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Disclaimer: This review is based on the PC Game Pass version of Vampire Survivors.

The lead-up to the holiday period is often a battle between the biggest games and franchises. So, what’s all the fuss about with this indie game Vampire Survivors? If you haven’t heard about this roguelite bullet shooter, get ready to be blown away. Vampire Survivors - drawing inspiration from titles like the mobile hit Magic Survival - has risen to fame in just under a year, and now it officially makes its debut on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S with Xbox Game Pass on November 10th. It’s already been released on PC Game Pass as well, which is the platform the game has been played on for this review.

To cut to the chase, this might just be the best indie game you play this year. It’s also got a brilliant backstory attached to it, too, with developer Luca ‘Poncle’ Galante able to quit his day job after the game became an overnight sensation not long after its early access release in December last year. Vampire Survivors has been charting ever since on platforms like Steam – and at one point had more than 77,000 concurrent players.

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So, seriously - what's the big deal here? Well… Vampire Survivors is just a really addictive game. It’s easy to learn but hard to master. You select from a bunch of characters, each with a unique skill - including a guy with a whip (who might be a long-lost relative of Simon Belmont from the Castlevania series) and from here, the aim is to simply survive the monster hoards for as long as possible, with the target goal often up to 30 minutes.

Your task during each run is to level your character by defeating enemies, collecting gems for experience, levelling up existing abilities, and then also adding new abilities to your skillset as you take on waves of undead, monsters and various other appropriately themed threats. One other thing to point out is that all of the attacks are automated, so all you’ve got to do is navigate your surroundings and build upon your skills as you continue to level up. This also makes the game's controls incredibly accessible, whether you're playing on a keyboard or an Xbox controller.

The joy of Vampire Survivors comes from simply trying to outlast your previous run. In each session, you’ll take on wave after wave of enemies, with key points throughout each run where the intensity picks up and enemies grow in strength and size. You can’t really outrun these mobs because they’re all over your screen, with players required to mow down hundreds of enemies at once by the minute. Again, the “easy to learn but hard to master” concept encourages players to outdo their existing runs, which makes the game extremely addictive. You likely won't be able to tear yourself away from Vampire Survivors once you've got an idea of the gameplay loop.

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The end game is... spoiler alert... Death (aka "The Reaper"), who you get to once stages have been cleared. The loop cycle is to then rinse and repeat with other characters and classes (ranging from mages, wizards and more) and there are also some power-ups you can improve before a battle that will mostly increase your chances of surviving the onslaught of enemies. Coins can also drop during runs, allowing you to go back and level stats in the dedicated power-up menu, and even unlock new characters.

As for upgrades during runs, you can choose to level up your shields with armour increases and garlic barriers. Then there are attacks like fire wands, axes, whips and daggers. Other abilities like speed and luck also come into play. These all get bigger and better the more you level them, but enemies will also get stronger as time passes. There are also timed power-ups and health recovery options around each stage - often found in chests, sometimes dropped by special enemies. The classic floor chicken (a homage to Castlevania) will heal you up, then there are timers that freeze enemy movement and various other power-ups.

Conclusion

Vampire Survivors might not seem like all that much to get excited about at a glance, but what it does, it does incredibly well, making it an absolute must-play game, especially for fans of similar titles. It’s ideal for short and longer sessions, is incredibly accessible with simple controls, and there’s plenty of depth once you get familar with each character - with skill combos and weapon evolution that allows you to enhance your character's power in all sorts of exciting ways. Vampire Survivors just might be the indie game of the year and is easily one of the best games you can play on Xbox and Game Pass in 2022 and beyond.