Van Helsing, as a character, has grown far beyond the Dutch doctor Bram Stoker wrote about in his seminal vampire novel, Dracula. Through the many films and books that have followed, he's become not only a vampire hunter but an all around monster hunter, with incredible Batman-esque gadgets and encyclopaedic knowledge of the undead in all its forms.
It's this Van Helsing, the fearless hunter of the occult, that takes center stage in The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing. An action rpg, in much the same vein as games like Diablo and Torchlight, the three hours I played spanned the first two areas of the game, and had Van Helsing tasked with finding his way through Borgovia, an area I assume to be either just outside of, or taking the place of, mythical Transylvania.
Armed with a melee weapon (fast dual swords or a large, slow two-hander) and a ranged weapon (dual pistols or a rifle), Van Helsing's trip through the wilderness of Borgovia is about as monster filled as you would expect. In fact, I found it almost comical just how many and how big some of the groups got, with the later area, a dingy swampland, easily throwing mixed groups of harpies, toad men, and little rat-things named scavengers that numbered at least 20 deep.
Quests are dolled out by exclamation point baring citizens, and the few that were present in the first areas consisted of mainly fetch or kill quests. Of note was one particular quest that sent me into an instanced version of the hub town, which I then had to defend from harpies. It consisted of not much more then going to different parts of town and beating on the same kind of packs I had dealt with in the wild, but I found the use of the town proper and mix of normal/champion enemies within the packs to be entertaining.
Helping me to slaughter the masses of enemies was a follower named Lady Katarina. A noble woman whose spirit had become bound to Van Helsing, she functioned much like the pets from Torchlight, able to carry goods and sell them back in town, as well as attack from either melee or range and even act like a very limited tank, though she had far too little hit points to serve well in the capacity. The banter between the two was playful, and pointed at a deeper history then was revealed in my brief time with them.
Van Helsing and Katarina both have their own skill trees, with hers serving a buffing capacity, while Van Helsing's dealt with either melee or ranged abilities, interspersed with the occasional passive ability. Van Helsing also uses Torchlight's reputation concept, but instead of providing extra skill points upon level up, you can pick from a series of perks that were very reminiscent of the Fallout style of level up reward. There were perks that granted extra skill points, better criticals on first strikes, and even one that provided extra defense the lower your hit points went. Nothing I saw was game breaking or game changing in anyway, but it did add a bit of flair to the proceedings.
What little of the story I experienced was fine, though the writing seemed a bit lacking, but the thought of a narrative not wrapped up in years of convolution combined with this type of gameplay is enough to warrant a serious look when the game comes out in a few weeks.
One other thing to consider is that fact that there is only one playable character. While Van Helsing does have options when it comes to combat, the distinct lack of other playable characters leads me to question the viability of multiple play-throughs.
Overall, Van Helsing has some good things going for it. The combat was fun if not altogether engaging, and some of the enemy types, especially some heavy hitters in the swamp, led to some thoughtful “run and gun” rather then “stand and chop” encounters. I think it does have to be mentioned that this style of game has been pretty much perfected by Diablo and Torchlight, and while the small additions Van Helsing has added seem interesting, I don't know if it's enough to truly pull away from those mighty forefathers.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!