First created by Bram Stoker for Dracula, Abraham Van Helsing in synonymous with monster and vampire hunters. The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing follows the young Van Helsing, son of the legendary Abraham Van Helsing. In this way we get to journey into a world of monsters, magic and strange technology without the burden of the established character.
Taking place in a gothic-noir interpretation of Transylvania called Borgova, this action RPG is essentially a hack and slash loot-em-up. Taking its cues from games like Diablo and Torchlight, loot takes a central role as you strive to get the best set of pants, belt and rings possible. I’m sure many people will spend hours hunting for the perfect set of rare items for their builds. However, this game offers a lot more than just purple items.
Two main features set The Incredible Adventure of Van Helsing apart: some elements of tower defense/base management and the companion character, Lady Katarina.
Once you find the secret lair under the city of Borgovia, your enemy (a miscellaneous mad scientist) will seek to root you out and destroy you. As such, you need to build up your defenses and prepare for waves of monsters to attempt to storm your base. As part of your defenses, you can build traps that skewer the enemies on spikes from the ground, or build lairs for friendly monsters to spawn and help you in your defense. Through side quests you can even find new types of traps and the items necessary for upgrades.
This was one of my favorite parts of the game. Unfortunately, it was seriously under-utilized. During the single player campaign, there were only two instances. I was hoping for a lot more, as well as the opportunity to make greater upgrades and eventually have my entire lair fully trapped and defended so that I didn’t need to take part in the battles on the ground. Sure, it was fun to fight off the creeps as they went down all the different paths to invade my base, but I wanted it to grow into a full tower defense side-game.
Lady Katarina, much like the pet in Torchlight, serves as your fighting companion and extra loot carrier. Not just a carrier, you can send her back to town to sell off your unwanted items and bring you back potions and money. This makes her integral to your inventory management. I also used her as my tank during gameplay, keeping her has a melee fighter while I took up the role of the hunter.
However, the best part of Lady Katarina is her personality. She has a dry wit and plenty of sarcasm, injecting humor into the game. For example, there is a side quest that involves fighting a scarecrow that has come to life. Van Helsing comments that he was always afraid of scarecrows, to which Katarina replies that it’s good to face one’s fears and stop being a child. Each time you send her to sell items she has snarky comments when she leaves and returns. She spouts criticisms when you give beggars money and even comments on the ridiculous and cliched nature of certain quests.
As you might expect from an ARPG, beyond the loot, you get plenty of experience in battles that are used to upgrade your attributes as well as learn skills through an extensive skill tree. Both Van Helsing and Lady Katarina level up and learn various skills – Katarina’s are more support based while Van Helsing’s can range from healing and support to a range of attacks.
Additionally, as you beat monsters (particularly champions or specialty enemies) you gain reputation. When your reputation levels up, you can gain extra traits such as extra ability points, a change in stats for Katarina, or improved looting. Depending on your play style, new traits can be unlocked for you to spend your reputation on; I played as a ranged hunter, so as I progressed I was able to gain a boost if I attacked from farther away.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing has a fantastic aesthetic. Beautifully rendered and realized, the game is moody and gothic without being pretentious. It is lovingly created with fantastic voice acting and a sound track that adds to the ambiance. You’d be hard pressed to find a fault in the game’s aesthetic design – it feels just as polished and well put together as Torchlight or Diablo.
Unfortunately, when I was playing the game it was after they released the Complete Pack, adding new classes. This appeared to break the game as I was unable to complete a bunch of quests, some of which were game breaking bugs that could only be solved after consulting the forums to get the necessary script to skip the quest. That said, the game has been patched and most of the bugs have been fixed. I’m still finding that some quests won’t complete or areas struggle to load. There was a bad memory leak in the Mac version that led to lag and eventual crash, but that appears to have been fixed in the patch and I’m hoping is gone for good.
The story is pretty thin, but to be honest, that’s not really the point of an ARPG. With a story focused on saving the city from a raving mad scientist, there isn’t really much room for development or growth. That said, the various characters, fantastic environments and strangely satisfying hack and slash gameplay made me happy to pour 24 hours into the game. Neocore is hoping to release two more games to complete a Van Helsing trilogy, and I’m certainly looking forward to playing those games as well.