The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II PC Review
The first Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing was one I enjoyed quite a bit. It had a solid action RPG foundation and neat ideas that made the game feel different than playing Blizzard’s well known Diablo III or some of the older action RPGs, such as Titan Quest. Even though I did like the game, I had a massive issue with the entire cooperative experience being broken, making the game only viable to play if you wanted to stay offline and play solo, which, I might add, is reasonably fine, and I mentioned that in my review, but with the game clearly advertised cooperative play, and with a lot of people enjoying this genre with friends, it was a huge bummer that it constantly had connection issues and other hiccups. Roll on a year and now we have The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II, an improved follow up in nearly every area, including cooperative play.
The beginning continues straight on from the last game’s ending, so the story starts with Van Helsing and his ghostly companion, Katarina, awakening after getting buried alive inside an exploding building. Coming to their rescue is a rather curious fellow that goes by the name of Prisoner Seven, a man covering his face with a mask and has the ability to use magic. Nothing much is known about this mysterious figure, but he’s willing to help Van Helsing and the resistance – which Van Helsing has now become the leader of – and put a stop to General Harker’s incoming invasion force and death machines.
Story doesn’t go any further than being a modest plot to progress Van Helsing and company to various locations throughout Borgovia, and the final ending is so damn predictable that I saw it coming from a mile away. The big baddie of the second episode, General Harker, never has this sense of dread behind him, due to him never appearing until at the end. You hear his name everywhere, but without any relation, he’s just this phantom with no meaning, so when he first appears – in a rather hectic boss fight – he has none of this supposedly scary and threatening presence that we are told through the spoken dialogue.
This doesn’t stop the journey being one of a light-hearted nature, thanks to the script and the developers having fun by never being truly serious. There are a ton of small jokes and references thrown in that will either make you smile or shake your head that the writers actually went there, such as when browsing through act 3 and seeing the “Van Helsing” logo shine in the sky, looking eerily similar to the signal a certain character uses, who has a game coming out next year called Arkham Knight, or the Monty Python and the Holy Grail’s reference of the black knight guarding a bridge with just his torso and head. There’s plenty more that relate to Terminator, The Lord of the Rings, Saving Private Ryan and even Half- Life. These might seem out of place within the game’s Victorian setting, but with many bizarre enemies and robotic contraptions the real life references slide in well, it just depends on your taste on how amusing you find each one.
Van Helsing II allows you to import a hero from the last game, and if he’s level 30 you can progress them to Veteran Mode, a harder take on the game’s story that is made for level 30 or above. Don’t worry if you’ve never played the first game, since you can begin at level one and the game will adapt for new players, allowing them to hit 30, finish the game and then restart in Veteran Mode. There are now three classes that you can begin with. There’s the Hunter class, Val Helsing, which you already had in the first game. He has the ability to fight in a melee stance or a range stance. The new classes, which were originally added into the original game as DLC, are Thaumaturge, a magic class that can summon pillars of fire or rain down lightning from the skies, and Arcane Mechanic, a trap-based class that can deploy turrets, mines and robotic sidekicks. The best thing about these three classes is that they all play very differently, which makes repeated playthroughs worthwhile with a new class.
Action remains identical to the original title. This isn’t a dig, as the combat was solid and a ton of fun to click the mouse or spam the hotkeys to shoot, slash and smash through various enemies and see the hefty sum of damage numbers colour the air. The introduction of the new classes means that the original issue I had of there being a distinct lack of unique identity during cooperative play is no longer a problem. Class gear looks different across the board, and the variety is better. There is supposedly, according to a PR info sheet, over 250 unique weapon models included. That’s a huge jump over the 30 plus already include in the first game. The increased level cap, more gear and a bigger selection of skills means that you will be constantly upgrading your character until you hit the max level cap, offering a nice amount of game time for a cheap price.
There are, however, a few points in the campaign where the balance of the game becomes insane, with some enemies killing your hero within a hit or two. You really need your wits about you during these parts, as the cost of gold from every death will drain you dry. This is something I would have expected from the Veteran Mode, but it’s also here on the starter campaign, and even with the difficulty set to normal (three less than the hardest setting), these spikes still appeared and messed up me and my cooperative friend multiple times.
Don’t even mention the spiders, or any enemy that summons small foes that come in packs, because these enemies are damn right frustrating. The idea is that you are supposed to kill the enemy summoner, but the issue is that you often can’t get to him because he’s already summoned an army of minions that come at you and chew you to death. I still have to plot my vengeance on the mountain guy who I could never defeat – his rats would exterminate me, and anyone cooperating with my hero, in milliseconds. I tried for ten minutes, using my gold for instant respawns, and all I came out with was death and screams of frustration. I gave up and continued on with the game’s story.
I really enjoyed having Katarina as a sidekick when I originally played the first Van Helsing. She could have been a simple pet replacement, but she is way more than that. Not only does she have an amusing personality, along with the entertaining banter between her and your character, but she’s a great sidekick that is full of potential. Katarina has her own skills and levels, but these skills add buffs towards your hero, so you have to be smart about which areas you want to build her in. Katarina can also fight melee or range, supporting whichever play style you use, and with modifiers to change her behaviour, she can be a real help in battle. If worse comes to worse, she can sell your unwanted equipment and bring back health and mana potions from town. There have been sidekicks in other action RPGs, but none of them are as good as what NeocoreGames has done with Katarina.
Van Helsing II includes all the trademark features of a good action RPG, but NeocoreGames threw in more content to keep the player busy. The tower defence game from the original returns, but this time it’s become an optional side-mission where you have the choice to let your resistance soldiers take on the quest or personally do it yourself, which takes time away from your story schedule, but does offer more loot and experience points. The tower defence game feels less frustrating this time around, but that could be because I already knew how it worked previously.
On top of that are the addition of two new features for the main base. One is the control of the Lieutenants in the resistance army. As the leader, it’s your job to send these troops on missions and hopefully have them return successfully with loot and experience points for yourself and them. It didn’t seem particularly deep, as I always had enough money to max out the squads, and before the end game was reached, I had maxed out the resistances equipment to 30. Nonetheless, it’s a way to get more gear, experience and gold without having to do much work. The base’s Chimera guardian, which is unlocked during Act 2, is a similar concept, but when not sent on a mission, the Chimera can be summoned to fight in battle with you, and with some strong skills that can break apart the enemy groups, he’s a handy monster to have with you.
And so we come to my biggest problem of the last game, the cooperative online features – it works. During my entire story playthrough I never ran into any issue with disconnections or bizarre story scripts that broke the game. That’s not to say it’s perfect, as I did run into a couple of glitches. One of them was eventually patched; a glitch that allowed my online friend to have zero cooldown on his spells, meaning he could constantly spam his healing magic and Katarina’s ability to split herself into multiple copies. The other glitch was one that nearly cost me my progression. I died during a battle, and decided to warp back to base. The issue was that the game got stuck on the load screen, so I restarted the game and returned to my save only to find that my dead body in the base, with no seemingly way to bring it back. After an internet search I managed to fix this scary situation and progress forward. NeocoreGames might have fixed online play, but there’s still a sense of unpolished code creeping in from time to time.
This also leaks into the game’s presentation, since there are issues with camera views during cutscenes that seem like the person holding them is drunk, to weird dialogue text missing or twitching. Pushing those issues to one side, Van Helsing II can be quite the looker for a game in this genre, with some fantastic weather effects, lighting and texture work that really bring the damp and dirty Victorian-themed Borgovia world to life. Voice acting for the hero and Katarina is great, but some of the NPCs come off as cheap hires that were brought in to fill the roles. The soundtrack is reasonable, but forgettable.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II is a fine follow up to last year’s game. Not only does it fix the critical issue that was with the online multiplayer, but it grows the series to bigger and better places, increasing the modes of play, content and hours you will put into the game, all for a damn good price of £11.99. It’s not quite up there with the best in the business, but NeocoreGames should be happy with the steps they are taking to get there, and I have trust that Van Helsing III will be even better. Fans of the genre should fully enjoy what is on offer here, and newcomers who are looking for a few days of cooperative fun - problems with pacing and small glitches aside – should gather some friends and sit back and enjoy a few evenings of Victorian dungeon crawling – it’s finger clicking good.