Victor Vran has a problem. Well, many problems, but Haemimont Games spends little time delving into the psychological horrors present in a man who lives with a demon curse. Instead, sword in hand and hammer on back, the problems Victor faces are of the somewhat more immediate kind, the kind that slithers, clambers, leaps, or floats with the sole purpose of ripping your face off.
For anyone that’s played an action RPG before, these types of problems will be all too familiar, as Victor Vran, both the game and its titular protagonist, rarely strays from the comfortable into any new ground. Sure, there are differences between it and its closet brethren, but whatever shine those differences bring to light are lost hours in amidst the sheer sameness of it all.
As a monster hunter on a mission to find his friend, a fellow hunter who disappeared working his way through a kingdom under siege by demons and the undead, Victor’s quest starts out rather simple. It’s naturally not long until he is dragged into becoming the kingdom’s sole defense against the ravaging hordes, and the quest shifts from a rudimentary rescue to a chance at redemption. As stories of this kind go, it’s not short of drama, but it sticks very close to nearly all the established tropes this type of emotionally ravaged hero is known for. In fact, besides Victor, the only even slightly defined character is a rather sassy disemobdied voice that both narrates and makes fun of the brooding monster hunter. To avoid spoilers, I won't say how he comes into play late in the story, but the result was neither surprising nor especially effective.
It’s reliance on convention with the story also places a larger burden on the gameplay to keep the player involved. As an Action RPG, Victor Vran is heavy on loot, groups of enemies, and some pretty flashy attacks. Through the first couple of areas, this approach works surprisingly well. With Victor’s choice of weapons determining his suite of attack options, the first portion of the game is rife with delicious experimentation. Do I prefer hammers or swords? Rapier or broad? Forgo melee for ranged with shotguns and a crazy arcing lightning gun? All valid choices, and the bevy of options never feels like a burden for the player.
Once you've been through the list of available weapons, something like 3 ranged and 3-4 melee, all that experimentation comes to a full stop. While they drop in all of the standard magical varieties, complete with the ARPG approved colors to indicate rarity, there's never enough of a significant change in look or use to shake things up. All shotguns have the same three attacks, and while you may find items to boost those attacks in a myriad of ways, they will always still have those three attacks. While I did manage to find a legendary shotgun that would fire almost as fast as I could mash the attack button, it was still locked to the three attacks any normal shotgun would have.
The world tries to make up for this short fall by offering challenges in each and every area of the world. Whether they be simple standards like kill so many enemies with a specific weapon, or more complex by doing the same thing but with any number difficulty altering hexes applied. The first few times a challenge is met, and an exploding flag comes hurtling from the heavens showering experience or money, is novel, but it slowly fades as the desire to simply push through takes over.
The variety of enemies also follows a similar line, but succeeds where the weapons and challenges do not. Spread through both woodlands outside, the parks within, and the city manors that comprise this fallen kingdom, the number of horrific beasts awaiting their ultimate end numbers in the thousands. Chief amoung these trope-ish monstrosities is the lowly skeleton, which needs to be Overkilled, in other words doing way more damage with the final blow then was necessary, or they get back up for a second go. The rule holds whether it is a standard grunt, a named champion, or even a boss, so not only do kudos go for consistency but for outright annoyance of the design, making me stop to think about killing an enemy instead of just mindlessly plodding through them. How dare they!
The design carries through to the boss fights, with each, with the exception of the final one, being an absolute treat. My favorite was a skeletal lich who retreated to his phlactery upon each death, forcing you to race past enemies in an effort to follow his fleeing spirit. It was both engaging, and a clever spin on the area, as it forced you to adapt in ways other then simply dodging in, taking a swing or shot, and dodging back out. The last boss, sadly, just doesn't hold up when compared to the other encounters. It's length feels padded in the way that great bosses don't, and the little that changes between the phases makes the whole ordeal feel bland and uninspired.
In a way, though, it was fitting to see the final boss fight fall in to the muck and mire of banality, as it mirrored the game that led up to it. Starting with promise, but falling short of its own goals, Victor Vran was caught in a trap of its own making. Dressed in the tropes of old, it forgot to continue to show us that it was more then the total of its parts, more then just another ARPG, set in another gothic world, with another broken hero unknowingly seeking redemption. Like it's titular character, Victor Vran never really finds it.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!