Vampyr may seem an unlikely game from the studio that made the narrative-focused Life Is Strange, but being an action-RPG doesn’t preclude it from being a great vehicle for storytelling. It’s set in a harsh city in the midst of a humanitarian crisis, and much of the game involves potentially becoming the savior the world so desperately needs. If anything, Vampyr feels like the spiritual successor to the beloved cult hit Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines, but with much of that game’s vampire politics replaced by heartfelt interpersonal drama. It’s a story strengthened through the power of choice, with the fate of thousands resting on your ability to sacrifice your needs for the greater good.
Vampyr takes place in England, 1918, at the height of the Spanish flu pandemic. You play as Dr. Jonathan Reid, a renowned doctor just back from the frontlines of World War I. Not even minutes off the boat, he’s violently welcomed back to his homeland by a vampire and subsequently shoveled into a mass grave. When Reid reawakens, confused and stark-raving mad with bloodlust, he attacks the first person he comes across. Before he’s able to process his profound grief and confusion, a guild of vampire hunters chases him off into the night.
How deep you’re able to dive into Vampyr’s narrative rabbit holes depends on your dialogue choices, and whole subplots can be blocked off permanently by not correctly identifying what a patient needs or wants to hear.
Thanks to the help of a sympathetic stranger, your time scared and alone is graciously brief. It’s not long before you’re employed for the night shift at a hospital, and it’s there that you also gain the support of Lady Ashbury, another vampire hiding in plain sight. Once acclimated, Reid aims to come to grips with his afterlife, maybe find a cure for his vampirism, and get some much needed answers as to why he was turned to begin with.
The larger story beats delve deep into the lurid lore you might expect from a turn-of-the-century vampire tale, but it’s not until much later that it becomes the crux of the story. For the majority of the game, Vampyr goes all in on the idea of Reid as an altruistic doctor, a man tirelessly dedicated to the wellbeing of his patients and travelling around town seeing to their various needs. Much of the game involves chatting with fellow hospital employees, patients, and citizens about town, finding out how they’re coping with the epidemic, and building a case file to get to the heart of whatever ails them. Sometimes, their problems can be fixed by simply lending a sympathetic ear. Some troubles can be fixed by concocting a bit of medicine in your lab. But the most engaging quests are resolved by getting down and dirty in an infected area of town, spearheading investigations no living person ever could. How deep you’re able to dive into Vampyr’s narrative rabbit holes depends on your dialogue choices, and whole subplots can be blocked off permanently by not correctly identifying what a patient needs or wants to hear.
Vampyr leans hard into the RPG side of the action-RPG spectrum, and though there’s often a campy texture to the storytelling, it’s very easy to get attached to its motley crew of characters. A factory worker waits on surgery to fix a near-gangrenous arm because his two attending doctors can’t agree on an approach to treatment. A nurse and an ambulance driver rely on Reid to keep their interracial relationship secret. A man becomes an alcoholic due to his survivor’s guilt over an anarchistic plot gone wrong. A non-ordained preacher goes around the city burning the sick alive, believing God told him to cleanse the flu pandemic with fire. Everyone you can converse with has a tale to tell, and the vast majority of them are worth the time it takes to hear them out