Move over, Diablo
There are a lot of things you can buy with $15 – two panini sandwiches or a shirt from Forever21 that will disintegrate after its first wash – but there are few things in life that lead you to believe you got a really good deal for $15. In the case of The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, I was pleasantly surprised with how little I spent for such a great game.
At first glance, Van Helsing appears to be a Diablo III clone. The isometric vantage point mimics Blizzard’s action RPG, and the combat, inventory management and looting all add to the comparison. A notable difference in the gameplay, however, is how you can quickly switch between playing ranged or melee.
The story in Van Helsing is simple – there’s an evil scientist conducting vile experiments in Borgovia, and it’s up to you, the son of the original Van Helsing and Lady Katarina to shut him down (better live up to expectations! Your dad was only the most famous monster hunter in fiction ever, no big deal). Along the way, you can pick up side quests which include running errands for people that can offer you permanent power-ups. There aren’t any cutscenes, but the lack does not detract from the story. Tiny bits of story are revealed through dialogue with NPCs, transitions into a new environment, and through side quests. I was curious to reach the end of The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, but the beautiful environment design, epic loot drops, character customization kept me hooked.
The skill trees are extensive – there are passives you can add points into and two actives you can combo together to decimate your foes with. These active skills each have three additional bonuses you can level up. The passives can be leveled up according to your melee or ranged playstyle. At one point, I was sending out chains of lightning while my co-op partner ran around with a ring of fire, tanking all the damage.
In addition to being a badass monster slayer, you have a sexy ghost companion, Lady Katarina, who can help you. You can make her attacks ranged or melee or just have her absorb damage for you. The banter between you and Lady Katarina is dynamic and entertaining throughout, and the environment is littered with hilarious easter eggs. I especially like how there is no romance hinted between the two at all; they’re just here to fight monsters, right the world, and pick up some shiny loot.
Regarding the combat, I found each type of enemy to be unique – some enemies are resistant to lightning, some enemies are agile, some are fire resistant, and some teleport or hook you into them. Luckily, you are adequately equipped to handle all kinds of crazy monsters, and the best way to do this is by swapping out which abilities you are using to clear enemy areas quickly. You also have passive abilities and “tricks” you can equip; there’s a passive lifesteal or manasteal and an active heal or dash you can use depending on your playstyle. There are eight different ones you can mix, match and upgrade with skill points. With all these options to choose from, the combat never became tedious for me. I was always switching my special abilities (I used fire and my arcane beam of destruction the most) and dashing around to snipe my enemies, occasionally switching to melee if the enemies started swarming around me.
I’m not a huge fan of constant loot management. I don’t enjoy spending a bulk of my time sorting through all my loot to see which hat gives me more dexterity and mana regeneration. In Van Helsing, I can quickly manage what I want to keep and what I want to sell, because I could tell Katarina to automatically pick up epic or rare loot and just browse her inventory. There were also a lot of interesting unidentified items to discover, which made the looting more exciting. Who doesn’t want to pick up an unidentified ring from an NPC with “Baggins” in the name?
Despite my high praise for this game, the bugs encountered during co-op play sessions were particularly annoying. My partner struggled to join my game if we got disconnected for even a second. His game crashed a few times when he tried to join after getting booted from the game. At one point he was getting an error prompt about the Steam Cloud not being able to sync properly due to the crashes. Luckily we were able to reconnect by rebooting our computers, but if we hadn’t been able to figure that out, my partner would have wasted his 10+ hours of co-op with me. By joining someone else’s co-op game, you don’t have your own save file to play single player.
But if you aren’t playing this game in co-op, the only major issue I had was the incredibly long loading times the first four to five hours of gameplay. I was unsure if my game was frozen; it also crashed once while trying to load. I did not have this problem after the first few hours of gameplay, but unnecessarily long load times seems to be a problem for many besides myself.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing was entertaining and fun. While it didn’t break any new ground in the action RPG genre, I thought it was a great representation of how this type of gameplay could continue to be interesting and not end up being repetitive after five hours.
Tested on PC