The fact this isn’t a movie tie-in should be back of the box feature
Van Helsing is a Diablo-esque action-RPG from Neocore Games. While the film ‘Van Helsing’ was a mindless action-fest that numbed the brains of anyone foolish enough to go near it, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing brings some polish and structure to a genre that seems to have lost its way in recent times.
Unlike most similar games, you don’t get to pick a class in Van Helsing. You are always Van Helsing (the son of the famous one) and are always joined by a ghostly companion. If you play in co-op with up to three other people, you’ll all be Van Helsing, and you’ll all be joined by ghostly companions. Where your customisation comes in is with your skill trees and weapon choices. You can easily switch between them but you’ll find yourself specialising in either melee with a sword or ranged with a collection of firearms. In addition there’s a whole array of spells to help you on your way although it could be difficult to focus purely on these due to rate at which mana is drained.
Rather than being an open-ended grindfest, Van Helsing presents a clear and interesting story as you cut your way across the countryside, helping towns and fighting monsters. There’s numerous sidequests and great open areas, but there’s definitely more of a sense of direction than in the early Diablo games. There’s even well-voiced cut-scenes and conversations throughout your journey.
The real focus of any game like this is the combat and this is where Van Helsing really shines. Even early on there’s a great deal of strategy to what you’re doing, as early bosses and enemies make good use of heavily-damaging aoe attacks and debuffs. This forces you to keep moving and adapt your plans. You can use extra abilities gained by spending skillpoints to accent each attack, even in combos so you might want to spend some of your energy to prepare your next shot to be explosive and do double damage, or have an extra slowing effect for example. The key-bindings and macros to set these up are really simple to learn and amazingly effective in battle. If there’s a couple of you you’ll quickly work your way into certain roles with one slowing and debuffing enemies while another wades in to take out the weakest members. Both of you automatically have a healing ability that can heal you both on a cooldown so communication is key to survive. I strongly recommend you start playing on the ‘hard’ difficulty in order to get the most out of the combat. The challenge really is everything in this game.
Your ghostly companion is much more useful than she might appear and serves a number of uses in the game. She can attack enemies for you of course, but then she can also collect up items and go sell them like the pets in Torchlight. She can also be customised so her behaviour suits your needs. You can ask her to defend you, or attack the enemies, you can ask her to focus on slowing them or attack the weakest members, you can even specify which kinds of loot she’s willing to pick up. All of this means your own playstyle is entirely up to you and while the lack of classes might be seen as a negative, there’s actually a lot of freedom here. Thankfully there’s nothing lost if she dies either short of the DPS she was doing. She’ll simply turn to a ghost form and then return after a cooldown.
Loot- wise there’s quite a range in terms of stats but much of it looks very similar. It’s fun to play around with the different bonus stats like item find and there are some crazier boosts as you go, but it’s definitely quite focused and true to the lore rather than being a free for all like Torchlight. If you’re a fan of number crunching there’s plenty to sink your teeth into, but if you’re not it’s not too difficult to build an effective character and put some items together.
Well paced, the game doesn’t take quite as long as other action-RPGs due to the lack of any kind of grind, You’re likely to see the end in around 14 hours and it really is an end, with much less incentive to carry on playing than Diablo, and just a promise of DLC to keep your character going. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as the game is consistently entertaining throughout and you’ll easily get your money’s worth while it only costs £11.99 – that’s under a pound an hour. You might come back for harder difficulty modes or hardcore, but there’s not that constant treadmill towards better loot than tries to keep Diablo 3 going.
Co-op has faced its own problems if you look at the forums but for what it’s worth I’ve only had a few instances of my co-op partner getting booted to desktop, and it hasn’t crashed once for me. Patches are still coming thick and fast so the developer is evidently invested in the project. Co-op itself is loads of fun and there’s some nice touches to ensure fair play like the fact that everyone gets their own loot so you’re not fighting each other. The ability to help each other back to your feet is interesting too as you try to kite enemies away to give yourself enough time to heal your fallen comrade.
Graphically, I love the aesthetic of the game even if it isn’t going to tax a high-spec machine. The monster designs are fun with just enough detail to avoid being too generic and the lore surrounding each beast is well worth paying attention to. Spell effects are nice and clear, so it’s fairly easy to tell what’s going on around the battlefield. Generally you want to stay out of the red.
One of the standout features of the game that will create a lasting memory is the sheer scale of the fights you not only get into, but bear witness to. In one of the first areas of the game, it’s not unusual to see twenty-a-side brawls happening between different groups of enemies and it’s extremely satisfying to carve your way through the maddening crowd. The game isn’t afraid of throwing a lot at you and while it can be initially overwhelming, this quickly gives way to exhiliration as you realise you’re actually going to come out on top.
In short, this is an action-RPG without the grinding. It’s much more concise than other games in the genre, and it packs a hell of a punch. It might not be the most original game, nor the broadest in scope, but what it does it does really well. Highly recommended.