The lights are on
I had no experience with the original Van Helsing game before diving into this sequel, but Neocore Games has included some useful features to help out newcomers. There’s a brief intro video that goes through the events of the first game. It hits on a lot of the big points from the first game, similar to a “Last time on…” for a T.V. show, so I understood why I was where I was, but didn’t have any attachment to my quest or cast of characters. The best thing to say about the recap is that it does make the first game sound interesting.
Should you play Van Helsing II without playing the first game? No, probably not. But that doesn’t mean that it’s bad. If anything, it shows that developer Neocore Games is committed to giving fans more of what they liked, improving on existing features, and releasing follow ups in a timely and consistent manner. Whether or not you should start at Van Helsing or Van Helsing II is also a question of how much story matters to you. If you’re looking for a Diablo-like game set in an interesting steampunk setting, but don’t care about story – then jumping into Van Helsing II would be fine.
The witty banter that the original Van Helsing game is known for is present in the sequel, and even helped me connect with characters that I had no reason to care about. You play as the son of Abraham Van Helsing – though your default first name is also Abraham – and you’re accompanied by Lady Katarina, the ghost of a noble woman who accompanies you in battle and adventure. Her usefulness in battle and wry humor quickly endeared me to her. The voice acting, including these two characters, is generic, but it seems intentional and helps carry the campy humor.
In my brief time with Van Helsing II, I was able to get an idea of how choice changes the game. An example of this is when the commander offered me the opportunity to lead the defense against the monsters invading the city of Borgova. I could either abstain, claiming that I’m just a hunter not a leader, or visit each guard post and give specific defensive orders prior to the attack. I did both choices on different playthroughs, and neither distinctly stood out. The changes were very slight, but choices further into the game possibly offer a greater potential to affect the world.
The gameplay itself is fairly standard for games in this genre, though the Van Helsing series has the benefit of being comparatively inexpensive at $14.99 and takes place in an interesting universe. The build I played started me as a level 30 character, so I had a lot more options available for attacking at the start as opposed to someone who would start at level one. There’s a tutorial at the start that did a decent job of introducing the various aspects that are important to combat. There are different classes available with slight alterations for each class. You can build Van Helsing for melee combat, ranged, or magic. Each class has the ability to use another’s toolset, for example: a melee Van Helsing can still switch to pistols or a rifle, but choosing one signifies it as his specialty – and those attacks are more powerful.
Instead of having a wide variety of spells available at all time, Van Helsing II puts the focus on two customizable attacks that are controlled with the left and right mouse clicks. The default is having one as a basic melee attack and the other as a spell, though you can set different attacks if you’d prefer to. Alternatively, you have the ability to switch to an alternate set of moves very quickly – namely one that is all basic attacks – which racks up damage quicker than if you only had one melee attack set. In part, I enjoyed being able to alternate between two moves easily, though the obtuse nature of reaching for a third or fourth spell, which are not readily available, is a letdown.
Van Helsing II seems like it will be worth its value for an isometric RPG-type game. It has the basics of the genre down; my biggest worry is that it doesn’t do enough to innovate. If you’re interested in a game similar to Diablo but set in a steampunk universe: you should keep your eye on The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II, but consider playing the first game, since it’s more episodic than a traditional sequel.
Email the author Isaac Federspiel, or follow on Game Informer.
You know. I wanted to get the first Van Helsing. Yet I heard mix reviews of the game. I kinda talked myself out of wasting money. Still may keep my eye out on the squeal.