathering feeds into the real goal of V Rising: rebuilding your domain. At the heart of your settlement is your castle, from which you’ll recruit thralls and grow your own power. Progress is slow at first, and you’ll likely spend quite a bit of time with little more than wooden walls as shelter. But bit by bit your power grows, along with your castle. The homes you can build in V Rising are spooky and atmospheric, putting you in the mood of a power-hungry fiend.
Once you’re able to start building your dream home, you may forget about combat entirely for a while. You do need to keep a fresh supply of blood coming in, but otherwise, the life of a vampire in V Rising is surprisingly domestic.
Planning out your castle for efficiency is a nice minigame on its own, but the real thrill comes from designing a castle ornate and imposing enough that Dracula himself would be impressed. There are plenty of aesthetic options to choose from once you can turn your attention to the important work of decorating, and the quest to build the coolest castle you can feels just as urgent as staying alive long enough to do it.
As enjoyable as it is to build your perfect vampiric vacation home alone, it gets much better if you invite some friends along. V Rising lets you team up with other players to split the domestic duties around your castle, or just argue about which drapes go best with your coffins. For conflict of the non-decorative variety, PvP servers let you fight for turf against other players as you raid and even destroy each other’s bases. Whether you’re going co-op or competitive, bringing more living humans into the mix inevitably makes things more complicated and more fun.
V Rising is currently in Steam Early Access, and Halloween weekend is the best time yet to check it out. From October 28 to November 1, 2022, the game is free to try, so it should be an easy sell if you want to round up an undead crew of your own. A free DLC pack available until November 7 also adds plenty of creepy decor for your castle if you really want to lean into the spooky season aesthetic.