In the action RPG world, it appears as if there are two “schools”of fans. You have the traditional, Diablo-die hard and, in recent years, the Torchlight stalwart. The two games are very similar in many ways, but the fine details often separate the fans into these two schools of thought. When you first lay eyes on the Incredible Adventure of Van Helsing, you will undoubtedly be reminded of one (or both) of these two games. Over the past couple of weeks, I have had the pleasure of spending quite a few hours with a preview build of the game. I have managed to sink a couple of hours into the early portion of the adventure and think that fans of the genre are in for a treat when the game hits Steam later this month.
So, what is it? This is a very traditional-style action-RPG from the developers at NeocoreGames. You create a custom “Van Helsing” character, who is portrayed as the offspring of the famed vampire hunter made popular in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The first question that I usually get asked when friends discover that I have been playing The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is “which one” does it best compare to? If I would have to align it with one, I would have to choose Torchlight for a number of reasons, but don’t let that chase you off if you are a Diablo fan! A lot of the features that Runic has made standard for its series have been adopted in this project. Specifically I am speaking about the inventory management and your AI-controlled partner, Katarina.
Katarina is your companion for the adventure, just like a pet in Torchlight. Although here, she is more than just someone who carries your goods and draws enemies away to give you some breathing room. Her contributions to your adventure are very similar to having a second player along for the ride; she can be very aggressive and is much more than just a distraction in battle. Just like a Torchlight pet, you can also utilize Katarina as a “mule”of sorts to carry extra equipment on your travels and even send her off to do your bidding in nearby towns while you continue your quest(s).
Just like your main, created character, Katarina will gain experience and level up during the course of your adventure. As she gains new levels, you can distribute points amongst her various traits and equip her with new and upgraded items to enhance her personal abilities. Managing her development is every bit as important as managing that of your own character. Both your created Van Helsing and Katarina have traits and skill trees that you will need to expand through spending stat points earned in leveling.
These span the usual categories to cater to your preferred play-styles. There are melee, ranged, and passive abilities that can be expanded and explored at your will. I found the ranged combat in particular extremely enjoyable and satisfying in the game. Van Helsing can utilize a variety of firearms that wreak havoc on your enemies from afar. These range from various types of rifles to duel wielding handguns; I found myself leveling up Katarina as somewhat of a tank and standing back and picking off enemies from afar. It is incredibly satisfying to shatter a horrendous beast across the battlefield with a critical hit, and a little gross to watch too! The developers did a great job at making it so that you can switch between ranged and melee weapon sets on the fly with a simple press of the “R” button on the keyboard. The combat flows very smoothly when switching between the two and you will have to do it frequently as the enemies attack you in huge droves.
Like other games in the genre, the game is built upon a series of missions. You can stack them up here and complete them in bunches to save time. The focus though is the action and it comes in huge droves. I don’t think that I have played a game in this genre that throws as many enemies at you as Van Helsing does. The screens is constantly flooded with enemies which keeps things moving at a very fast pace. This is good for another reason too because with droves of monsters comes droves of loot! You will be picking up loot at an amazing pace, checking the stat comparisons to your current equipment and managing a variety of gear and weapons. Thankfully the system used to manage all of this is streamlined just like it is in Torchlight. It is very easy to compare the stats of items to each other,. including those equipped on your character and you can send Katarina off to cash in on your unwanted goods at any time.
Thus far, I fear that I have described the game as nothing more than a quality knockoff. In a gameplay sense, it definitely falls in line with its predecessors, but it is the engulfing and beautiful world that sets it a part from a lot of games. The game looks amazing when you have it running at full steam. The characters are very detailed and the world is amazingly beautiful. You will cover a lot of different ground in your adventure, from snow capped mountain paths to lush, dense wooded forests and even bustling towns.
I know that I have barely scratched the surface of the game but I am already sold on what I have seen. The game is incredibly addicting and a joy to play and I have only experienced the very first few hours. The Incredible Adventures is shaping up to be a great addition to the genre and will definitely earn a seat at the table amongst classics like Diablo and Torchlight. I can’t wait to get my hands on the full, completed game when it launches next week on May 22, 2013.