Wot I Think: Victor Vran

Out of Early Access and in a full release, action RPG Victor Vran [official site] is big diversion for Tropico developers Haemimont Games. But is it a successful one? Here’s wot I think:

There are lots of ARPGs around at the moment. This is a great thing. Few manage to join the elite group of Diablo, Fate, Torchlight, Path Of Exile and Titan Quest, which is a less great thing. With the Van Helsing series making great work of combining the genre with tower defence (no, really, it works, and I hate tower defence) and others inevitably chasing the collectable card game angle, Victor Vran takes it’s own spin on things: challenges.

Large sprawling areas, of which there are many, come with a list of five challenges to try to complete within. Then each contains five or six further zones, they too with their own to-do list of five. Things like, “Slay monsters within 120 seconds (0/50)”, “Slay monsters without using potions or demon powers (0/80)”, or “Slay essences of fire with ranged attacks (0/5)”. Indeed, if it’s not “Find 5 secrets” then it’s going to begin with “Slay”.

The further you get in, the more specific these tasks get, and the harder they are. After a few levels, Hexes are added, which are voluntary additions that make the game harder – monsters get tougher, or faster, or you get weaker, and so on. Challenges start requiring that one or a few are switched on for the star to be earned.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Why? Well, just cos. In fact, I’m struggling to think of a more “just cos” plot in years. So spare and completely dismissible is the attempt at a narrative that it doesn’t remember to explain who Victor Vran (you) is, nor why he’s there, until about a dozen hours in. Spoiler: it’s a boring reason. And where is he? Zorogoroeogovovvia or something. Some place, infested with demons and beasties, after Princess Placeholder accidentally spilt a bottle of fizzy pop or something. From a central hub of a room in her palace, you go off to new zones on spurious reasons, while the ghost of King Keyhat waffles nonsense and oh look eventually I stopped even listening.

And that’s the best choice, really, as proper goals are there none. The list of challenges is the reason to be anywhere, rather than the notional “main quest” that really appears to be “Go there, then come back again, then go there.” That, and of course the real reason anyone plays an ARPG – incrementally improving loot.

Loot is handled nicely. Weapons (armour is a very rare addition) don’t come flying out of every enemy. Rather, they’re rewarded for completing challenges, killing bigger foes, or opening chests. However, so many are the enemies and things to do that you’ll still end up dragging a big haul back to the merchants in the hub after every trip. Amongst the weapons are swords, rapiers, hammers, shotguns, mortars and lightning guns, each with their distinct attributes, later possible to be augmented through sacrificing their kin, and of course graded from grey through to purple. Two can be equipped at any time, meaning you’ll likely have a melee and ranged at the ready, switching out for others when required for a particular challenge. Alongside weapons are the usual array of potions, then Vran’s own unique extras.

First up are Powers. These are demonic abilities Vran possesses thanks to a devilish pact he made in his youth. They rely on your building up Overdrive – a yellow meter that is gained through combat (or time, if wearing a particular outfit), and then let you fling magical boomerangs, put up defensive shields, rain down fireballs, and so on. Then there are Destiny Cards. You can equip an ever-increasing number of these from your collection, adding in bonuses such as increased melee damage, health rewarded for kills, longer buff duration, and the like. Lastly are the Hexes, which as well as making foes tougher, also improve XP and item finds.

And it all works. It all neatly fits together to create the compelling experience an ARPG should. Without having a journey, no A-Z or tower to climb, motivation is a little wayward. But the ever-expanding map of locations you can leap to, and the silly urge to return to old ones to pick up more stars that you missed (for no real reason), means it’s hard not to just keep ploughing forward.

Enemies are well mixed, if a little too repetitive. Spiders are first, with some exploding on death, others spitting ice at you, and some just bloody enormous. Then come the skellingtons, who will put themselves back together after the first time you kill them. Then there are undead, wraiths, essences (which are a huge pain to kill), and so on, with later levels adding new to the mix, rather than abandoning old ones. Different skills are required for sub-categories in each type, so it keeps play a lot more interesting than just clicking.

And shockingly, I haven’t been clicking at all. I’ve been tapping. Vran feels far more comfortable on a gamepad than mouse and keyboard. I know this sounds like sacrilege, and of course mouse/keyboard controls are in there and work well, but this game just fits so well on a 360 controller. If I weren’t me, I wouldn’t believe me either, but give it a go.

It does let itself down in places. Larger areas containing smaller zones are permanent until the moment you return to the hub. After that, the map’s fogged out again, and the enemies have all returned, which is pretty damned infuriating if the reason you left early was because the game crashed (this has happened to me twice), or, say, you had to go to bed. Even if you wanted to get rid of some loot from your inventory (although generous space means this is never a pressing need). Since you’re returning to that area to reach entrances to zones you’ve not yet entered, it’s deeply irritating to have to re-clear your path there for seemingly no reason.

And, yes, well, there’s the matter of the “comedy”. For reasons best known to Haemimont, Vran is accompanied by a wacky-wacky voice in his head, who tells you his name is Voice. He attempts to sarcastically narrate your experience, but it falls horribly flat. At one point, a slight similarity between the actor, Andrew Wincott’s voice, and that of The Stanley Parable’s Kevan Brighting, leads to a fist-chewingly dreadful attempt to spoof/tribute Stanley’s narration. Oh gawd, it’s so bad.

Even more strange is the lack of interaction between Vran and Voice. It happens, occasionally, but despite both being voiced characters (with Vran’s speech coming from Geralt himself, Doug Cockle), they mostly appear to ignore each other. Vran will growl some severe-sounding but vacuous rubbish as he walks through a doorway in one level, then Voice will try to mock the nature of the ARPG in a clumsy and ultimately off-putting way in the next.

And it misses so badly. At one point Voice attempted to mock me saying I didn’t care about the plot, just about gathering loot. (Well, duh.) And to prove this, starts dropping piles of gold around me. A nice idea, in a completely different game, perhaps. But follow the trail, as he mocks you for doing so, and it leads to the entrance to another challenge zone. One I’d already completed, five stars. Voice declares that I’ll be too scared to ever go in there. Um.

So, as I said, I found it far more enjoyable just to ignore the dialogue altogether, and focus on the fun of the fights, and the attempts to complete the often pretty difficult challenges. And there Victor Vran shines.

I can only imagine Haemimont’s faces when Van Helsing appeared on the market before them, so similar are they in style. But Vran does enough to make itself distinct, and it does it well enough to create the imperative to keep going and going.

It certainly doesn’t get to join the elite group, but if you’re after some ARPG entertainment, it more than fits the role. I’m far from finished, after spending a hefty amount of time with it, so there’s a lot on offer here, not least with the incentive to replay older sections to perfection. Turn the voices down, put a podcast on, and sink in.

Victor Vran is out now on Steam and GOG.

35 Comments

  1. Spider Jerusalem says:

    I’ve enjoyed my time with it. The combat, with WASD movement, dodge, etc., is among the best in recent ARPG offerings. Plus there are wall jumps!

    Card system is limited, loot is limited, but there’s a lot of free DLC coming and the devs seem to be constantly updating.

    • Flopper says:

      I’m so glad to hear this is WSAD for controls. I’m surprised games like Diablo still use click to move. It’s so outdated and less responsive.

      I find it funny that if you find someone who plays an MMO like WoW and Diablo, they’ll laugh at someone who plays WoW with click to move enabled yet never even question why Diablo refuses to evolve past it.

      If you need your cursor to aim your spells you shouldn’t also need to drag it all the way across to the other side of the screen to move your character. That’s just poor design. Glad someone is pushing the ball forward.

      Yes I really do see controls as one of the most important parts of a game beyond the actual mechanics.

      • Spider Jerusalem says:

        Yeah. WASD really makes this game. Odd to not see a mention of it in the review, maybe due to the gamepad use. It’s seriously hard for me to go back to other ARPGs after playing Vran, though. The combat really is a refreshing departure, and there’s some aspects of it that I would love to see become industry standard.

      • orionite says:

        I have to try this now, after reading your piece about WASD. I’m firmly in the click-to-move camp when it comes to Diablo-like ARPGs, but use WASD for all 1st and 3rd person games, incl MMORPGs. Maybe I’ve been doing it wrong all these years.

      • LexW1 says:

        Diablo 3 effectively DOES use WASD-style movement on consoles. So it’s not like the designers haven’t thought of it, and you’re wrong to say players mindlessly scoff at it.

        It works really well, but it’s odd how little diffierence there is in actual performance/gameplay between that and purely mouse-driven gameplay. Perhaps because in games which use a mouse, the skills a designed around it, so some stuff is just more effective that way.

        Also Diablo isn’t an MMO. WoW is an MMO. Diablo (1, 2, or 3) is just a multiplayer game. In fact, Diablo 3 has tone-down multiplayer elements compared to previous titles (max 4 players instead of 8, no lobbies, etc. etc.). The reason click-to-move is unacceptable in WoW but mouse-based-movement is acceptable in D3 is that the games were designed around that.

        In WoW, if you use click-to-move, you die unnecessarily (a lot), because the enemies use a lot of AE attacks which you must move out of or die (on harder content), and because it’s 3rd-person, not Isometric, you can’t always see where you would have wanted to click to move to anyway (and the constantly moving camera makes click to move kind of hellish). Whereas the Diablo series are design around mouse-based gameplay, so enemies don’t constantly use the same sort of “move out of this big AE before the timer runs down”-type stuff, and so on. In fact D3 on consoles had to add an ability to make players as agile as they are with mouse (a dodge – again, it works really well).

        • Geebs says:

          It made a difference for me: the difference between being able to play for more than about 20 minutes without wrist pain, and not being able to. Diablo’s bastard offspring of Smash TV and minesweeper is not a good match between gameplay and control scheme, mo matter how familiar it may be.

      • EhexT says:

        Van Helsing also has the option for WASD controls by the way (and it has spells that interact in ways with the mouse controls that haven’t been done in an ARPG before, like custom drawing firewalls and chargable point spells).

        WASD really should be standard for ARPGs by now (as well as a dodge button, with i-frames)

    • alms says:

      Quite impressed by the commitment and the effort Haemimont has put into this one. Didn’t know about the free DLC though!

      I, like John, played with a pad because it looked like the more comfortable way and the game seems designed from the grounds up with it in mind anyway.

  2. subedii says:

    It has it’s issues preventing it from being a classic, but it also makes a lot of smarter design decisions that circumvent some of the more ridiculous trends on ARPG’s today.

    – Modern ARPG’s have gotten to the point of flinging out dozens of loot items every which way, to the point where the event itself is nothing special. To the point where those same games are not only throwing out loot, but including filters to hide the trash loot the game is throwing out it’s just plain daft, and I’m glad they reigned this in.

    – Most ARPG’s tend to give you access to a large-ish skill tree with a variety of abilities. However, what the player is expected to do is to put all their skill points into maxing out 2 or maybe 3 abilities in order to be effective, and using solely those throughout the entire game. Using a different skillset requires basically levelling up an entirely new character.

    In VV the skills are actually tied to the weapons (each one has three skills mapped to the mouse / face buttons), and you can keep two equipped at any time (and swap them whenever you want) So you can vary things up readily without having to spend another 30 hours levelling. That said, I feel like the weapon skills could have been more interesting, although this is partially mitigated by the destiny cards.

    – Actually works fairly well with a gamepad, and is more “active” as a game, as it has direct character control and dodge / jump / double jump. Diablo III PC version, I’m scowling at you right now.

    I’m maybe 8 hours in. It’s not a classic, but it’s a decent diversion. It’s the kind of game I’d really like to see a sequel to because they’ve got the core ideas of a great game here, and with some refinement I could see this easily becoming my preferred style of ARPG.

    • Kitsunin says:

      I’m going to scowl and Diablo 3, too. Why must you pointlessly lock the more enjoyable version within a television and a useless box? Grrrrrr.

  3. UncleLou says:

    I don’t like it very much – it plays like Diablo 3 (the console version) Lite with most of the features removed in absolutely every respect. The challenges are a nice touch, but that’s the most positive thing I can say about it.

    With the lack of skilltrees and basically no armour it feels much more like a fairly simplistic action game than something along the line of Diablo 3 (which obviously is a simplistic action game as well, but it has the whole character building aspect) or Path of Exile.

    • Kitsunin says:

      But sadly, on PC we don’t have Diablo (the console version). This makes me very sad and somewhat angry, because I splitscreened it at a friend’s place once, and it was glorious, but I otherwise hate ARPGs. Incidentally, Victor Vran is fantastic, just not as good as Diablo (console version) which I can’t have :(

      • UncleLou says:

        Well, I would still say that Diablo (the PC version) is a much, *much* better game than Victor Vran (the only version), even if it would be damn nice if we could have the controls of Diablo (the console version) for Diablo (the PC version).

        • Kitsunin says:

          I don’t really agree. I’ve tried every other ARPG on the market aside from Van Helsing, and I’ve always really wanted to enjoy them, but I’ve always found them boring. They feel lifeless — click on the ground, wait for your guy to move, now hold your mouse button until the bad guy is dead. There’s more to it than that in terms of strategy, certainly, but the kinaesthetics just aren’t there.

          The short stint of consoleablo I played, with its far more kinaesthetically appealing control scheme and added bit of reactivity in the form of dodging, felt like a huge breath of fresh air compared to every other ARPG I’d played until that point. Likewise VV feels like a window into some amazing potential future ARPG. Sure it’s just a window, it is very lacking compared to its sort-of-competition, but I can at least see something that I desperately want.

  4. Xzi says:

    The graphics look like something out of 2008. Keeping in mind that Diablo 3 doesn’t look all that great for a recent release, either. IMO the gameplay doesn’t sound like anything special either, Path of Exile has more interesting mechanics from top to bottom. One good aRPG is enough for my tastes, so I’ll pass.

    • alms says:

      Sounds like you’re just finding reasons for not buying/playing games which is OK in my book, but really the game does not look like something out of 2008 (I’m thinking of the original Torchlight) and far prettier than PoE.

      It’s also a different beast from PoE, which is a very traditional game unless when it isn’t.

      I’d go as far as to say this isn’t really deserving of the Diablolike label, the post makes a good job of highlighting how its systems are not a simple tweaking or derivation of existing Diablolikes, I don’t think this time John mentioned that you can jump (and this can affects both level navigation/exploration and combat)?

      And he might have undersold it when he says weapons have different attributes, they are actually completely different in how they handle and the special attacks they have: instead of sticking with a weapon because it has the single best DPS of any I already owned, I found myself switching according to the type of enemies I was facing.

  5. Minglefingler says:

    Really enjoyable arpg. I have the same criticisms as John but they didn’t stop this from being one of those games that I’d turn off an hour or more after I was planning to. I wouldn’t really compare it to Diablo- alikes, the ability to jump and dodge really gives the combat a more immediate, closer feel.

  6. rafacarrascosa says:

    I took a closer look at the screenshots but honestly: can you distinguish anything but patches of color?

    • subedii says:

      In the screenshots? Not really.
      In motion? Yes, easily.

      • Beefenstein says:

        Agreed. I’ve played this game for two hours today and two hours yesterday and the graphics have not got in the way of my enjoyment at all. It looks more than serviceable in motion and, most importantly, it’s fun to play.

        Diablo III is not and I am sorry I bought it.

  7. Darth Gangrel says:

    Oh, it’s so very clever. I just realized that gebaN the Broker asking you to make a deal is a reference to GabeN and Steam deals. I don’t think that’s particularly witty, but it’s not something I’d be annoyed by. It’s more laughable than funny and a bit so-bad-it’s-good in how overwrought it seems like.

    I think that Victor Vran could be quite good, but it’s not something I want to play right now, not even with Geralt and pseudo-Stanley Parable Narrator lending voicework. There are so many other games to try out.

  8. kalirion says:

    I’m sorry, but how does Fate have a place in that “elite” group? It was an important stepping stone on the way to Torchlight, sure, but it is not nearly good enough to stack up against any of the other group members. Sacred 1 and Divine Divinity have it beat by a mile.

    • malkav11 says:

      And Marvel Heroes, which I guess nobody at RPS plays because I can’t fathom how else it could get missed virtually every time they start discussing ARPGs. I’m not going to claim it’s for everyone, and it was pretty bad at launch, but it’s been so vastly improved since that it is currently my favorite ARPG bar none. And I’ve played a lot of them.

      • nearly says:

        I can’t figure out which hero to play, and that’s been the biggest stopping block for me. I don’t particularly like any of them, and none seem to have any really compelling skills or abilities. Antman seemed cool but I’m certainly not shelling that much for one character in a game that I don’t think I like.

        Although, now that I think of it, I did play The Vision enough to get his density toggle and liked that as a mechanic. I’m not sure if I’m convinced it’ll end up being a meaningful/important mechanic rather than just something to always leave on (like the Phoenix seemed to be for Jean Grey).

      • Spider Jerusalem says:

        I’ve played entirely too much Marvel Heroes. I get frustrated with how slow Gaz is on QoL stuff (hi, crafting), but i never stay away for too long. Is there an RPS supergroup?

        • malkav11 says:

          Yes. Back in 2012 and 2013. When it sucked. It’s not that game anymore.

          • Spider Jerusalem says:

            Yup. It rebranded itself with 2015 for a rather good reason. Almost every site that revisited recently has had much better things to say about it.

  9. alms says:

    Not sure I’m following you there:

    I can only imagine Haemimont’s faces when Van Helsing appeared on the market before them, so similar are they in style.

    NeoCore released no less than 3 Van Helsings, surely Haemimont must have noticed at least one? Actually the oddest thing when I started playing Vran, is that for a while I couldn’t shake off the feeling that something was out of place, until I realized this was actually NOT a Van Helsing game.

    I think it all started because Princess Placeholder is actually called Katarina, same as Van Helsing’s ghostly companion, if I’m not mistaken.

  10. purpledoggames says:

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned Bastion. VV owes a lot to the multi-weapon approach and the combat feels somewhat similar. The clumsy narrator stuff is the obvious other parallel, but the less said about that in VV the better. What VV does is combine the gameplay mechanics of other games in smart ways. In gratifying ways. In generous ways. In Bastion you could not swap the 2 weapons you had brought along to the level while in the level. I like how VV lets you adapt to the situation from your full range of abilities and equipment but freely allowing you to change equipment midlevel. The enemies might feel a little samey (production budgets for animating and texturing a large variety of enemies are hard to circumvent, they do well with reskins and combinations) but the choices in how to slay them are plentiful and entertaining. And mine.

    Facing spiders? 2 ranged weapons with % bonus to spider killing, plus some destiny cards that maximise crits and ranged. Then a mix of enemies? Switch to an all purpose scythe, with a hammer for the occasional big smash while letting that cooldown erm cool down as you build the scythe’s power back up. Lots of interesting choices, lots of easily unlocked toys to play with. The upgrade paths, the builds, the weapons are all choices that empower the player to try things, to make how they play the signature.

    In contrast, The Swindle’s upgrade paths put me off it. There’s only 1 path for the first 15-20 days, with no choices. The character is never mine, I’m just jumping through the hoops, running the rat maze, getting the pre-determined pellet at the end. Maybe it opens up once I have 100,000 dollars and a few choices exist, but after the way VV gave me a bunch of toys and let me play with them how I liked, the stinginess of The Swindle felt particularly unfun.

  11. Premium User Badge

    Harlander says:

    I have a confession to make: I really don’t like the “adjective adjective weapon of the profession” style of item description. Sure, it’s more evocative than “sword +1”, but that’s not a super high bar to clear.

    Ego me absolvo.

  12. cylentstorm says:

    Fuck Diablo III…on PC…which I’ve never played but heard many nasty things about. The console versions are great fun with 3 friends and a fridge full of beer. (Plus, you can play in a shack in the middle of a cornfield because you don’t even need an internet connection.) Don’t worry–the game is mindless and “streamlined” no matter which version you have. Drinking games help to compensate for the bare-bones design.

    If you’re playing Victor Vran on a keyboard, then I feel for you. You really do need a gamepad, regardless of any prejudice one may hold toward consoles due to Mommy issues or a superiority complex.

    • Hobbes says:

      Now now, just because pad users are thumb twiddling yokels who couldn’t figure out how to operate the big people games system with all the funny little buttons and had to retreat to the safety of their nice little Xbox pads…

      (I jest by the way, I am a firm believer in using the right tool for the right job, games like Dark Souls f.ex -need- a pad, however, anyone who insists on playing FPS with a pad on a PC needs to be tied to a tree, and then have Barney the Purple Dinosaur played through Glastonbury Festival’s speaker system at them, at point blank range…)

      • Premium User Badge

        Harlander says:

        Surely the appropriate punishment for anyone using gamepad for FPS on PC is to lose in multiplayer.

  13. Agnosticus says:

    FYI, 2 player local coop is under development! :D

    @ #45 link to steamcommunity.com