Welcome to the kingdom of Borgovia, site of uncontrolled scientific experimentation, home to mythical monsters, and the perfect battlefield for the classic monster-hunter of legend, Van Helsing. The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing 2 is the successor to Neocore’s original action role-playing game. Once again battle as the son of Professor Van Helsing, alongside busty banshee Lady Katarina, to save Borgovia from it’s evil foes.
Inspired by Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Van Helsing 2‘s gothic-noir atmosphere makes what could have been a stale icosahedral fighter into an intriguingly medieval setting colored with anachronistic technology. Three base classes are available to the player: the classic Hunter wielding ranged and melee skills, the magic-wielding Thaumaturge, and the Arcane Mechanic, a deadly technology master.
Van Helsing‘s selling point is it’s wealth of cheeky humor and easter eggs. One moment Katarina’s making a Harry Potter reference, the next you’re fighting a large green fellow who’s taken too much of “Dr Jekyll’s anger management drink.” Never do the references go overboard in a way that detracts from the main story, though. The game smartly and consistently nods to pop culture without turning into a comedy routine. Fighting through hordes of monstrosities is viscerally pleasing on it’s own, but the eagerness to find the next piece of witty dialogue or hidden treasure carries the epic in a fantastically unique way.
Our lovely companion, Katerina, completes the game. Gameplay wise, she’s another character to specialize, equip, and utilize on the battlefield. Out of combat, she’s a hoot. Katarina’s the sass to Helsing’s brass, and a spectral smartass with a snarky comment at every turn.
The game takes a break from dungeon crawling and hack-n-slash with occasional tower defense and micro-management. Occasionally, you must strategically organize turrets and troops to defend your territory from invasion. In your down time, you can manage your own army, upgrading your troops and sending them on special missions for loot and heroism. Each mission requires you select one of three specialists, whose skill sets will determine their effectiveness in the mission. I was appreciative of the range of activities available, which freshen up the experience after hours of monster slaying.
The features don’t live up to their potential, however, because with any “choice” moment in the game comes a lack of consequence. In times when you must tactically relay commands to soldiers in battle, you don’t feel as if your choices, poor or wise, had any real impact. If I screwed up and hundreds of innocents died at my hand, the game didn’t relay that story to me in a powerful way. That there exists a choice is valuable, but the other half of the equation is to give choices weight. On the bright side, though choices seem uselessly devoid of weight, their lightness can compliment the humorous side of the game. While it’s upsetting to see good features only half accomplished, it doesn’t handicap the game as much as it just failed to perfect it.
I would have liked more specialized skill trees, seeing as you have to pick up most skills in the tree, rather than following a narrow line of unique talents. Though not grouped into specialization, skills were fun to level and use. One skill in particular requires you use the mouse to inscribe lines of fire on or around enemies, in whatever shape you want. So if you’re the kind of bloke who likes to watch his or her enemies burn in genitalia shaped pyres, you’re in luck. You can also inscribe flaming daisies of death, if that’s your thing.
Perhaps the most hindering fault of Van Helsing 2 shines in a few balance issues. After many hours of Thurmatergy, I wasn’t feeling any appalling swings in difficulty. Any really challenging encounters could be expertly avoided with some decent kiting. When I drafted up a Hunter, however, I suddenly realized that melee battling seems to be unusually more difficult than ranged. As a mage, I had no trouble avoiding death, but when the moment called for me to hack-n-slash through fields of kobolds, I wasn’t as equipped in melee skill to fare as well as my ranged counterpart. Of course, with a well planned build, and careful maneuvering, melee is feasible and even quite strong eventually. The problem is that the benefits of range and hindrances of melee aren’t compensated to bring the two styles onto a level playing field. Even though the game’s classes don’t stand in perfect equilibrium, you can at least adjust the difficulty of the game at any moment, and certainly no style is impossible.
Despite its flaws, the strong points of Van Helsing 2 outshine it’s unfulfilled features or balance issues. A gothic action RPG jeweled with easter eggs and playful banter, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing 2 is a gripping experience bursting at the seems with personality.
[+Playful Banter] [+Easter Eggs Galore] [+Likeable Characters] [+Compelling Story] [+Neo-Gothic Setting] [+Fun Combat] [-Unbalanced Classes] [-Limited Skill Specialization] [-Empty Choice System]