The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is an Action-RPG and the first part of a planned trilogy from Hungarian developers NeocoreGames. With some big entries into the genre over the last year such as Diablo III and Torchlight II we’ve been spending plenty of time with the game to see if it’s worth a look.
The game is based upon Bram Stoker’s famous novel, Dracula, but uses a different setting and story. You play as Van Helsing, the son of Bram Stoker’s legendary vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing. The action is set in a fictional 19th century Europe in a town called Borgova which is the capital of Borgovia.
Your first job is to create your character which can be an offline character for solo play or online character for multiplayer. Thankfully multiplayer characters are stored in the cloud to prevent tampering or cheating which has plagued the genre in the past. Unusually there is no choice of classes so all characters start out equal. You can customise the colour of your outfit a little but that’s it for customisation before you begin.
Your other choice is the difficulty level from Casual, Normal, Hard, and Heroic. If you’re new to the genre we would strongly recommend you go with Casual but experienced players will be fine on Normal or Hard for their first playthrough. A nice option is the ability to enable Hardcore play for any difficulty level. This isn’t for the faint-hearted as it makes death permanent but we welcome the option as it’s one of our favourite ways to play.
You control Van Helsing via the mouse and keyboard. Left-clicking sets where you move and attack or you can hold shift to attack on the spot. You can have two attacks equipped at a time which are bound to the left and right mouse buttons. Tab key allows you to swap to a different skill set. Pressing R allows you to switch between ranged and melee attacks. This allows you to soften the enemy up with your pistols before they reach you and is also useful when trying to retreat.
Van Helsing has an experience bar which gradually fills up as you complete quests and kill monsters. When you level up you can improve your core stats (Body, Dexterity, Willpower and Luck) as well as spend skill points. Your three skill trees allow you to spend points in Melee or Ranged combat as well as add special tricks or auras. Doing so enables you to create a balanced character or one that specialises in your preferred combat style.
Once you’ve learnt a skill it can be upgraded further to a higher level and you can also add on power-ups. These can be activated on top of the main skill using your rage meter which is filled through killing. In addition to rage you also have mana which you need to activate any magical abilities. Killing certain monsters also builds your reputation which can be traded in for special perks for permanent upgrades. As you can see there is a fantastic level of depth to the combat and plenty of choice when building your character.
On his (incredible) adventures Van Helsing is accompanied by his ghostly sidekick, Lady Katarina. She is a bit like the pet in Torchlight II and adds a lot to the game as well as plenty of entertaining banter with Van Helsing. Katarina aids you in combat and you can utilise her to complement your play style. You can command her to attack from melee, range or leave her in ghost form which grants Van Helsing helpful buffs.
Katarina gets her own stats, experience bar and skill tree allowing her to improve over time. As she levels up you can choose which stats to increase and what skills to learn. Over time you can improve her combat ability or tailor her more to support Van Helsing from healing to defence. If she goes down in combat then you have to wait a little while before she comes back.
Katarina also gets her own equipment and inventory allowing her to carry items. You can customise her behaviour to control what she attacks, when she will heal and even what items to collect for you. You can even send her off shopping for you to buy potions or clear inventory space by selling items.
No Action-RPG would be complete without monster and loot and Van Helsing doesn’t disappoint as it has plenty of both on offer. Playing on the higher difficulties is the most rewarding with tougher monsters and better loot. Combat is frantic and the difficulty can be brutal while you master all the different controls, skills and power-ups. Later in the game it introduces some tower defense elements which mix things up a bit.
In addition to the single player you can also go online to play in co-op with up to three friends. In single player while you can specialise in a particular play style it’s often easier to go for a balanced character. In co-op this isn’t so much of a problem because of the additional players. The main reason for playing co-op though is just to have fun experiencing the game with friends.
Graphically the game looks gorgeous with very detailed environments and some lovely lighting and particle effects. The game throws an impressive number of enemies on screen and it didn’t slow down at all on our machine running on highest detail settings. There’s also nice music and decent voice acting throughout which is impressive for a budget title.
The game is a lot of fun and will easily keep you busy for 10 hours on your first play through. The biggest issues we had though are how replayable the game is. Monsters never respawn so you can pop back to town as often as you like and when you return everything remains dead. There’s currently no real reason to play again unless you fancy trying a different character build out.
Fortunately the developers are listening on this and are taking steps to provide more end-game content. The first patch for this adds two scenarios that add high level monsters for extra challenge. More stuff is promised such as new levels, heroic deeds, boss fights and new loot.
Overall we’ve been very impressed by The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing. It’s a brilliant Action-RPG with a lot of depth and plenty of content considering it costs just £11.99. If the updates keep on coming then this is a game we’ll keep going back to. We highly recommend Action-RPG fans check it out.