The legendary monster hunter Abraham van Helsing has retired and it is up to his son to now follow in his footsteps. Together with his trusty sidekick – a ghost named Lady Katarina, he sets out to find out what is going on in Borgovia.
Hungarian developer NeocoreGames announced The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing in 2012 and the game was released on 22 May 2013. Their previous accomplishments include the King Arthur: The Role-playing Wargame titles, Crusaders: Thy Kingdom Come and The King’s Crusade. Specializing in RPGs they chose to develop their latest game as an action-RPG. So, the question then is, is it any good?
The story is a different take on the traditional tale of Van Helsing, instead opting to craft the story around Van Helsing’s son and his companion, Lady Katarina. After receiving a mysterious letter from the kingdom of Borgovia they set sail for danger and adventure. The story does not delve deep into the backgrounds of the characters and most of the information about the world is received through banter between the main characters during their travels.
One area where it becomes clear the developers took some liberties with the original tale is the abundance of pop culture references ranging from The Lord of the Rings to horror movies and some of videogame history’s most beloved games. Like most of the information in the game these references are delivered by characters commenting on trivial tasks, such as picking flowers and wondering out loud why a fearsome warrior would do that, items and characters whose dialogue lines are generally direct quotes.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is a dungeon crawler per se. There’s plenty of loot and plenty of enemies for players to click on without ever letting the pace drop. This is an area where the game immediately shines as you can customize your companion’s behaviour. For example, you can order her to automatically loot all gold, all items of a specific quality, her fighting style and more. Like in Torchlight you can also send her away to vendor the loot in her inventory while you continue on your quest.
Combat is on par with what we have come to expect from dungeon crawlers over the year. It gets hectic, there’s a lot of numbers and players can only have one attack bound to a mouse button at any time. An interesting twist is the simplicity with which you can switch between gunslinger and melee stances, giving you the option to play the game as you see fit. It is possible to play without ever using a melee attack whilst setting your companion’s stance to melee, or vice versa.
Apart from the standard Health and Mana bars the game also features a Rage bar which is used for secondary abilities. These secondary abilities, or PowerUps as NeocoreGames calls them, become available through the available skill trees and can be activated from the action bar. In addition to this there are also Perks which are gained through reputation and vary from extra skill points to assign to extra health and higher chances of finding high quality loot.
The final stage in becoming the ultimate monster hunter is through your companion’s skills. Each of Katarina’s skills offers a different beneficial effect to Van Helsing, such as a faster attack speed, less damage taken or restoring health with each hit.
Quest locations are visible as pulsating circles on the map once you enter the appropriate area and generally offer little in the way of text. NeocoreGames has done an admirable job keeping the fetch this, fetch that quests to a minimum and even sidequests have a slight impact on the main quest.
In terms of graphics the game looks quite attractive. It isn’t a contender for the established line-up of benchmark games but overall they work very well.
As with all of their games, NeocoreGames built the game on their Coretech 3D engine. I can only assume NeocoreGames made a conscious decision to scale down some of the engine’s features to accommodate higher framerates whenever the screen gets filled with enemies.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing has a lot of potential and does a lot of things right. However, there are some areas where I hope the developers will take notice and improve. Most notably, towards the latter hours of the game the combat tends to become a bit stale. By running around groups of enemies and blasting them with Area of Effect abilities I was able to make it through any fight unscathed. Some fights become challenging due to the addition of enemies with more health.
I feel this leans more towards ramping up the difficulty artificially, rather than letting the outcome depend on the player’s relative skill. By using a single healing spell and some health potions I was even able to run through an entire area, past every enemy, without ever attacking them and reaching the quest objective. I would have liked to see enemies with more varied abilities or fights that rely on a variable set of game mechanics. Instead, every fight quickly descends into a situation where running in circles removes all sense of danger and urgency.
As I played I encountered only one major problem which I would describe as a bug. Pathfinding in large groups of mobs can be manipulated through the use of mankind’s most devious device, stairs. Large groups of mobs regularly refused to walk up a set of stairs, allowing me to cast fiery destruction from above without even having to move. I understand the developers have released a patch to address numerous bugs but cannot confirm this has been resolved.
So, should you play this game? In short, yes. Despite the apparent artificial difficulty and bug as described above the game does offer plenty for veterans and newcomers alike. The forest areas at the start of the game have been crafted beautifully and the city areas create a great sense of contrast between and help the narrative forward. Even though there are often too many in-crowd references following each other in rapid succession for my taste, they are sure to entertain fans of the reference material.
Available for only £11,99 through Steam you can’t go wrong with The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing. Whether you just want the loot or explore Borgovia’s rich environments, you’ll find yourself making an appointment with your doctor to get those fingers checked out by the time you’ve played it through.