A Vampire Game To Sink Your Teeth Into
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One thing that's been plaguing those who love isometric view hack n' slash games is constant comparison to one of the most popular in the genre: Diablo. With the backlash surrounding Diablo III, these comparison were at an all time high, considering the game was lovingly referred to as Diablows III (many people tell me I do not understand what lovingly means). That being said, it's really difficult to explain the systems in these games without at least correlating similar games that have done roughly the same. While comparing directly to Titan Quest or Torchlight II might be a bit heavy-handed, is the Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing in the same boat as Fate or Loki? Let's find out.
In The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, you play as the son of the legendary monster hunter who slew vampires as the arch-nemesis of Dracula. While most good campaign stories begin in a tavern (Dungeons and Dragons reference, for those not amused), The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing begins with a letter and a brief exposition on the various accomplishments of Abraham Van Helsing and his undead compatriot, Katarina. The overall plot to the game is a pretty cookie-cutter "Go kill the bad things" storyline, but the dialogue between Van Helsing and Katarina, let alone some of the more...odd NPCs, is worth a listen. Katarina tends to take lead for humorous dialogue, functioning as a decent foil to the more serious main character, which is appreciated given how little meat there actually is in the plot as a whole.
The music of The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is extremely fitting, though not entirely memorable. Each track very well fits the steampunk gothic aesthetic put forth by the game's environments, all of which just blends well together while hunting down vampires and mad scientists. The sound effects give a very satisfying squish when enemies explode into piles of loot, but the true idea on which to judge the sound is the dialogue. All of the conversations in the game are cleverly voiced, and one advantage this game has is that it doesn't take itself too seriously, Katarina usually having a one-liner or two that would warrant a chuckle from even the most sour of players.
Micromanagement is the draw to playing the Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing: The player character has two separate sets of weapons, pistols and swords, and the weapons can be swapped on the fly by pressing the R key (which can be changed in the settings) so that efficiency isn't lost when being swarmed by enemies that were being shot from a screen's distance away just a second before.
For each new action skill the player learns, skill points can also be spent on three new modifiers that expend the Rage meter for additional bonuses. These bonuses can be stacked up to three times by using more of the Rage meter, and have effects such as healing the player five percent of the damage dealt per stack (for a maximum of 15 percent healed, which is actually a big deal) or increasing the damage of the next attack by 50 percent per stack for a max of 150 percent additional damage. These modifiers can easily be set to the space bar at the number of stacks you want, which is extremely handy and keeps you from having to play Dance Dance Revolution with your keyboard if you get overwhelmed during boss fights by having to press or click a whole bunch of additional buttons, ruining efficiency.
The player can also swap between two sets of action skill attacks per weapon by pressing the tab key, perhaps using one set of attacks that are powerful against one single target and having another set in case the player becomes swarmed by foes. Access to a grand total of four attack sets, having access to any two at a time, can be a bit much to keep track of, especially if you're not finding good defensive equipment in the early game. Thankfully, even the F number keys can be used for action skills, giving players multiple ways of getting acclimated to conquering the swarms of rusalkas and werewolves that run rampant in this game.
As mentioned before, Katarina is the companion of the player-controlled Van Helsing. In fact, she's the only companion of the player character, which is unusual for this type of game that normally allows for multiple companions. Thankfully, the players have more control over Katarina than they probably would with many other games of this type. Like Helsing, she has both ranged attack and melee modes, and even a third mode that essentially removes her from combat and provides the player's character with some buffs, which can be handy to activate in a pinch since it raises his resistances to damage. Of course, should you want Van Helsing to focus more on melee combat you can set Katarina to attack from afar, and the opposite scenario holds true as well.
Both Katarina and Van Helsing gain attribute and skill points upon level up, though the attributes and skills mean very different things for each character. Van Helsing's skills are more for, well, killing things, while Katarina's are always supporting Van Helsing in some manner, such as draining enemy health and sending it to Helsing when she deals damage and things of that nature. Van Helsing has two separate skill pages, each with their own skill trees, one page for swords and one for guns, plus a third page for bonus skills called tricks that can heal Van Helsing or provide passive buffs. Note that specializing in one skill tree (meaning mostly sticking to guns or swords) provides some decent passive buffs for every 10 points placed into a tree that are cumulative, so at least in this game it can pay to specialize rather than be a jack of all trades. Players can, however, use a respec later if they don't like the point distribution.
On top of even all of the above, as players kill bosses and complete quests, they gain levels of fame. Each fame level up allows the player to take a singular, but commonly very impressive, permanent buff like adding a whole additional inventory page, or a 20 percent buff on all resistances.
Much of the above, of course, is speaking of the actual game mechanics for combat. Game flow is mostly of the nature of witty banter between Van Helsing and Katarina. Speak to a random quest-giver, go somewhere to accomplish said task, come back and claim a reward, level up, profit. Many games like this have very similar progression models, and The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing doesn't do much to make itself stand out from the crowd on that subject there. The main draw to this game is the loot, and there's lots of it to be had.
Crafting exists in the game too, allowing you to make your own weapons, armor and accessories by simply recycling several you have of the same rarity, which can be a useful thing to use with normally worthless equipment once you no longer need to sell the gear for money. Weapons with, Essence Capacity can be enhanced by various components found throughout the world up to a certain limit, and essence materials can be strengthened by a similar process as forging new equipment. Items with Essence Capacity are somewhat rare, and are an important step toward maxing out a particular character.
There are additional modes players can enjoy while partaking of the game's campaign, such as Scenario mode which lets you take on harder enemies for more experience and loot, and an online multiplayer component. As it stands as of writing this review, the online multiplayer is a little bit wonky, sometimes working, sometimes not, other times allowing a non-host player to receive quest rewards multiple times! The developer has made a constant effort toward patching the game regularly to fix glitches and holes in netcode, and it's been an extremely pleasant experience to see a developer working hard at a game after they had received money for it. Even with that in mind, the post-game, a major complaint for games such as Diablo, is still quite lacking. The length is right about where it should be for a $15 title and there's loads of content to keep a player entertained, but those wishing for a fulfilling min-max grinding experience may prefer to look at Torchlight II instead.
So, the bottom line? The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is quite the solid hack n' slash RPG, with solid systems and lots to do while playing. The game is a little on the short side, but the main draw of games such as these is to play them multiple times to collect the best loot. For its price, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is a great value for those who may have already burned themselves out on Diablo III or Torchlight II, or maybe just don't want to play the aforementioned. Those who haven't played a Diablo-style game as well as those who are veterans of Titan Quest may be kept entertained by the witty banter and micromanagement during combat.
One thing is for certain, however, that this game is most assuredly nowhere near as bad as the Hugh Jackman movie from 2004, and for that we can all be thankful. In fact, this Van Helsing earns a respectable 4 our of 5 GiN Gems. So get out there and start vampire hunting.
Vincent is an RPG lover and masochist who constantly gets beaten in online fighting games. When in doubt, Shoryuken or Megidolaon. You can write him at : PookandPie@gmail.com.