Early Access Check-in: Creepy meets cozy in Voltaire the Vegan Vampire
Early Access Check-In provides brief updates on early access releases and shares impressions of what's available to play today.
Cozy and wholesome gaming works with so many genres and narrative setups. Farming sims, life sims, dating sims. Worlds where anthropomorphic frogs, mushrooms, or other cottagecore classics are brought to life. There are some clear trends in the burgeoning movement's games and that's part of what makes it so easy to grasp.
That's why whenever something different comes along, stretching itself to fit in with the others, we usually take notice.
Enter a vegan vampire pushing back against their family's neck-biting proclivities in a hybrid farming sim/tower defense experience. In the creepy-cute-cozy game Voltaire: The Vegan Vampire, you've certainly got something worth keeping an eye on.
Just the Facts
Developer: Digitality Games
Publisher: Freedom Games
Release Date: Feb. 27, 2023
Key provided by Stride PR.
Voltaire: The Vegan Vampire comes to us as the second release from Digitality Games, a crew that is branching into new genres after their 2022 post-apocalyptic beat-em-up, HordeCore. Entering a new partnership with Freedom Games, Voltaire is a new beginning for the team in a variety of ways.
Opting for an Early Access release, Digitality serves up about 7-9 hours of content with its initial offering, promising regular content releases over the six- to 12-month early access period they're looking at.
The team is hoping to give Voltaire a Halloween-y full release but won't force the issue if the game needs time. In the weeks since launch, Digitality's already put out near weekly patches addressing launch issues and even added some new content with the Rooty Tooty update, so they certainly are ready and able to keep up with the road ahead if their immediate work is any sign.
In Voltaire: The Vegan Vampire, you play as Voltaire (or Morgana, if you opt for the femme character model) and they are — as you might have guessed — a vegan vampire. An opening cutscene showcases the brutality of Voltaire's family, feasting over a bloody pile of meat and generally being brutish, mocking Voltaire for not vibing with the vampiric meat vanquishing. At the head of it all is Dracula himself, Voltaire's father and the king of the realm who has his own army of minions to enforce his dietary will on everyone in Transylvania. After being cast out for his plant-based rebellious lifestyle, Voltaire darts out on his own, ready to find a new way to survive outside of the norm.
And so begins your vegan journey.
With the assistance of your Uncles Frank and Stein, a two-headed monster you can probably guess the look of, Voltaire's quest will take him across eight unique biomes. In each, a week's worth of growing crops during the day and fending off plant-smashing monsters at night culminates in a fight with one of your father's "grimlords," Dracula's beastly lieutenants (like Yeetus the Yeti or Sandrhino, the desert dweller whose name says it all).
What do those sessions look like? Well, Voltaire the Vegan Vampire is an interesting hybrid of a classic farming sim and tower defense. It's something like a more straightforward version of Don't Starve, both in gameplay and aesthetics. As Voltaire, you'll tend to the fields, gather seeds from the local flora, and grow both veggies to eat and mutant flowers used to defend. The only major factor you'll have to keep in mind while working is Voltaire's growing hunger. As a vampire who's decided to ditch blood for veggies, hunger is definitely a lot to manage early on. Every action takes some amount of hunger, from cleaning fields to planting seeds to harvesting droplets of water from plants around your farm.
And just like someone switching to veganism for the first time, it can take a lot of work to adjust. Hunger drains quickly when you first hop into the game and while you're still coming to terms with what's going on. Your best bet is basically ignoring your instincts to try things out in the early going and instead strictly follow the broken-up segmented tutorial to really get a feel for things. Because the unique gameplay flow has no obvious parallel, and if you try to play it more like Stardew or Don't Starve, you'll find yourself at maximum hunger with barely any crops planted and suddenly facing off against hordes of enemies.
Voltaire is a bit of a daywalker: a vampire who does not need to hide from the sun to stay alive. So don't worry about venturing out to get your chores done during the day. The night is reserved for something else, when Voltaire's violent vampire tendencies erupt.
Once you've accomplished all you can in a day without pushing your hunger levels too high, you do what any hardworkin' vegan vampire would do... you take a nap. Once the moon rises, Voltaire's vampiric abilities come to life and you get to work defending your farm. You see, as many vegan folks may be able to relate, Voltaire's family doesn't quite accept the new lifestyle. And every night, Dracula enlists his forces to attack Voltaire's new home and farmlands, seeking to put a stop to... Voltaire living life the way he chooses.
This introduces the game's tower defense aspect, as you'll get to work protecting your crops and house from waves of enemies. One of the more interesting wrinkles of the experience here is that the different types of plants you try to grow will attract different types of enemies. If a particular plant that gives a decent amount of hunger back and a buff to your damage sounds nice, you'll have to put up with a certain enemy type coming to attack that night.
Voltaire is able to set traps during the day and smash enemies with a basic melee attack to start, but as you level up, you'll unlock ranged attacks, pets who orbit Voltaire with their own attacks in tow, and more.
But Voltaire isn't alone here: Plants do more than satiate hunger; they do damage all on their own. You've got chomping plants, ranged attack flowers, and even scarecrows that keep enemies away from your fields. Figuring out how many of these to plant alongside the food that will bring your hunger down is a challenge, especially in the early game when Voltaire is a bit weaker.
But when it all comes together after a few hours' worth of level-ups, the combat almost starts to feel more like something out of the trendy overwhelming action roguelites like Vampire Survivors. With passive destruction provided by the skills and pets you eventually unlock and the plants in your garden, even when the waves of enemies reach numbers of 80+, you'll feel strong enough to keep them back — or at the very least, away from your house.
You see, the only way you fail in Voltaire: The Vegan Vampire is if the monsters manage to break through your defenses and damage your house directly. Voltaire takes no direct damage. I mean, he's a vampire and hunger is the primary concern, so you're free to get down and dirty to attack. That's part of the puzzle piece that makes this game work for the "cozy" genre... the game is fairly low stakes.
Sure, juggling your hunger and what tasks to prioritize during the day may take a surprising amount of brainpower, but that's just about the biggest difficulty spike to be found here. When your house is destroyed, your run isn't over. You simply decide whether or not to reset your skill tree and lose some of the loot in your inventory, and you're given another shot at the day. Sometimes losing your house is the best option for you because it resets your hunger down to half of your max, maintaining all the watering and planting you did before that.
No matter what you do, there's no real way to lose. There's no real game-over screen, because you're always given the chance to try it all again.
In most cases, this would be a negative. But in Voltaire: The Vegan Vampire it feels like a major plus. It makes the game more accessible by allowing players to experiment and learn without being supremely punished. While this may be tweaked as it approaches launch, keeping things open in this way in Early Access ensures everyone can appreciate the game.
After you make it through a week's worth of planting and defending, though, there is one genuine difficulty spike in the boss fights. At the end of a week, one of Dracula's grimlords will emerge to try and put an end to your run. These boss fights offer up a nice bit of variety to the combat, as the fun Vampire Survivors vibes of the base combat can start to fade into mindlessness as you get stronger. Each boss has its own quirk — like the pirate-y grimlord El Capitan hiding pieces of his soul amidst a ton of treasure chests on the map, or Yeetus throwing giant snowballs that can wipe through an entire field and still hit the house at the end.
Once you defeat a boss, you move onto a new biome and start the whole process over again. Each new biome may introduce a weather effect that changes your gameplay in that area, like a constant rain that keeps your plants watered at all times but introduces thunder strikes that can stun Voltaire. Or a blood moon effect that makes you faster but has every action require even more hunger to pull off. It's a fun twist and adds an extra layer of decision-making.
Voltaire's main week-to-week loop is fun the first few times through, but when you realize there's no real way to lose and find the game's initial offering of plants and skills to be less varied than you'd initially imagined, the sheen of its unique plant-and-defend experience starts to fade. Tack that onto the fact that you can get through all of the Early Access content in just about 5-7 hours and there's definitely a bit of disappointment. It is Early Access and it only just came out... but after one all-day session I feel like I've just about exhausted the content currently available.
With that in mind, I recommend it with the caveat that it's more of an investment in the future of Digitality's vision here. Because if you're looking for the next big game to lose yourself in, Voltaire isn't quite there yet, but it has a solid foundation to one day get there.
My favorite part of the experience? Voltaire: The Vegan Vampire pushes for compassion above all else. Even when you're mowing through enemies, you're instead releasing their souls that have been forced into combat by Dracula and letting them continue their life free from his control. Instead of pushing for bloodsucking and murder, Voltaire presents veganism as an easy alternative that allows you to thrive. There's an adjustment period, of course, but once you understand what's being asked of you and what your body needs, Voltaire prospers with his new lifestyle, eventually becoming strong enough to fight back against his father.
It's got an incredibly approachable hand-drawn art style, again similar to the fluffy and cozy yet dark and macabre aesthetics of something like Don't Starve. It's colorful, cutesy, and enticing for all ages.
And hey... it's got local co-op built-in from the start. A lost art form kept alive that makes this a perfect game to play with your family.
Voltaire: The Vegan Vampire has some enjoyable pieces that sell an intriguing full game that one day will come to fruition, but until then it remains one to watch instead of one to immediately hop into.
But if you're sold and want to support the game's future, check Voltaire: The Vegan Vampire out in Early Access. One plus: It's no big investment at only $14.99.