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As I sit here, winding down on my final work day before the Christmas holidays, I find myself compelled to play Vampire Survivors. After spending a decent amount of time as a contrarian that didn’t like “the idea” of Vampire Survivors, I downloaded it on Game Pass and gave it a shot. To be honest, it didn’t click at first. I still didn’t get it. But there was a moment where a hoard of bats swooped in from across the screen, beelining straight towards me – and as they made contact with my garlic shield, each dissolved into a puddle of experience. And then, I understood.

Vampire Survivors is one of the most popular games in a genre that is affectionately known as “auto survivor.” All you do in Vampire Survivors is select a character, a stage, move, and select your weapon. Really, all you do in an actual stage is move and occasionally select an item. All of the weapons and items you collect are used automatically, at first slowly, but you’ll soon earn power-ups giving you more weapons, more power, and shorter cooldowns between them.

There is a limited amount of weapons and abilities you can collect, but if you tactically find the right combination, enemies will melt against your defenses while you do hardly anything at all. It’s “Luigi wins by doing absolutely nothing” the video game. And, for some reason, it’s infinitely satisfying.

Vampire Survivors is hectic, but immensely satisfying.

Vampire Survivors is hectic, but immensely satisfying.

There’s a huge element of RNG and luck in the game, especially in terms of what weapons you’ll be able to pick up early, and how far you’ll be able to upgrade them in time for the more powerful hoards that are on their way. The monster foes are infinite and never stop spawning, with more of them appearing literally every second. Sometimes monsters will spawn in a pattern to encircle you, or fast-moving monsters will charge across the screen, such as that bat swarm from before.

Surviving in Vampire Survivors will almost always feel lucky, but you’ll never be able to survive forever. Once you’ve got the maximum number of weapons, your subsequent levels will only grant you extra money or health, while the number and strength of the enemies you face don’t have the same kind of ceiling. It’s a battle against the clock to create the strongest character possible before the super-tough foes show up to ruin your day. And it shouldn’t feel this good to play, especially when the best strategy often involves not moving.

You don't press a single button to unleash all of this chaos.

You don't press a single button to unleash all of this chaos.

If you get a few AoE weapons, such as the garlic, you’ll essentially have a force-field around your character at all times that will damage foes. Power it up, or even evolve it into a much more capable weapon, with bigger range and more damage. Combine that with a few other tools, and enemies will probably die as they approach you. So the best strategy is to just stand in place, moving only slightly as necessary, to pick up experience and health. But getting to the point where you barely have to play in order to win is far easier said than done.

This is what makes Vampire Survivors so good, if slightly deceiving. There’s a slot-machine randomness element to everything that convinces you that, even if your first try might’ve ended after only a few minutes, the next just could be that half-hour-long epic adventure. There’s a real feeling of satisfaction to seeing a legion of foes wiped out by your magical abilities in mere seconds, but at the end of a game I am left wondering how earned any of it actually is.

When I put down the controller, I can’t help but realize the “progress” I’ve made is entirely down to the time I’ve put in. Playing a stage even once, for just a few minutes, will likely unlock a cascade of achievements – new weapons and items to use, new characters, new stages, and more. In between attempts you can pour your earned gold into abilities, such as more damage, higher health, better move speed, and so on. There’s a sense of progression there, but that progression feels inevitable.

As long as you play Vampire Survivors, you’ll progress. There’s no real wrong way to do things. Play, and you will inevitably move forward (even if you’re standing still), whether that’s you learning the best way to avoid enemy patterns, getting luckier with items, or just brute forcing your way through by buying all of the upgrades. Vampire Survivors makes you feel accomplished, for accomplishing nothing at all. Ultimately all video games are like this, but I’ve never seen it laid bare before me like this.

Anyway, I’ll probably play it for another hour tonight.