The series takes a few step backwards with Van Helsing II.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing 2 is an action-role playing game, where players take the role of the legendary monster hunter Van Helsing. Playing from a top-down perspective similar to that of Diablo and Torchlight, players familiar with this genre of games will know what to expect when going into such a game. The sad fact here however is that Van Helsing doesn’t do anything unique in the matter of gameplay, nor does it bring anything new to the genre. With the large quantity of top-down RPGs that flood the gates of the Steam store, there’s nothing special within this game other than it’s lore and universe, that makes it standout amongst the crowd, or present anything loud enough for it be considered over anything else even remotely similar.
While Van Helsing isn’t exactly a bad game or broken mechanically in anyway, the only audience the game is likely to attract or spark up any real interest in, lies within those who have already played through the first game, and enjoyed it enough to continue the journey on through it’s sequel. Playing in a typical RPG fashion the base mechanics and gameplay here are all but too familiar, and there’s nothing to suggest the game would present anything of interest, or bring about any change upon going further on into it’s story. After spending a fair number of hours with the title, my earlier guess was correct and this didn’t surprise me.
"With a hovering ghost of lady named Katerina, floating beside the body of the main protagonist, who for some unknown reason is trapped under a rock, my mind immediately flipped and wondered what the hell just happened?"
Van Helsing 2 seems to present a steep barrier of entry into the series and this doesn’t lie within it’s gameplay nor it’s generic use of it. It lies within its story. After deciding between the five levels of difficulty and siding with a pre-made character over a custom created one, the story that was presented to me through the use narrative spoken cut-scenes, was about as mediocre as it was difficult to become attached to. The main problem with the introduction of the game is that it requires knowledge of what took place within the first game, and the flashback explanation as to why the sequel is taking place, didn’t present a justifiable reason for me to become invested. For those unfamiliar with the stories of Van Helsing, he’s a monster slaying tough-guy, son of Abraham Van Helsing, based on the Dracula novels written by Bram Stoker.
After learning of an ongoing war between inhuman creatures and Van Helsing’s return to Borgova, where he fought alongside members of a resistance compiled by humans and immortals, I still felt like I had a requirement to fulfill that would involve me playing through the first game. The good thing here is that the narrative dialogue that’s telling the story is great. The tone feels right and it attempts to take itself serious. Being flung directly into gameplay directly afterwards however, is where the tone and expectations of the game fell apart.
With a hovering ghost of lady named Katerina, floating beside the body of the main protagonist, who for some unknown reason is trapped under a rock, my mind immediately flipped and wondered what the hell just happened? Did I accidentally press skip during the opening scene? By the words of Lady Katerina “Now that’s what I call an explosion!”. The once serious tone that game placed over my initial perception had now disappeared. I had no idea who this woman was, what explosion took place, and how the two characters know each other. Again, the obligated feeling to know what happened within the first game, kept appearing mandatory.
"The missions that make use of these features fail to provide enough variety to make it all worthwhile. For the most part it's defending a location alongside soldiers and your ghostly companion, and attacking areas within the map that belong to your enemies."
During a conversation that takes place between Van Helsing and Lady Katerina whereby the game informs of you hints, tips and controls on how to play and interact. Van Helsing says something that ties directly into it’s gameplay, and honestly, I don’t know whether this was a credit to his skill of hunting, or a pun as to how generic and basic it’s gameplay actually is. The character is required to gather his items and weapons and Van Helsing responds with “It’s not the equipment that makes the hunter”. This ironically enough segways into it’s combat and to how I spent the rest of my time playing the entire game.
There’s nothing whatsoever within the game’s menus, skill charts, or combat choices that ever required me to press more than my two fingers by the use of the mouse. Every single thing within the game was quicker to access and simplified enough that I never needed to use keyboard shortcuts. If continuous clicking, dull gameplay mechanics, and the lack of sophisticated combat is what makes such a great hunter then my feeling of skill progression as the player is immediately invalid. The combat itself involves the use of ranged magical attacks such as lightning and fire, paired up with close-quarter combat with swords and pistols. While the game provides new gear and weapons for the character as you level up through the means of combat and looting, which in turn provides skill points.
The missions that make use of these features fail to provide enough variety to make it all worthwhile. For the most part it’s defending a location alongside soldiers and your ghostly companion, and attacking areas within the map that belong to your enemies. Side quests are also available for your time with the game and play fairly similar to those of the main mission goals. Van Helsing 2 does do well in involving the player with the game however, and this is through the means of player-based decisions where you can decide how the game’s tactical missions will play out, and this is mainly down to handing out orders, or having soldiers fulfil side quests. The more involved you are within everything that takes place the better the character is for skills and progressions.
"One thing that cannot be denied however is the visual properties of the game, and how well it scales accordingly to the output of it's performance."
As lady Katerina fights alongside Van Helsing , she too also gains progression and skill points, that are available for the player to spend so she can provide better assistance when fighting enemy creatures within the game. While lady Katerina is directly controllable, you don’t ever feel the need to have this amount of control as she does a fairly good job of aiding you in battle. Personal play-style is something of a large and important factor in gaming, but more so to RPGs, it’s all about choice. Van Helsing 2 caters greatly to this is in it’s character classes. The Hunter is the most obvious choice for the game as that’s where game’s image is most prominent, and is also the image of Van Helsing.
Thau-Maturge which favors magical attacks as it’s primary choice, and the Archane Mechanic which makes more use of guns and explosions. Where gameplay appears to be something of a mixed bag in terms of enjoyability, that may lie solely in personal preference to how systems work in the game, this may vary with the game’s chosen difficulty. Progression and combat scale up or down accordingly, so this can have a drastic effect as to how different people take to the game.
One thing that cannot be denied however is the visual properties of the game, and how well it scales accordingly to the output of it’s performance. In it’s most basic and lowest graphical settings, Van Helsing 2 is by no means an eye sore, nor does it look outdated. Cranking the settings up however, with not much effect on how it performs, means the game is very scalable and will run and look great regardless of your system’s configuration.
"With the game's storyline aside and the barrier of entry remaining quite high, my only real gripe with the game is that it fails on a mechanical level of delivering anything new within it's skills, progression levels and combat controls."
Van Helsing 2 isn’t eye watering gorgeous and it isn’t intent on breaking any limitations for the best looking game of the year. But the visual effects of magic, fire, explosions, and the general atmosphere of the game has it’s own personal style, and molds in well with its own theme and setting. I have no doubt The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing 2 will capture the interests of those who previously played through the first game, and have been looking forward to it’s sequel. For those looking to join the party without the slightest of what’s exactly going on, my personal suggestion is to play through the first game and get yourself updated on the background information of what the series entails.
With the game’s storyline aside and the barrier of entry remaining quite high, my only real gripe with the game is that it fails on a mechanical level of delivering anything new within it’s skills, progression levels and combat controls. As I said previously there’s nothing new, innovative or ground-breaking that sets this game apart from other action-rpg. This is disappointing and not only to The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, but to the genre as a whole. Some could argue that if it’s not broken don’t fix it, but to that I pose a more important question. Have top-down action-rpgs hit a brick wall for gameplay mechanics and innovation?
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Interesting scenarios and familiar gameplay will have returning players from the original game feeling right at home.
Knowledge of the game's storyline and character from the previous game in the series presents a barrier of entry for newcomers.
While there's enough content to keep players satisfied, the indistinguishability residing within it's control scheme and gameplay mechanics, make the experience feel all too similar to other games within the same genre.