The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is an Action RPG developed and published by NeocoreGames for PC and eventually XBLA. The game sees you playing as the son of the Legendary monster hunter alongside either, up to three other players or just yourself and the lovely ghost Katrina as they return to her homeland or Borgovia where a Mad Scientist threatens to upset the natural order of its inhabitants.
The game begins with Van Helsing and his ghostly partner Katarina travelling to Borgovia after receiving a request for help from the resistance there. Along the way they are ambushed by bandits and must fight their way to a nearby town. Upon reaching the town they discover that there is no longer any easy way to Borgovia as the bandits have taken out the bridge that usually leads there. And so begins your quest to help the locals as well as find your way to Borgovia.
As with many Action RPGs, the game follows a pretty standard gameplay mechanic of point and click to hit things. There are generally a lot of creatures on screen at once, all vying for your blood and because of the mechanics present for the different playstyles you don’t feel quite as overwhelmed as in other games. You have your two sets of weapons: melee and ranged or more specifically sword and guns. On top of that there are spells related to each weapons skill tree but you can mix and match a little.
Characters have four attributes: Body, Dexterity, Willpower and Luck. Body is directly related to your maximum health, defence and melee damage, so is the obvious choice for close combat. Dexterity garners you ranged weapon damage and dodge chance. Willpower increases maximum mana and effects spellpower, which does increase damage of spells and can affect the damage of some skills as well. Lastly you have Luck which grants extra changes of finding gold and magic items but also adds a small bonus to dodge and critical hit damage. Katarina also uses the same attributes but willpower only affects her resistance to damage as she doesn’t wield spells.
Defence might be a big part of body but it isn’t just a separate path from the dodging of the ranged characters. Swords of all types have a parry rating allowing you to effectively mitigate damage in the same way that dodge does but it is all tracked as a separate statistic. By having the two different stats it keeps both playstyles relatively damage-proof without them having to take the same attribute specs. There is also quite a large expectation for you use both the healing spell you start off with (bit can replace) and or healing potions very often. The game is far less tight-fisted than most games in the genre and you will be rich beyond need for most of the game, allowing you to spend money on plenty of potions should you need it.
Skills are split into the two different weapon trees, with auras and tricks having their own page to mix and match upgrades that stand on their own. Skills, spells and auto attacks can be enhanced by putting you skill points into the different passive and activated spells and skills. It allows for some customization of skill effects as well but most of that occurs with rage modifiers.
You can always have two skills, two auras and two tricks equipped at once. Auras offer passive affects and once equipped require no further input. Skills are your basic and fancy attacks that you use as and when you please, so long as you have any mana requirement that may be needed. Finally you have the Tricks, they play more like traditional spells but cost nothing to use and are restricted only by cooldown.
Rage is a third resource that you are dependant on, as you kill creatures you gain rage, rage can then be used to enhance an attack or spell with predefined modifiers (if you have any unlocked.) Up to three modifiers can be assigned or one modifier can be assigned up to three times, making it more potent with each stack, obviously you can take any mix of these also. It normally ramps up damage considerably and is great for cutting down enemies more quickly but with some auras and perks handing you bonuses for keeping at maximum rage it becomes a balancing act of keeping rage for when you need it.
Katarina is more than just a follower, she can carry just as much as you can and she has three different combat modes. She has melee, ranged and a third ethereal form that confers resistance bonuses to you. She makes playing the game single player much more manageable as she acts as either a tank, damage dealer or just a buff for your own attacks. She’s an interesting character and aside from the obvious combat benefits she also brings so interesting and sometimes funny dialogue to the game as well. She can also go off and trade items for you and return with some much need potions if you should wish her to.
As per the genre there are plenty of items to pick up of the floor after a scrape of just about any side. Some of the rarer items confer stat bonus that you won’t get easily elsewhere but you can also take weapons to the Forge or Laboratory depending on what you want to do with them. The Lab is mostly used for upgrading and salvaging parts of items (without destroying them) which is incredibly handy and uses an essence system to make sure you can’t power items up too much. The forge lets you combine items of one rarity to create something of equal value, so items aren’t wasted on just being sold.
Monsters come in various forms and luckily there aren’t too many instances of repeated creatures. You might see a lot of one type early on and then sporadically throughout the rest of the game. It doesn’t overuse monsters and quite refreshingly undead are mostly passed by. By the end of the game undead will most likely be the least fought monster type by a very large margin. They are subject to hoarding together, so each fight can easily have upwards of 10 creatures clawing at you.
Tougher monsters tend to come with more buffs to themselves; they tend to have much more health and damage but also crowd control reductions and all sorts of extras. They also will increase your reputation when killed, allowing for interesting perks that benefit you in various ways. Tougher still are the boss fights which vary greatly in difficulty and usually have environmental modifiers to further change the fight. You will most likely find them the most rewarding as defeating them feels much grander than the lesser enemies you’ve gouged your way past.
Co-op can be accessed by taking your character online or creating a character specifically for it. Up to four players can play together and grab their own individual loot and gold, meaning you won’t be fighting over who gets what. You also get to play your story your own way with regards to your dialogue so people won’t stop you from reading over the events by skipping through it. You should also note that you each still get your own Katarina, essentially giving up to eight players to run around and fight the monstrous legions.
Quite heavily story based and written with much banter between the two starring roles, it helps each quest feel like much more than it would otherwise seem, especially with the more clichéd quests. Help greatly by the voice work it works to make each one interesting, sometimes throughout all stages of the quest, as opposed to quest pick up and completion. It is however just the first of three episodes and the ending is a little flat due to leaving it open for the next part of the story.
Presentation and Audio
Everything here looks wonderful; it deals with some industrial Steampunk as well as gothic fantasy structures so well. Each area has its own aesthetic to it and it does look great, it maybe didn’t go far enough with the Ink levels which started out promising but ended up being just groups of disjointed platforms filled with enemies. Voice acting is incredibly good and some of the minor characters have some very strange voices which may or may not be to everyone’s taste. Musically it does remind me of the BBC Sherlock music which is by no means a bad thing.
There is quite a large variety of monsters and they don’t tend to repeat too often either. Combat is as simple or complex as you choose to play so if critical damage ranged weaponry is your thing, then you can do it, if you prefer and more complex spell based melee fighter then that’s there too. Some of the mechanics, especially Rage probably weren’t explained as well as they could have been, which may leave Rage skills neglected by players. Co-op is there if you wish to use it and doesn’t force itself on you.
For something that has already set itself out as part one of three it last a pretty respectable 10-15 hours easily, not counting multiple playthroughs. The combat is enjoyable and leaves you with a fair amount of customization and the variety in the quests is pretty solid. The hidden quests are also quite a delight to seek out and complete as there isn’t much to go on other than the small amount of information you’re given upon finding an aspect of it for the first time. It’s not hard to recommend at all and multiple playthroughs with and without friends should help it last a little longer until the next instalment releases.
Van Helsing sets itself apart by feeling more story focused. That’s not to say that other games of this genre don’t have it but I feel like this was one of the more major points of the game. The story behind each quest was interesting enough for me to care and feel involved, it also helps that the dialogue and voice acting is good. I do enjoy these games immensely and tend towards spell-less characters that tend to auto attack and little else, this let me do that very efficiently and overall it’s probably my favourite of the genre so far. While I did enjoy Torchlight 2, this connects better with me, probably due to it having more of a story focus.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.