GAME NAME: The Incredible Adventures Of Van Helsing
GENRE(S): Action RPG
RELEASE DATE(S): 22nd May 2013
ARPG’s have swallowed an almost alarming amount of my life. The Diablo series, Titan Quest, Dungeon Siege, Torchlight…. it’s an impressive list. Since Torchlight however, ARPG’s have become much more common and these days we have a steady stream of good games entering the market. One of the latest comes from Hungarian developer NeocoreGames in the form of The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing. Van Helsing, a vampire hunter first featured in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, found time to breed between slaying all manner of nasty monsters, and now his son has taken over the family business. It’s 19th Century steampunk Europe and the land of Borgovia is overrun with foul beasts, so Junior and his ghostly companion Katarina must slay the hordes of evil beasts and keep the people safe.
Van Helsing is a shameless Diablo clone, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Gameplay is the familiar “clickfest” with fast and frantic combat, imagine a more streamlined Diablo 3. Van Helsing has two main combat options, with either a melee (swords) or ranged (guns) focus, switched between at the press of a button. You can try to level both as you progress, but I found that this approach means you then specialise in neither, which can hamper progress later. With your ghostly companion Lady Katarina also upgradable in combat proficiency, I found a better approach to be alternating combat focus between them, allowing one to draw aggro while the other hits from distance. Your main attack is the left mouse button, while magic is the right. No hotkeys for magic however, instead you’ll swap between two magic attacks via the tab key, which means really keeping an eye on your loadout.
As it’s an RPG, Van Helsing grows in abilities as you kill more and more monsters. Earn XP, level up, unlock new skills, it’s a story as old as time. When you do level up you’ll be awarded points to raise your core attributes (body, dexterity, willpower and luck), skill points to unlock and improve your abilities via a skill tree, and finally a point for trick and auras, which represent special abilities, both of a passive and active nature, that you’ll pick up from interacting with NPC’s scattered throughout Borgovia. While the skill tree isn’t the most varied or imaginative, it does offer enough abilities and boosts to allow for a decent scope of customisation, especially once you begin to make use of the rage-activated power ups. As you butcher the masses of enemies, you’ll accumulate rage, and with a simple press of the space bar during combat, your next attack will be supercharged with rage, doing extra damage to anyone unfortunate enough to be close by. With crazy high damage boosts offered by rage, it’s a powerful weapon you’ll have to master if you hope to tame the wilds of Borgovia.
The other way you’ll improve both Van Helsing and Lady Katarina is through the use of equipment. Weapons and clothing/armour can be found almost everywhere, as you would expect it a loot driven ARPG and if you are a loot junkie like me then you’ll spend many hours chasing that elusive unique item with just the right stat buffs to ensure your build is just right. While Katarina uses less equipment than Van Helsing, it’s also possible to spec her outto suit your playstyle. That’s the important thing about skill progression in The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, while it doesn’t boast the depth of other systems, there is enough variance to offer variation in both style and approach, it helps keep things feeling new and fresh, even past a complete playthrough.
Speaking of Lady Katarina, she’s an interesting addition to the game. Combining both the pet role from Torchlight and the AI controlled companion role from any number of games, Katarina is a great little character, full of jibes and banter for Van Helsing while also being more than capable of holding her own in combat. She can carry a bunch of loot for you, and if required take it to a store, sell it and even pick you up a list of supplies, as long as you provide her with a list. You can even tailor her approach to combat, choosing whether she is aggressive and attacks enemies or hangs back and protects Van Helsing, especially handy if you go for a more ranged Van Helsing so don’t want enemies getting on top of you.
As with previous Neocore titles, the world in The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is incredibly well realised. Gorgeous artwork is prevalent in creating the steampunk 19th century European landscapes and characters, while the enemies are great depictions of monsters of lore, both popular and more than a few that perhaps you won’t have heard of without a keen interest in the subject. While some of the locations are slightly cliched, they are cliches for a reason, they fit perfectly with the vibe of the game so I don’t see this as a negative. Both main characters, Van Helsing and Lady Katarina, while well designed, could have done with a little more attention with regards to how their loadouts affect their appearance, with colour changes being the only real noticeable difference between a large range of loot, which is a real pity as the changes in character appearance can be a real pay off for the constant hunt for new loot.
While the single player is The Incredible Adventures is good, it’s really good in fact, Neocore went and got adventurous and implemented online co-op. However, despite the inclusion of a companion character, co-op players do not take control of Lady Katarina, which I think would have been really cool, but instead a second Van Helsing. An identical Van Helsing. With another Lady Katarina in tow. While slight colour variances can help slightly in differentiating the characters, it can become confusing during the midst of battle. In reality however, that’s the least of your problems. Despite multiple patches at this point, the online multiplayer in The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is broken, almost to the point of non-functionality. It pains me to say this, because otherwise it’s a fine game, but weeks after launch Neocore still can’t get things working. It has improved since launch admittedly, it didn’t function at all back in May, but even now, more than a month later, you’ll be lucky to get more than a hour of gameplay in before crashing back to desktop of experiencing a hardlock requiring a system reset. Every attempt to test online multiplayer resulted in nothing but frustration for me, despite testing with multiple prospective partners, including three different friends. For this functionality to be so badly broken, even after a number of patches, is bitterly disappointing, especially given how polished the single player campaign feels.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing wasn’t a surprise for me, I’d been following development since the early days and was expecting something really good, but for many it will be a fun surprise. Diablo has many pretenders, Torchlight and Titan Quest chief among them, and Van Helsing isn’t too far off that exceptionally high standard, when taken purely as a single player game. Gorgeous artwork, and a fitting score featuring tracks that feel very Eastern European help to give the solid, enjoyable single player campaign real depth. However, the failure and/or inability to address many of the glaring bugs in multiplayer really bring the game down, much as I wish this wasn’t the case. I’ve spoken at length before about my distaste for a numerical scoring system and this is the perfect example of why I feel that system is terribly flawed. For the single player content I’d score The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing an eight, but given the problems I faced trying to play online co-op, that number has to take a tumble, probably to a six. This feels wrong though, for many this simply won’t be an issue, many will simply play their way through the very enjoyable single player campaign and never encounter the major problems I did. However, I cannot in good conscience ignore the issues, because they are major. Instead, I’ll urge those looking for a good ARPG to weigh the pros and cons, take into account the attractive price point on Steam and perhaps view Van Helsing as nothing more than a single player experience. With luck Neocore will learn from this experience and the next game in the series, already announced, will iron out these issues. I’ll certainly be there, ready to check it out.
Fancy checking out The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing for yourself? As is customary here at hit-reset.co.uk, we’ve got a few copies to give away, in the form of Steam codes. Entry is simple, leave us a comment below, on our Facebook page, tweet us or on our Google+ page, letting us know what monsters that went bump in the night scared you as a kid! We’ll select three winners later today!