The Xbox One version of The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing would have flown under my radar had it not been part of Microsoft's Games for Gold program. The game was pretty much a poor man's Diablo, but apparently it proved popular enough to warrant a sequel.
Although calling The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II a sequel is generous. The first game was so short it felt as if a bigger game had been cut in half. Indeed it seems to be the case as Van Helsing II picks straight up from where the first game left off without any frills or fanfare. Veterans of the first game can import their characters while newcomers can create a level 30 character to start adventuring with.
The steampunk-ish land of Borgovia is once again in turmoil and it's up to monster hunter Van Helsing and his sarcastic, ghostly sidekick lady Katarina to offer their expertise at expelling the hordes of evil. This time general Harker and his mechanical minions provide a formidable foe for the dynamic duo. Lots of hacking, slashing and blasting ensues as Van Helsing sows his way through various quests in an aid for Borgovia. Between missions you can pop into your secret lair to manage resistance troops and send them off on a various tasks helping the cause.
The absolute best aspect of the game is the player is not restricted to one of the predetermined character classes of a hunter (a typical ranger coupled with basic melee skills), a thaumaturge (an offensive mage) or an arcane mechanic (a more gadgety kind of mage). Through a versatile skill tree you can build a hybrid class best suited to your playing style. I'm one for a challenge so I usually prefer rogues even though mages of destructive power and crowd control abilities are popular and often a more sensible choice.
A few good ideas don't carry the game far enough though as everything else in Van Helsing II is frustratingly mediocre. Visuals are average at best and jarring, and the music is lifted note by note from a manual "how to write a score for a fantasy action-RPG". The dialogue is riddled with awkward puns and out of place popular cultural references.
Some gameplay mechanics are unnecessarily clunky. Different attacks and spellcasting don't always flow naturally enough for a smooth experience as a left thumbstick click is too slow for a quick action bar swap in the middle of a heated action. Often you find yourself running for an open space to gather your composure and controls again.
The aspect most lacking is the technical execution. The developers have neglected the first rule of making a top-down isometric dungeon crawler and that is to provide a silky smooth 60 fps experience. You wouldn't except this choppy a frame rate these days, especially considering the simple nature of the graphics.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II offers mildly engaging but ultimately underwhelming entertainment. Hardcore fans of the genre who simply can't get enough of hacking and slashing through fantasy worlds will probably get their money's worth, but the rest should wait for the game to appear under Games for Gold program like the first part. Meanwhile, I'll go back to Diablo III if I'm in a mood for some medieval slaughter.
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.