Victor Vran: Early Access Impressions

Well, we’ve got the next action RPG to look forward to!

aRPGs are an odd genre, with there being so popular, but with so few that stand out. Obviously the Diablos, the Torchlights, and the Titan Quests. There’s Path Of Exile, there’s Grim Dawn, and then it gets trickier. The dreary Dungeon Siege games? The clumsy Sacred series? The almost there Van Helsing silliness? I think we may have a game that could sneak into the list, however, with Victor Vran [official site], currently in Early Access.

It looks, at first, very similar to those Van Helsings, a fun, distracting also-ran. But then, even in this early access build with its placeholder elements and lack of story, Victor Vran (gosh that’s a terrible name) really rather comes to life. A surprise offering from long-time Tropico devs, Haemimont Games, this is stripped down in terms of elaborate extra features, instead choosing to focus on a wealth of overlapping battle tactics, that somehow manage to feel coherent rather than overwhelming.

As I say, motives and purpose are mostly missing in this build. It says it’s deliberately keeping the story secret to avoid spoilers. Hmmm. Anyway, such things are rarely a huge motivator when it comes to hack-n-slashing, with the click-click-click compulsion of tearing your way through crowds of enemies far more important. And it’s really getting that right for me.

Things start off incredibly simple. A neatly implemented tutorial drags you through the three main styles of weapon: sword, hammer and shotgun. And then you equip one and kill stuff with it. Each comes with a couple of cooldown extra attacks, with variation depending upon the particular style of weapon type. All very standard.

Then in come Powers. These use “Overdrive”, meter filled by doing attacks, that let you say power up a shield, launch an AoE attack, or create a time bubble to slow enemies down around you. As you progress you gather more and better Powers, picking which to equip depending upon the circumstances, and indeed which of the special challenges you may be trying to complete.

These are five bonus challenges for every area, dungeon and zone in the game, which might be the likes of being asked to kill 50 enemies without taking any damage, or summon seven particularly nasty nasties in an area, or take out 75 bads within 180 seconds of entering a dungeon. Completing these gets you bonus items, XP or gold, and adds lots of incentive for re-entering dungeons (which reset every time you go back) to tick off another on the list.

But we’re not done with the customisation. Alongside the obvious weapons and powers, you’ve also got Destiny Cards. These are an ever growing deck of passive abilities that affect the tone of your approach. There’s the norm, like cards that secure you extra gold for kills, or boost your chances of getting criticals, but something like The Sun gives a chance of causing explosions when making an overkill attack. Use that perhaps alongside a life drain (The Vampire) and The Rogue to gain both focus and critical damage improvements. Then there’s which two potions you have equipped at any time. You’ll likely have healing potions in one slot, but do you choose a vial that lets you fill your overkill bar, or maybe some Barkskin potion to temporarily raise your armour? You can switch them out at any time, but which is currently assigned still further tweaks your approach. And then there’s the outfit you’re wearing (here very simplified, down to literally a choice of an outfit, rather than the more familiar doll dressing your character. You can even add Hexes, which make the game deliberately tougher in specific ways, to increase the challenge in exchange for extra XP. A Hex Of Tenacity will give monsters 120 armour and regeneration abilities, but your XP gain will go up by 10%. The Hex Of Tyranny causes more enemies to become Champions and offer tougher fights. The Hex Of Malice gives enemies a 50% damage boost, and adds the potential of “cripple” to their crit attacks. And so on.

The point being, what the game takes away for not having elaborate loot drops and armour balancing, it gains in how you tailor your setup. After a while you have two Power slots to fill, extra slots to play Destiny Cards, and room for that second potion. Which all means it fits extremely neatly onto a 360 controller.

HERESY! you cry. And gosh, yes, I’d be with you if I hadn’t been playing for so long. Hack-n-slash RPGs are for wearing out your mouse! But Victor Vran (blimey, it’s such a bad name, isn’t it?) has you move about in a way far more reminiscent of a third-person action game. You can even jump! You can even wall-jump! And yet, despite this, it still feels defiantly like an action RPG. Powers go on the triggers, potions on the d-pad, weapon swap is on the shoulders, and attacks on the face buttons. Move on the right trigger, and shock-of-shocks, rotate the screen on the left! (You can of course play with the mouse and keyboard, and the menus are far more easily negotiated this way, but I’m really surprised how much I liked playing on the gamepad.)

Of course, this is still early access, and there’s an awful lot of work left to be done. It needs a good dose of balancing, and I hope they’ve had the sense to riddle this thing with Steamworks so they can see where players are getting killed too often, or (more likely) breezing through too simply. And while I am surprised to not miss the inventory Tetris of looting hats and shoes so much, and despite all those elements mentioned above, it needs even more personalisation.

Absolute musts include gem slots (or equivalent) on weapons. Right now there’s almost no attachment to a particular item, merrily junked for another with higher stats. If I’d made it my own, and tweaked it in various ways, then there’d at least be that tug as I moved on. And levelling up needs to become far more meaningful. At the moment it might give you an extra equipment slot, and a bonus item, but there’s no upgrading or improving of stats in a particular direction. I’d really love, say, to be able to emphasise my character’s talents with a rapier over a sword, or give myself a more embellished set of ranged abilities at the cost of melee extras.

And of course it needs the narrative it will eventually get. It’s already very rewarding to explore the enormous sprawling maps, replete with expansive dungeons offering unique challenges, but without even a vague reason to keep rolling forward, the inherent frippery of the genre is far too starkly exposed. It’s their choice to release the game into early access with this element missing, but they do need to recognise that the way people encounter a game for the first time always has a significant impact. As it is, find an area that’s too tricky, and realise you’ll need to return to areas that aren’t, and the incentive to bother can be much harder to muster.

But this is already, accounting for its large holes, a splendid time. The combat is pleasingly involved, despite fitting neatly onto the comparatively simple button selection of a gamepad. The enemies are plentiful and brightly splattered in the grim locales (although I think having every damned skellington need to be killed twice is a touch tedious). And best of all are the five challenges for every location, constantly adding an extra level of motivation for the click-click-clicking (or tap-tap-tapping).

The perennial issue of recommending an unfinished game faces us once again. Honestly, I’d wait, because why not experience a good game at its best, rather than half-finished? But I’m definitely going to be keeping an eye on this one, and certainly coming back to it once the narrative is included and the flow thus induced. Oh, but gawd, change the name.

43 Comments

  1. Hunchback says:

    “Which all means it fits extremely neatly onto a 360 controller.”
    Lost me there.
    And i wondered “Why am i reading this on RPS? Why would anyone ever want to play a point-and-slash game with a console controller? Why? :( ”

    As for the game, after playing PoE everything seems so dulled down that i doubt i’ll be paying for this. But it’s a good thing that more studios try and make aRPGs, bigger choice helps the genre as a whole to grow…

    • Dale Winton says:

      Lots and lots of pc folk game with a 360 controller. That is exactly what a review should be telling you

      • Tacroy says:

        There’s many styles of game that are significantly more playable on a controller – I can’t imagine playing a Souls-like on anything else. ARPGs actually seem like a perfect fit for a controller, now that I think about it.

        • EhexT says:

          The old basic ones? Yeah they fit a controller perfectly (with the exception of ground targetted AoEs). But Van Helsing, no matter how much RPS might hate it, actually advanced the controls and put in some stuff that you can only properly do with a mouse, like spells that affect an area along a line you drag with the mouse.

          Now controller hack and slashers have something to teach the MnK ones too – fucking dodge moves. Put some goddamn dodge moves in your games because dodging is FUN.

          But at the end of the day the best controls for the genre is the sadly underused WASD for character movement, mouse for targeting direction and (at least one) a button for dodging.

          • Bradamantium says:

            I don’t think it’s as simple as one or the other being dominant, it’s just a matter of what the game’s designed towards. Van Helsing, clearly, takes advantage of specific m+kb utilities, whereas this is geared towards getting everything neatly assigned to a controller. I think both can work well for the genre – my first ARPGs were the X-Men Legends games, and those made good use of a controller. I loved Torchlight 2 and can’t imagine enjoying it half as much on a gamepad without significant tweaking.

          • Crabtipus says:

            Actually I think ground-targeted AoEs could work fine by aiming them with the right stick of a controller

        • welverin says:

          The PS3 demo for Diablo 3 sold me on a controller for it.

    • FuriKuri says:

      “Which all means it fits extremely neatly onto a 360 controller.”
      Lost me there.

      I really don’t understand this sentiment, and I see it often on here.

      It’s somewhat akin to someone refusing to eat with anything other than a fork and bitching about how soups aren’t fork compatible.

      I mean, the main joy of being members of the PC Master Race is that we tend to get a choice here. But some things are just intrinsicly better with certain inputs, why the hostility?

      • Monggerel says:

        For me, playing with a controller besides M+KB is like eating soup with three pencils held together with a bent monkey wrench covered in barbed wire and the shivering souls of the woeful vanquished.

        By which I mean that I can’t use a controller for shit. I can kinda play Def Jam with one. But I use a keyboard even for Street Fighter.
        Some people are just broken, alright? It’s all we have, our M+KB. Leave us be if you please.

        • Memph says:

          Practice. I was bloody awful at it. I’d go over a mate’s house and he’d hand me a 360 pad on Resi 5, or COD and I would SUCK. I grew up on joysticks, then d-pads, then kb/m after switching to PC in the Half-Life/Quake era. I pretty much missed the introduction of twin analogue sticks, particularly for aiming a crosshair. Although I owned Dual Shock pads, PS shooters like Quake 2, Alien Trilogy and MoH still used the bumpers to look up and down.

          My beloved 6-button Sidewinders became useless as everything went USB, so I picked up an Xbox pad to play emulators and such. Then one day, I picked up the infamously botched PC port of Resi 4. Even with mods the game was utterly unplayable on kb/m. I’d missed a whole console gen by this point, but the latest Resi was supposed to be the absolute bollocks and I already enjoyed the series, so I stuck it on easy and got to work being a clumbsy oaf that couldn’t land a single headshot without a half-minute of twaddling the stick, up and down, back and forth as shots whizzed yards shy of the target. I hated it. The feeling of being gimped in ability, after years of strafe-jumps and rail-aiming irked me tremendously and I bounced right off the entire game, wondering what any of the fuss was about. At a later date, I went back and somehow stuck with it, gradually getting the hang of how to handle this new, awkward means of doing things until it finally sunk-in and I absolutely bleedin’ loved it.

          Since then I play practically every console port on sticks. From Resi’s rooted to the spot shooting, it’s a short leap into moving whilst aiming in Dead Space, to rolling around dodging and hammering out attacks in Darksiders, then onto Dark Souls or Metal Gear Rising. I wouldn’t even dream of playing any of those on keys, losing the comfort and feedback of a nice and easy on the wrists joypad and not having to be bent over a desk. Bar FPS, RTS and other games that unquestionably excel with mouse input, I’ll only really switch back to mouse for the hardest modes of 3rd person shooters.

          I earnestly would urge you to give it another try. It will take a little time and practice, but isn’t that what much of gaming’s about? Learning new mechanics, controls schemes, skills. Feeling your own abilities progress? If you can do it with game mechanics, you can do it with controls. It’ll open up a whole world for you of games that are a joy to play on sticks. Give some twin-stick shooters a go. Gauntlet for instance, I find so, so enjoyable to play on a pad. Thor charges with the flick of a stick, hitting button combos to chain Wizard spells, or running circles around things as the Elf, spinning and firing arrows in a full 360 degree circle with absolutely minimal effort. Now moving a cursor, whilst WASDing in anything from Alien Swarm to Teleglitch just feels clunky to me and I would kill for pad support in games like Torchlight 2, that causes actual physical pain from constantly either holding down, or clicking the mouse button for hours, when on sticks, all you have to do is move a thumb, maybe pull a trigger. Personally, I find having to clickety, click, click incessantly and press number keys, by far the more clunky and archaic control scheme for an ARPG. The only way I can manage TL2 is by using a key to move and binding half my skills to mouse buttons.

          And so, back to this game. An ARPG with twin-stick shooter, Gauntlet stylee controls, is something I would very, very much enjoy, so I’ll be keeping an eye on this one.

    • McPartyson says:

      I specifically look for games that have gamepad/360 controller support. I get bummed if the gamepad support support isn’t included. These diablo type games work just great on one.

    • trn says:

      To be fair, Diablo 3 seems to have been a success on console. Its a different experience, but it works. With the range of options to play your PC on a telly (Steam Big Picture / NVIDIA Gamestream etc.) this makes some sense as a unique selling point. Don’t necessarily agree with it (I’m on RPS after all), but given that you rarely have more than 5-6 active skills in an ARPG why not implement controller support?

    • Hunchback says:

      I posted this knowingly it’ll start a shit-storm. I “obviously” exagerated, to try and tease, and it seems to have worked. Now as to why – I know that many games are best played with a pad, especially all console ports (for obvious reasons) and probably most sports and combat games. However, i can’t, try as i may, see any reason to play an FPS, RTS, aRPG or anything requiring 1) Quick reflexes and twitch movement, 2) a pointer on a screen. It does, indeed, sound like eating a soup with a fork.

      Still, hooray for PC master-race and being able to plug whatever controller you want and play as you want.
      But please, not on an aRPG, :D

      • Alice O'Connor says:

        Why did you toss rubbish about? It’s rubbish. And you knew it was rubbish. Yet you still hurled that rubbish into our comment garden, crushing a comment primrose I’d been enjoying.

        • Hunchback says:

          It’s not rubbish, it’s a provocation, but my original point is valid, as i explained in my previous post :)

          • Philomelle says:

            I would love to see you play old-school Treasure shooters on the keyboard and then tell us more about how important that input style is for twitch reflexes.

          • welverin says:

            I prefer a gamepad for Diablo 3 over M&K, so there.

        • PhilKenSebben says:

          So…. I…. uhh…. shouldn’t have pooped by the cactus huh?

      • Hex says:

        The thing is, the game supports both gamepad and KBaM, so there’s zero reason to even discuss this here.

      • McPartyson says:

        Please keep adding controller support in ARPGs, it works wonderfully.

    • Baines says:

      A gamepad allows a kind of action that Diablo-style mouse controls are poor at.

      Both control schemes have their weaknesses. It is just that PC gamers are used to working around mouse+keyboard weaknesses and are used to playing games designed to try to avoid or patch up some of those weaknesses. That doesn’t mean that those weaknesses do not exist, or that those weaknesses do not restrict gameplay.

  2. horsemedic says:

    > aRPGs are an odd genre, with there being so popular, but with so few that stand out.

    Think you mean “their being so popular,” unless you were pointing at an aRPG-themed bar when you wrote that.

  3. trn says:

    Bit fed up of killing giant spiders in ARPGs.

  4. Spider Jerusalem says:

    But…but…the loot.

    • Hex says:

      Transmet?

      I for one tend to get really overwhelmed with loot-drops in these games. If they ever change the name, this might finally be the aRPG for me!

  5. Nice Save says:

    Here’s a semi-irrelevant question: What does the C in cRPG stand for? I used to think a cRPG was this type of game, and the C stood for combat, but I learned better, but I still never discovered what it actually stood for.

    • Wulfram says:

      Computer. It’s to distinguish it from tabletop

    • Hex says:

      While the “c” stands for computer, cRPG has come to mean something other than “RPG on your computer.” It’s a specific type of western RPG.

      As far as I can tell, the nerdiest RPGs typically qualify as cRPGs.

      • Premium User Badge

        Phasma Felis says:

        That’s not really the common usage. “CRPG” generally just means “RPG video game,” with no particular connotation of subtype. “Computer RPG” and “console RPG” may once have been somewhat synonymous for what we now call “western” and “Japanese” respectively, but now that both types are broadly available on both computers and consoles, that hasn’t been the case for some while.

        These days “CRPG” is only really used to distinguish from tabletop/pencil&paper RPGs, so video game publications don’t usually have need of the term.

    • caff says:

      I thought it meant “character”, i.e. quite intensive on NPC backstories and dialogue, rather than hitting stuff?

      • malkav11 says:

        Nope. Computer. Plenty of early CRPGs had no roleplaying, no real characters and little plot, and certainly no dialogue. (Wizardry, for example.) But they were definitely on computers, and they’re definitely a genre defined around mechanics like levelling up, using an inventory (and not just for item puzzles), combat, etc.

    • Premium User Badge

      teije says:

      Obviously, it stands for the type of RPG the CRPG Addict will play – assuming he lives forever and gets to the game. He’s only at 1990 now.

  6. almostDead says:

    aRPGs are an odd genre, with there being so popular

    Shouldn’t it be them or their?

  7. Philopoemen says:

    I still have no idea who Victor Vran is.

    • laser-gods says:

      Seems to be some sort of discount Van Helsing

      • laser-gods says:

        Based on his default outfit that is, with the wide brimmed hat and waistcoat type gear

        • Goat.of.Space says:

          And he is killing monsters because of how angry he is about his name. “We’ll name him Victor frigging Vran they said. *hack.splat* Its cool and edgy they said.*boom.splat*”

  8. malkav11 says:

    The first couple of Dungeon Siege games are dreary, sure, but then Obsidian made a game that is named Dungeon Siege (3) but is eight thousand times better than those games ever were and that most certainly is not.

    Also, my favorite ARPG on the market today is Marvel Heroes and that’s not even on your list. For shame. I don’t want to claim it’s better than Diablo III, Torchlight II, or Path of Exile. But it is jam-packed full of different modes and classes and all sorts of cool loot to play with and they just keep adding more – a new class every month just for starters – and doing quality of life passes on the existing stuff as well. And that works better for me than Diablo III’s mere six classes and still sadly rare loot of any meaningful interest (just sets and legendaries and they just don’t drop with any kind of frequency even post Loot 2.0) and choice of “story mode or chopped up story mode”. Despite its beauty, kineticism and wonderfully flexible builds. And better than Path of Exile’s relatively dry web of stat nodes and grindiness. (Though that web is a thing of beauty in a lot of ways too.)

    I’ll be keeping an eye on this one, despite the title, but not picking up until it comes out properly.

  9. Hidden Thousand says:

    Well, I guess one may consider Victor Vran a terrible name if one is strongly against alliterative names in general. Or if one thinks that with a surname like Vran a man should have a name that sounds more Slavic.
    But I believe Victor Vran is a quite bearable name. After all, there is a guy called (Russell) Crowe. And Andrew Bird. And Guy Sparrow (!)

  10. Darth Gangrel says:

    I’m pleasantly surprised to hear so many good things about this game. No, I’m not bothered by the name. It might not be Vrantastic, but there’s no need to Vrant about how awful it is and that it needs to change, because that won’t happen.

    I was interested in it before, but now it seems better than I thought it would be. That it is in Early Access is a good thing too, because it means that I’ll get a chance to decrease my backlog before it’s down to 5 euros in a sale, at which case I might buy it.

    Also, Dungeon Siege 1 and 2 is kinda fun. Very much dumb fun, but still fun and Sacred 1 and 2 seem pretty good as well.

  11. Philotic Symmetrist says:

    “Hack-n-slash RPGs are for wearing out your mouse!”

    HERESY! Wait, that wasn’t what you meant was it?

    “Victor Vran has you move about in a way far more reminiscent of a third-person action game.”

    So…like you’d expect if you crossed an Action game with an RPG? *Because* of this, Victor Vran sounds “defiantly like an action RPG”. Although…”Move on the right trigger”…I’m not entirely sure but that sounds like you don’t just use the left control stick to move your character directly?

    P.S. I realise this comment is on a relatively old post, I hope no-one is irritated by this fact.