The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing Review (PC)
Ah…top down ARPG Hack and slash’s, what a love hate relationship we have! The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is an Action Role-Playing Hack and Slash (think Diablo or Torchlight) game that has been created by Neocore Games – A company that prior to this Van Helsing game have developed Crusaders and King Arthur: The Role-playing Wargame.
The game is based on the Van Helsing Universe (in case that wasn’t obvious from the games title). I’ve unfortunately never read Bram Stokers Dracula (doh!). Thus I can’t really compare the worlds, however from the get-go the game gives off a very distinct gothic steam-punk theme similar to the 2004 Van Helsing movie. The game starts out with a map traversing intro sequence (that I felt was awesome). It’s the type with a long-winded monologue. This sets the scene for the player to take the position as Abraham Van Helsing’s son, who is taking the place of his currently retired father on a quest to an area of the world called Borgovia to help cleanse the area of monsters. On this adventure of epic proportions you’re accompanied by the Helsing family’s trusty ghost companion Katarina – a dead noble that once resided in wonderful Borgovia. Throughout the game there’s reasonably entertaining dialogue between the two companions which helps to alleviate the drudgery that ARPG’s can sometimes exhibit.
The games progression is linear, following a main quest line with various extra side quests on your way to completion. As you progress through the game you’ll encounter various bosses which are probably the most enjoyable part of the game. Enemies you encounter in the game have difficulty ratings represented by colours. Even after playing upwards of 20 hours I’m still not entirely sure of the hierarchy. However it tends to go that blue or red equals scary. Enemy’s within the game come in a variety shapes and sizes, from werewolves to clockwork men to giant abominations.
The games story isn’t anything great. It’s standard RPG fare: a bad guy taking over an area and now the hero must whoop his ass, but with a slight Van Helsing style make over. Through the game there are various pop culture references, such as fighting the killer bunny from Monty Pythons Holy Grail. They are enjoyable and quirky when you find them but nothing special.
The overall game play is pretty much just a slightly different spin on every other ARP Hack and Slash game ever, which is unfortunate as in recent years the market for this type of game has become over-saturated with Diablo style clones. The genre needs a serious push in a new direction (but then again what genre doesn’t?).
Anyhow the player controls the character from an Isometric view point and can point and left-click with the mouse on the environment to move around. The player can attack by left-clicking or right-clicking on the various enemies within the game. Left clicking uses your characters basic attack and right clicking uses your currently selected special skill. The player has a choice to switch between a ranged state and close quarters state whenever they wish by pressing the R key. This allows the player to quickly engage/disengage at a moment notice. Unfortunately, the only weapon types in the game are 2H/Duel Wield Swords, Pistols and Rifles (no crossbow!). Admittedly more weapon types wouldn’t expand on the game much, but variety is the spice of life and all that.
Sadly you’re only allowed a single skill per attack state alongside your basic attack. This means that you can have cleave for a melee state and a chain lightning style spell for ranged state but then you’re incapable of having fireball + chain lightning. This is slightly irritating as it means you’ve never really got a huge amount of flexibility with your skill set up as you’re always going to have one melee skill and one ranged skill. There are two other slots that can either be taken up by a one-use skill (a trick) or a passive aura. The one use skills tend to be things like heal or dash, whereas the auras increase things like critical damage and attack speed.
The character also has a set of stats that govern how effective they are in certain situations, such as life, mana, dodge etc. These stats are combined into 4 larger governing types that you can put points into to increase. These are called Body, Dexterity, Will Power and Luck. Body increases your characters melee damage, health and defence. Dexterity increases your characters ranged damage and dodge. Will Power increases your mana points and spell power. Luck increases your gold find, magic find, dodge and critical strike damage.
Other than these primary stats there is a rage gauge. The Rage gauge fills up as you kill enemies. Rage allows you to add on extra effect to your primary skills by pressing ‘1’ , ‘2’ or ‘3’ for specific skills, or space to select one of each. There are three skill effects and you can add one per skill (including your basic attack types). The three effects vary per skill, but increased damage and stun tend to be pretty standard. There are also things like life steal or bleed effects.
This is probably the most unique mechanic within the game, but I feel it could have been given more importance. Think Magicka! The skill tree is broken into three different groups, one for melee “Mystic Warrior”, one for ranged “Occult Hunter” and the last for tricks and auras called…wait for it… “Tricks and Auras”. Each of these holds a variety of passive and activate-able skills. Overall the skill trees are relatively small but work perfect for this game. For every level your character gains you can place five points into your stats or three into your skill tree.
Your companion Katarina works in an extremely similar way to Van Helsing, but her skill tree doesn’t have one use skills. Instead she has a variety of passive auras and effects that boost either her or Van Helsing’s stats. She also has the same stat page as Van Helsing. When Katarina levels she gains the same amount of skill points as Van Helsing, but 3 less stat points. You can also set how her AI behaviour.
The items and equipment in the game are the standard RPG types: weapons, helmets, gloves, rings, trinkets etc. alongside potions, essence and gold. The equipment boosts your basic stats with flat values for the most part, with some adding % bonuses. The equipment is of course colour coded to show rarity. Potions are used for healing and mana regeneration. Gold is used for buying things from the various town vendors. You can also enhance your gear with extra stats like HP, body etc. via essence that you pick up. Essence essentially works like Diablo/World of Warcraft gems. You can attach a certain number of them to certain types of gear that has an Essence Capacity value. The colour and type doesn’t seem to matter and you must go to a vendor and pay a fee to get them attached to your gear. The last vendor type is an equipment combiner in which you put 3 items of the same rarity and get another item of the same rarity out. There are options later in the game to increase the effectiveness of the combiner.
I initially played the game on hard difficulty, which is the third difficulty setting out of four difficulties. It posed a reasonable challenge for the first couple of levels. However the difficulty tailored off really quickly, and I’m not sure if this is because of my pro skillz at character building.
Unfortunately the game is still slightly buggy in areas, but is still extremely playable. The developers are releasing patches to fix bugs daily. However I did run into one of the larger game wrecking bugs I’ve found within a game to date (besides the ones I’ve created…). Essentially I’d gotten stuck within an event that occured during the main quest arc and couldn’t move further on into the game with that specific character. The reason for this is that a few of the enemies had fallen through the floor and you have to kill them to move on. Not only that, but I exited the game in the hopes that they’d re-spawn above ground but all that succeeded in doing was getting me locked inside the Hub-town.
I unfortunately couldn’t test the multiplayer co-op while playing as the game was released without the functionality fully operational, and as such it is nigh impossible to create or join a co-op game right now.
Overall The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is a reasonably enjoyable ARP Hack and Slash game with a semi-decent story. However in this day and age reasonably enjoyable isn’t exactly enough to cut it when there is a plethora of other outstanding ARP Hack and Slash’s out there. But for the £11.99 price tag it’s not a bad buy, just not the best. Pick it up if you are a hardcore ARP hack and slash fan or have some free time to burn and perhaps some friends to play with when the co-op is finally fixed.
3 Igor’s out of 5The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing Review (PC),