Wot I Think: The Incredible Adventures Of Van Helsing

By John Walker on June 3rd, 2013 at 1:00 pm.

The Incredible Adventures Of Van Helsing wasn’t what I was expecting. And managed to continue to not be what I was expecting the further I progressed. Having somehow gained the impression (maybe imagined?) that it would be more of a straight RPG, I was surprised to find myself playing an action-RPG, very much in the mould of Titan Quest. I was further surprised when it started introducing tower defence themes. Here’s wot I think:

You play Van Helsing’s son, who is blah blah something something killing ten billion werewolves/monsters/ghouls/ghosts/robots, presumably because his dad did such a poor job of killing the one or two that existed in his day. He’s accompanied on his adventures by a ghost, because of doo-be-doo-be-doo yadda yadda they said so. And the two of them must level up a lot and click-click-click. Which is all done rather well.

For the most part. Van Helsing’s makes that odd mistake of starting out rather dull. Limiting the range of enemies, featuring a lengthy sequence where death means starting over the whole dreary thing, and naturally having you restricted to very few attack options, it doesn’t bode well. When my wife came in and saw me playing, watched in confusion for a bit, and then said, “Is it just clicking on the same stuff over and over?” I was hard-pressed to find another answer than “Yes”.

I tried. I pointed out that I’m right clicking too to fire off this, and that I’m targeting this slightly taller enemy before these slightly shorter ones, and I have to press Q and W to top up health and mana, but it was fairly futile. The answer was “Yes”.

Had her intrusion only occurred a couple of hours later and I’d have had a far better response. “Yes, but…” I could have said more convincingly. By the time you’ve got a pool of options for your left and right click, with shortcut keys switching between them, along with a litany of special abilities, your ghosty friend maxed out and focused on the attack tactics that you’re not, it reaches that very pleasant place that ARPGs should. Of course it’s mostly still clicking, but it’s skilful clicking at last.

There is definitely an attempt to work in some sort of plot here, but it’s all dreadful and hardly matters. There’s an evil scientist, using evil science to create evil robots powered by evil electricity, and I dunno, I guess you’re trying to stop him. People who give out the missions seem to want to talk about it, but I wasn’t too often compelled to listen. What’s more important is that it keeps the tasks churning out, the slowly uncovered maps are huge and filled with treasure, and the drops come thick and fast.

In that respect, there are no surprises here. Incremental improvements in weapons and armour, two setups for range and melee that can be instantly switched between, spamming health and mana potions like they’re oxygen, your ghost pet can be sent off to sell when your inventory is full, and then there are all manner of skills to balance out. For the min-maxers out there, I think there’s a great deal of offer. For those like me who play such games constantly convicted they’ve made all the wrong choices but are unable to work out how it should be better chosen, it’s fairly forgiving. And respecs are available.

It makes the mistakes fairly odd. Money, for instance, quickly becomes irrelevant. You find so much, that by halfway through there’s nothing you can’t afford. A respec should be a significant spend, but it’s dismissible cash. Enchanting weapons and armour should require a gulp, but the few thousand gold each costs barely makes a dent in the hundreds of thousands you’ll have. Millions, eventually.

XP comes in at a decent pace, but there’s a very peculiar misunderstanding of expected rewards for completed missions. Return to a quest-giver, and you’ll likely receive 500XP points for having ventured out for two or three hours, despite the gaps between levels having reached the tens of thousands. The endless slaughter ensures it ticks along, but the lack of a nice leap forward in such instances is very odd.

There’s also some odd distribution with skills. On top of the abilities you and the ghost can add, there are Perks, which unlock themselves by your Reputation. About 30 of them appear as you play, although only 10 can be added in total. Making it all the more bizarre when more become available after its stopped you from gaining any further reputation points. And the level cap at 30 cuts you off from exploring the rest of the skill trees properly.

I’m also in the frustrating situation of having made a choice near the end of the game (a choice that was made in a conversation, with no warned consequences) that means the final boss battle is seemingly impossible. In that time-honoured tradition of games ruining themselves at the final moment, I’m in a situation where I’m facing literally 50 or so enemies at once, while a massive boss character stomps around, with no feasible chance of staying alive. So, well, if it has an interesting ending I’ll never know. Sigh.

Oh, and the tower defence! In the game’s longer second act, you’ll find yourself being asked to help rebuild a generator, gather machine parts and design specs, and lay traps around an area, and wonder why. Then you realise, as you find your arrangement of traps facing off an invasion of hundreds of enemies. You also race around attacking them as they encroach from up to four origin points, trying to reach your base camp. It occurs twice, and both times it’s a fun diversion, albeit not too enormous a challenge. Still, lovely inclusion.

For its flaws, and there are many (including some dreadful load times), playing Van Helsing single player is an absorbing time. It drip-feeds you just enough to feel that sense of continuous progress, and the combat really does become more than frantic clicking (in reality you can just hold the left mouse button down, but that never feels right).

I’ve not experimented with co-op, but according to much forum grumbling it’s a touch more problematic, with reports of developers NeoCoreGames working frantically to get it sorted.

The £12 price tag makes it a lot more compelling. While never stunningly original, and mostly extremely familiar, if you’re somehow craving another ARPG between Grim Dawn, Path Of Exile, and Torchlight 2, then this ought to tick a good few boxes.

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26 Comments »

  1. gschmidl says:

    There’s a trick to the final boss becoming a lot easier that you haven’t cut yourself off from.

    Also, I found the plot hilariously tongue-in-cheek over the top. FOR SCIENCE AND PROGRESS.

    • kazmakoze says:

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  2. razgon says:

    I have this game, and like your review, its kinda hard to figure out whether its a really good game,a mediocre one, or a poor one (Not the review, mind you, but your opinion of the game)
    At times, I REALLY like it, and other times, I find it frustrating – I wish Neocore did just a little bit better, because I love their ideas.
    King Arthur and Lionheart games are both awesome, and horrible as well, and this is no different to me.

  3. Ninja Foodstuff says:

    “Having somehow gained the impression (maybe imagined?) that it would be more of a straight RPG, I was surprised to find myself playing an action-RPG, very much in the mould of Titan Quest”

    If only you’d been reading a little-known site called Rock Paper Shotgun.

    Good review though. Upgraded from “don’t buy” to “hold”, as the finance people would say. As an aside, it’s a shame I can’t bring myself to return to D3 and try out some of the other classes. All the fussing about end-game, and the silly amount of hours required to just be able to set the difficulty level completely killed it for me.

    • Aaax says:

      I was under the impression “hold” mean “don’t sell” for finance peeps? Defend yourself.

      • Ninja Foodstuff says:

        Actually it means between buy and sell”, and sell is not necessarily the same as “don’t buy”

        • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

          Between buy and sell? My God, man, collapse the waveform before you trap us all in a paradox!

          • Aaax says:

            Buy and sell at the same time! This way you can create infinite trading volume and the City will go up in nuclear explosion.

          • The Random One says:

            When that happens I just sell the stocks to myself repeatedly.

        • KevinLew says:

          Since we’re getting into financial stuff, then here we go. If you look at stock reports, analysts will look at a particular stock and provide a recommendation. The three basic categories should be obvious: Buy, Hold, and Sell. “Hold” means that you hold onto any stock that you have and you shouldn’t buy or sell as it’s in fluctuation.

          To add more granularity, there’s sometimes more categories to give a clearer picture. In the OP’s post, he’s probably using this range: Buy, Don’t Sell, Hold, Don’t Buy, and Sell. So “Don’t Buy” means just that. It means you should either hold the shares or sell some, but you shouldn’t buy any more.

          • Sgt.Knumskull says:

            You silly bitches! I really read the whole commentary litany and gain’d some minor but somewhat usefull knowledge! :D ThX ppls

  4. Kobest says:

    Bought this on day one, partially because I enjoy the clicking frenzy (or WASD + clicking frenzy, if you prefer, you can do it in this game) with a coop partner, but also because I want to support my fellow countrymen. :)

    I couldn’t try out coop since it is still a bit broken, but managed to spend 4-5 hours with the singleplayer campaign. Though it starts out pretty slow, it changes the pace quickly, and I believe people will enjoy the humour and the somewhat new, gothic setting.

    Can’t really comment on the clicking section, because I’m not an expert on ARPG clicking and looting, but then if I think about it, I’m not an expert on anything. Compared to D3 (which I played through with three of my friends), it sometimes lacks that punch when you send an enemy flying, but otherwise, the combat is varied, and on hardcode mode, it sends you packing easily. Also, you have to distribute additional skill points mid-fight to certain secondary skills (like a more powerful shot, etc.), so it’s not just clicking. :)

    Can’t wait until they fix the coop completely, in order to play through it with a friend. I have to say that Neocore is very fast on the updates, so kudos for that!

    If you like ARPGs, you should definitely check it out! :)

  5. derbefrier says:

    I love me some clicking so i’ll probably get this eventually but Path of Exile is coming out with a pretty big update with all kinds of balance changes and other cool stuff this week so it will probably have to wait until i get bored with PoE again.

  6. Lagwolf says:

    I got this & didn’t know what to expect & for some odd reason had not expectations. I find it to a cracking good time (and a time sink so bad I have to put myself on a timer) with its tongue firmly buried in check, that rewards exploration, clicking on signs and is good fun. The inclusion of tower defence in the middle just adds to its charm. This is the F3: Blood Dragon of ARPGs.

  7. Ultra Superior says:

    John, could you please make a short comparison to Grim Dawn – in terms of whether it’s significantly better or worse in some particular aspects ?

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      Once they’re all out they could just make one big roundup.

  8. AvistTorch says:

    *sigh*

    Getting a little sick of tower defense getting shoehorned into everything. Getting very sick of games with the words “tower defense” in their description at all unless said game is Anomaly.

    I do like the sound of its tone, though. Most top-down ARPGs like this that I’ve played have such a dry, dreary, dull tone.

  9. anark10n says:

    Is it wrong that I will take the time to get through any kind of story once started, no matter how bad, tedious, overdone or broken it is (excepting Twilight for the obvious reason that there wasn’t one)?

    • Spengbab says:

      Sure, nothing wrong with following a story – Someone put the effort in to think something up, might as well read it. On the other hand, I’m playing Front Mission Evolved right now (Organic/Mech 3rd person shooter by Square) and it’s story is so filled with cliché, stereotypes and wonderfully blatant incompetence of the characters that I can’t help but laugh out loud at the cutscenes.

      It’s a source of entertainment, but not in the way the writers intended.

      • Dreforian says:

        I bought Front Mission Evolved at full price, thinking I could finally get an intro to the FM franchise that might get me into the older games I’d only heard about. It came off as a much more simplistic Armored Core game (albeit with brighter, more colorful settings). It was basically the first game ever that I tried to sell back to the shop so little was my motivation for owning/replaying it. I paid $50 at release. Within months they would only give me $5 store credit. (on the plus side they found me used versions of about half the Armored Core Franchise and they are never EVER getting them back).

        Story wise it felt so cookie cutter that I could see neither the potential in it nor what I might have been missing in earlier titles. Most Armored Cores have either cryptic or nonexistent plot but LOADS of gameplay, FM: E lacked both.

  10. GoateeGamer says:

    Neocore flat out abandoned King Arthur 2. It was left a broken pile of bugs, missing content, and broken promises. Threads on the forum are forcibly closed before replies can be made. Who would buy from a crummy developer like this?

    • Kobest says:

      They explained the situation: they got into a fight with their publisher, Paradox, apparently. Van Helsing is getting a lot of support, just have a look at their forums.

  11. nrvsNRG says:

    i pre ordered this and played a bit of closed beta, but iirc isnt this the first chapter of 3 in total?
    think i will leave it till i can get all 3 to play in one go and keep my character.

  12. UncleLou says:

    I don’t like it. It does many things well, but it completely lacks any kind of hit feedback. I constantly have to stare at the optional health bars to see if I am hitting anything, and what I am hitting. It’s like fighting monsters made out of thin air.

    This means that the primitive basic fun of a hack and slash game is just completely absent for me. D3, Path of Exile, TL2 and the Grim Dawn alpha are all doing this much, much better, through effects, animations,etc.

  13. Mhorhe says:

    Regarding the story – far from calling it dreadful, I’d say it fits an ARPG perfectly. It is completely over the top, tongue-in-cheek stuff, that takes itself seriously at no point whatsoever. Mildly amusing at times, and never an annoyance. Even the companion banter is okay(ish), don’t know if funny but definitely never a bother. “I see a red button. Go press it!”

  14. Dreforian says:

    I want to sink my teeth into ARPGs so badly and reports of rewarding exploration and good loot pacing bump this up my list considerably but I still want a game that scratches my party-based ARPG Dungeon Siege began. No more lone (or sidekicked) heroes please!