When it comes to dungeon crawlers, there’s a titan that reigns supreme above all others: Diablo. From its inception in the mid-90s to the excellent entry that Diablo 3 has become after four years of updates, it’s nearly impossible to talk about the genre without making some kind of comparison to Blizzard’s juggernaut franchise.
Yet despite Diablo’s mastery of the isometric RPG genre, other developers have carved out their own impressive niches, adding ever-evolving creativity to the gaming landscape. From Runic Games’ Torchlight series to the free-to-play Path of Exile by Grinding Gear Games, developers have found ways to take dungeon crawling to new heights.
With its second offering into the franchise on consoles, Neocore games brings back the titular Van Helsing for another romp through the monster-infested land of Borgovia. Having released on PC in 2014, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II follows its predecessor in making the jump to the Xbox. Through the change of platform, Van Helsing II also faces the tremendous challenge of making a game originally designed for a mouse and keyboard work with a controller, which brings about some unfortunate issues.
To start with, targeting enemies ranges from being somewhat tedious to outright game breaking. Players’ frustration levels will vary depending on which class they’ve chosen and their preferred style of play. A melee-focused player using the hunter class, for instance, likely won’t have any issues targeting enemies since the dual-blade hacking and slashing doesn’t require much precision.
Switch to the magic-based thaumaturge, however, and not being able to reliably target specific enemy threats means you’ll likely die – a lot. The thaumaturge is the ultimate glass cannon, firing off crushing spells and crowd-control effects like a one-person fireworks show. In turn, one or two serious enemy attacks are all it takes to see your character’s body crumpled in a heap on screen. Making matters worse, attacks appear to have a fixed range, so as convenient as it would be to put down that wall a fire just a little closer, it’s just not going to happen.
Targeting issues aside, Van Helsing II throws up a kaleidoscope of methods to incinerate, slash, shock, crush and otherwise demolish your enemies. The arcane mechanic rounds out the class selection with the previously mentioned hunter and thaumaturge, with each class offering a wide array of customization options.
When it works, Van Helsing II delivers a satisfying, addictive experience, making you feel like the greatest monster hunter the world has ever known. When it doesn’t work, you feel like your enemies’ dartboard. The two extremes generally balance themselves out, with the game providing s relative degree of balance in combat.
That balance is mirrored by the three classes, and it’s a testament to the developers that none of them fall into most fantasy tropes, blending traditional RPG classes with a steampunk twist. For example, the arcane mechanic has a skill tree that focuses heavily on summoning, but all of its summons are steam-powered, robotic creatures. Likewise, the hunter boasts twin blades but also has the ability to dual-wield flintlock pistols and rifles.
The theme works well, but it provides an unexpected issue for Van Helsing II. Since most of the game aims for a steampunk motif, swathes of its colors are dull, sepia tones. That means enemies, allies, summoned creatures and even weapons all blend into the background with alarming frequency, and when combined with the targeting issues, sections of the game spike to an unintended difficulty simply because you can’t see what you’re attacking.
Graphical maladies notwithstanding, Van Helsing II’s presentation is sharp, crisp and genuinely thoughtful. Pop culture references abound, and without spoiling too much, intrepid gamers will spot nods to The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Monty Python, and even Angry Birds within the first several hours.
Additionally, the game’s audio is superb. A haunting soundtrack and dedicated work from voice actors help breathe life into the world of Borgovia.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II won’t knock your socks off with its revolutionary gameplay or graphics, but it most certainly holds its own in the genre, and for fans of action RPGs, Van Helsing II is worth a look.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II on the Xbox One earns 3.5 GiN Gems out of 5.