Where to start? The Incredible Adventures of Van Hellsing 2 is the latest game for a full release in the “Diablo-esque” Action Hack and Slash RPG. Now I’m about to say something that some people have looked at my with a horrified expression and I wondered if I had grown a second head like Zaphod in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (here’s the second comment. The movie was good, the book was better). When it comes to these style of games Diablo is not at the top of that list for me. Diablo is a good game. Diablo 2 was an awesome game, especially for multiplayer. Diablo 3? It was short and it was over too fast.
When it comes to a games within these styles there needs to be a balance with content and length. The Torchlights and Sacreds offer so much more outside of the main story that one wonders why so much can be left off of the beaten path. The answer is simply because it creates more time for someone to spend with the game and not have to go back for the xth runthrough. These games allow players to do more, see more, and not have to go through a simple path over and over and over again. What does this even mean in regards to Van Hellsing 2? It may stay on the said path, but what it does with this path is different, fresh, and fun.
The graphics for Van Hellsing don’t seem to have improved per say over the first one. The optimization that was done however is quite apparent and everything runs smoother from the billowing cape in the wind, to the movement of the trees and how enemies moved whether they were graceful werewolves or hulking masses of muscle that made you question being up close and personal. The environments of Van Hellsing 2 are amazing to run though from the opening war scene in the Steam Punk city of Borgovia to the snow covered mountains fighting wraiths and weird birds. The levels of detail within the characters match that of the environments that you will find them in. Enemies move differently depending on their type and their speeds and it was quite interesting to see these flying mechanical types actually sway to wind currents now and then.
The only issue that could come around is that the framerate could really drop when there were a lot of monsters on the screen. Now when I say a lot, I mean something around the lines of “there’s no way I’m getting out of this alive, or if I do it’s barely”. It was these moments that the graphics would slow down and I have a fairly decent computer to game on.
Was that a chainsaw? They have chainsaws? Where’s mines? From the monstrous howls to the explosions of Ink portal shells and mortars dropping down from above there was no mistaking the quality of these effects and the sounds coming straight at you. Each genral monster type seemed to have it’s own growl, grunt, howl, and it makes the experience that much better as it was not always the same sounds coming towards you even if a very large group. With the numerous skills available some of them could blend into one another which is quite understandable because a whooshing sword is going to sound like a whooshing sword when you swing it regardless of the angle. That being said, there was a satisfying thud when launching projectiles from a launcher as an Arcane Mechanic.
I thought that the music could feel a bit off in certain portions of the adventure. The best example of this is when you leave the city for the first time to go up into the mountains there is this relaxing and soothing music that continued to play while in combat. Outside of combat these sounds and music were perfect, but while fighting hordes of monsters these just didn’t fit.
Gameplay is an aspect of games that can be rather hard to nail down properly as even within the fans of a specific type as not everyone enjoys the same elements. It gets even harder when the base of a game is to click to hit something. The original Van Hellsing did something that is generally not seen in the Action Hack and Slash RPG Genre, it had one class. A little later on they added two others in the form of DLC, but to only have one class to start off with was a shock. The combat which is essentially what these type of games is designed for, is your standard click and hack your way through hordes of enemies. What makes it different is that Katarina, unlike the pets in Torchlight, has modes in which she can act as well as behaviors like attack the weakest or protect me. She is also equipable with the same style equipment as the Hunter class.
The Hunter, the base class which makes it’s return, has two skill sets that make them very versatile whether you prefer to be in the middle of everything and swing your sword or to pick the enemies off from far with either pistols or rifles. The abilities within just this class ranged from magic attacks to pure physical force and as the levels increased more skills were available to choose from.
The Thaumaturge is a magic based character who even his most basic attack requires mana. This class is very powerful but is not designed to sit in the middle of combat and should be at a range like the second aspect of the Hunter. The versatility of this class made for quite an interesting play from being able to create walls of fire in any degree of a circle that you wished to launching electricity and icicles. The only catch with this character is that he is very mana intensive.
The Arcane Mechanic is for all intensive purposes, a true one man army when it comes to standing around and taking hits from the enemies. This class only has one weapon available to it. But truly? That’s all he needs. Equipped with a launcher this very Steam Punk looking walking tank regardless of using magical or physical projectiles, has the abilities to place / launch mines, turrets, robots, and shoot jets of flame and poison. This class was one of the more crazy to play because it’s designed to be a range type, yet with a lot of it’s abilities, standing in the middle of a large horde of enemies and blasting your flame thrower was never a problem with the available armament and electricity shield bubble.
Katarina also makes a return as your… she’ll kill me for using the word sidekick… but she returns as your sidekick! This sarcastic ghost with anger management issues that loves to go to town on the enemy as she either rips them to shreds or launches magic bolts that decimate them from afar. Not only does she have the two modes for both melee and ranged, but her basic skill set has been enhanced with new abilities which also include the DLC ones from the first. Like Van Hellsing, Katarina can be specialized or even generalized to suit your play style whether it’s for melee or ranged combat. Some of her new abilities even go as far as truly making her outside of combat in her ghost form even more powerful than just granting you it’s base ten percent damage reduction.
What makes Van Hellsing different in terms of what it does for combat is that not only do you have a range of skills, tricks, auras, and Katarina, but you also have Rage. Rage is a meter that fills up as you are hit by / hitting enemies. Rage allows you to add an attribute that can unlocked via the skills menu to do one of three things that are available on a skill by skill basis. Some of these options are the ability to add fifty percent extra damage on your next attack. Now that alone is an awesome trick, however, not only are there three extra slots to be used for rage, but you are allowed to put them in the locations of your choice. So instead of fifty percent damage and two other options, you can set yourself up for one-hundred and fifty percent damage which really helps mow down crowds of enemies.
Van Hellsing 2 introduces two new elements into the gameplay and modifies another. The Tower Defense is back and it’s gotten some serious upgrades. Now instead of being in the tunnels around your home base, the tower defense elements are in different locations with varying layouts and possibilities for defense. Gone from the first one is the ability to put traps anywhere and now you have specific points on the map for specific types. At first this seemed like a drawback from the anywhere and anything from the first, but after getting into it, it feels much better and required more thinking in the placement of your traps between and during the waves. Also added was being able to teleport to numerous locations that allow for quick movement from one end of the map to the other to help defends points that require more than just the placed defenses.
In regards to the Tower Defense, you don’t actually have to do it, now, Van Hellsing is more than just a Hunter, he’s in charge of the resistance and in by being the head honcho you now have responsibilities to send troop leaders out on missions for new members as well as relics that will bolster their abilities for future missions. There are several troop leaders with different skill sets and by looking over the missions it’s always good to hear the opinions of your leaders as they will say how well suited that they think they are to the task. Listening to them can be the difference between success and failure.
The last of the new features is Fluffy… well that’s what Katarina calls him anyways. The Last of the new features is a massive chimera that can go out on hunts of his own. His abilities may be bolsters with candles of different types for his summoning. Fluffy gains experience on each hunt which allows him to go onto harder difficulty hunts. The one catch is that Fluffy requires to be fed magical essences which are also used for upgrading equipments with essence capacity, so having to choose between one and the other is not always the easiest. Then again, on the return of a hunt Fluffy brings back an amount of amazing items that is more than worth the requirement to have to feed him!
I had thought of starting off with this little bit but decided against it. Van Hellsing 2’s start was not a smooth one. The game crashed for many people at different locations from the start screen to the first loading screen after character creation. I was one of the lucky ones, but my multiplayer partner, she didn’t have so much luck. I didn’t have to look further than STEAM’s forums to see the general feeling towards this. People were upset. Their brand new game didn’t work. Others lobbied against them getting mad and to try the various solutions but… well people are people. This is my point actually. People are People, and some people are just awesome. The group at Neocore worked what seemed tirelessly to make their second Van Hellsing work. The amount of work that went into fixing and troubleshooting and dealing with the community was incredible. I was thoroughly impressed. Even if the little fixes didn’t get my Monster Hunter Partner up and working, there were a lot of different things to try and all things said it was working within two days.
That being said, the multiplayer aspect of the game is quite solid. There are more everything. Yes grammatically incorrect but the reason is the following: More monsters, more powerful said monsters, more opportunities for better loot, and more ghosts to wreak havoc. The only downside to multiplayer and it does make sense that only the host can do this, is that only the host may send people on missions and hire and upgrade these troops. It would have been nice to be able to see what they were doing instead of just standing around waiting or heading back out into the field and then promptly returning as they might have been a bit too much to handle by oneself.
As different as each class is from one another as mentioned above, the Hunter, Thaumaturge, and Arcane Mechanic all have Tricks, Auras, and Perks which also make a return. Tricks are abilities that can be anything from a spirit like sprint out of a horde of enemies to being able to heal yourself as well as Katarina and any other friendly being that happens to be close to you. Auras are passive and unlike the first, three are allowed instead of just two and these can be set to do things like increase the amount of health Katarina can receive when using rage points to how much health you are able to leech off of enemies per hit.
Last, but certainly not least, Perks, are available on an experience meter that is filled by defeating the more powerful monsters and bosses. This creates a want and sometimes a need to go out of your way or make a region respawn to grab a hold of these amazing traits. Each class starts off with a certain amount of Perks and more can be unlocked during gameplay which are depending on your actions. Drank a lot of potions, here’s a perk that makes these potions better. Used a lot of Elemental Power? Here’s a percentage boost. Perks are not only for Van Hellsing but can also be used for Katarina such as granting her an extra ten ability points and two skill points. Going just that little bit further in the name of getting these perks through fame is reward all of it’s own.
Options exist more readily than the first to reset Van Hellsing’s ability points, skill points, and perks as well as Katarina’s Ability and Skill points as a single option for specific larger sums of money. Unfortunately there is no option to fully reset Van Hellsing and it has to be done one point at a time but depending on what you wish to reset the point by point may be the better option. On the other hand of this it would have been nice to have the point by point for Katarina instead of resetting all her points. I know it sounds like I’m not happy with either but a combination of the two of these would have been good to have for the specific reasons.
Now if everything else was not enough, those ink shells mentioned earlier? They literally come flying down out of nowhere to land amongst you and the troops near the start of the story and they don’t particularly mind if you were already busy with another group of enemies. It’s small things like this or enemies charging out from the sides of the map or from under ground that change the gameplay since they will not always occur at the same places.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Hellsing 2 was a blast to play in either single or multiplayer modes. The gameplay is quite solid and destroying the waves and crowds of monsters never gets old or less satisfying as you pit your ever increasing repertoire of skills against their hordes. The only thing that makes this better is the hilarious and well written banter between Van Hellsing and Katarina.
Van Hellsing “Those were some truly angry birds”
Katarina “Don’t be such a pig. They were probably just protecting their eggs.”
– The Incredible Adventures of Van Hellsing 2
Review by Pierre-Yves
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