I had such grand plans for my holiday. After three months of working on TRG, I would take a break, get away from screens, sit in the park and read a book. Maybe, if I did turn on a console, it would be to try out Elden Ring finally, or perhaps some of the big games from last year that I missed.
Then my stupid friend recommended a stupid game, and he ruined my stupid holiday because I can’t stop playing it, even though it’s everything I try to avoid in the games I play.
It’s called Vampire Survivors, and it’s consuming every hour of my free time. I want this to serve as a warning, not a recommendation: if you have the same problem as me with idle clicker games, then don’t be fooled. This game will sneak up on you, get its teeth in deep, and drag you down into its crypt.
I’m sort of joking, but also, I am deeply frustrated with how hard I’m finding it to quit this game.
The devil’s playthings
Over the years, I’ve poured an alarming number of hours into idle clickers, that genre of game that taps on the part of your brain that gurgles when you feel a sense of progress. Looking at my Steam ‘most played’, I’ve accrued more than 50 hours of Adventure Capitalist (opens in new tab) and Realm Grinder (opens in new tab). I know I’ll have played at least as much of Cookie Clicker (opens in new tab), and I’ve actually completed Universal Paperclips (opens in new tab).
It may seem silly, but I carry genuine shame about this. I often tell myself I don’t have enough time to read this book, work on that project, or play that critically acclaimed game, and then I’ll remember I’ve played 50 hours of an idle clicker while watching through all eight seasons of House for the third time. These games reveal the lie I tell myself. I have the time, but I’m not using it how I’d like to.
It’s got to the point that, if I find myself playing an idle clicker, I try to delete it from my computer or block it in my browser before it can get its hooks too deeply into me. This is why I’m so frustrated with Vampire Survivors: it didn’t look like an idle clicker for the first ten hours, and now I can’t walk away.
Your goal in Vampire Survivors is simple: hold out for 30 minutes. You’ll face a horde of literally thousands of enemies – vampires, zombies, mummies, ghosts, and, for unexplained reasons, a giant praying mantis – that increase in strength and number right up until the last second.
The strange hook of Vampire Survivors is that, while you have an arsenal of weaponry, you don’t control when your character uses it. Instead, each attack triggers as soon as its cooldown ends.
In your first run of Vampire Survivors, you’ll play Antonio Belpaese, a character who comes equipped with a whip. He flicks it out in the direction he’s facing every couple of seconds, cutting down any enemy in front of you. In those early minutes of the game, you’ll only be facing weak bats and skeletons who, when swatted down, may drop little gemstones that give you XP. Collect enough of them and you’ll level up, allowing you to select an additional weapon, a passive buff, or an upgrade to your whip – perhaps increasing the frequency of your attacks, its base damage, or the area the whip strikes.
After gaining a few levels, you’ll flesh out your auto-firing catalog. You might whip every 1.2 seconds, fire off a magic missile at the nearest enemy every 2.7 seconds, or throw out a heavy axe every 4 seconds. Then you may acquire a passive buff that reduces all your attack cooldowns by 10%, making all your attacks fire off more frequently. You can get buffs that increase damage, health, armor, and other stats.
Each run of Vampire Survivors differs because you’ll assemble a unique build of items and passive buffs – in one run you’ll tool up with weapons that attack the ground around you, making it impossible for enemies to get close; in another you’ll bristle with spells that call in lightning strikes and big globs of holy water on the map, incinerating big clumps of enemies at random.
As you carve through the armies of Dracula, you’ll earn gold you can spend on stat boosts that apply to all your runs, giving your individual play sessions a sense of grander purpose. Now that 90 minutes I spent playing while listening to podcasts earned me enough cash to buy a boost to my character's armor, so I’ll forever take one less damage point from enemy attacks and… Oh God, it’s happened again. I’m playing an idle clicker.
Whether it’s a paperclip-making machine, a cookie cooking factory, or a vampire hunter who auto-attacks enemies and eats gems for breakfast, it’s massaging that part of my brain that craves a sense of accomplishment. “I must be doing something good,” it says, “the numbers on the screen are going up.” But what is the real challenge here? I’m walking around a level while, entirely out of my control, different attacks fly out from my character and into the horde of enemies around me. All I’m really doing is picking up gems and choosing one of the level-up options from a limited list.
And yet, even though I’ve held the mirror up and discovered my dance partner is a soulless timesuck, I can’t stop playing. I realized Vampire Survivors was an idle clicker days ago, but I still haven’t deleted it from my computer or found something better to do with my evenings.
My hope is that I’ll burn through the different levels in Vampire Survivor’s early access build and steer clear of its siren song whenever future updates are released. But now it’s in my blood, I worry I’ll be playing this game for years to come.