The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II (PC)
Developer: Neocore Games
Publisher: Neocore Games
Released: May 22, 2014
The story of Van Helsing II picks up right after the end of the first game. In case players completely forgot the plot or never played it, the opening cinematic does a superb job of catching everyone up. Essentially -- the city of Borgovia needs defending, and Van Helsing just so happens to be pretty great at exactly that. Simple enough.
In addition, a mysterious character simply named "Prisoner Seven" is involved, helping out Van Helsing throughout his adventure. However, Seven's intentions are the definition of vague, leaving the player and Van Helsing to always question his motives. The plot isn't too far off the beaten path and gets pretty predictable, but it's decently written and very well voiced in order to keep the player's attention throughout. The first game's humor comes back in full force, however this time its done with much more tact. The referential humor of the original rubbed me the wrong way, but that was not the case in the sequel.
Players now have the ability to make Van Helsing one of three classes available, instead of being forced into a single role like in the original game. In addition to the classic Hunter, players can opt to make Van Helsing a Thaumaturge or an Arcane Mechanic. Each class plays very differently from the next, and there are loads of customization options within each class themselves, almost ensuring that two players will not play alike. Players may also import their characters from the first game if they wish.
The Rage concept returns in full force, allowing even specific skills to be customized. Each skill has three sub-abilities that can be leveled up. These sub-abilities might make the main ability deal more damage, last longer, or cause some secondary effect. In order to use these powers, players must spend Rage, which is gained in battle, by pressing the appropriate sub-abilities keybinding. These can also be combined, as three points of Rage can be used at once. This makes battles feel more fast-paced, since players are tapping the S key three times, firing an ability, then pressing the D key twice and the A key once and firing off another ability. It feels great and makes this ARPG more than a standard "click-fest."
Katarina, the "ghost with a snappy wit" returns in the sequel and can also be customized a ton. She feels much more fully fleshed out than in the first game and she even filled the classic "tank" role pretty well during my playthrough. Her AI can be extremely customized, which allows her to not feel like dead weight the entire time. Plus, she can hold on to excess items, go back to town and sell them, and even go buy potions (much like Torchlight). Later in the campaign, Van Helsing also gets control of a Chimera, who can be summoned to fight alongside the titular hero or be sent on missions to get loot. Naturally, I summed him all the damn time.
The tower defense mini-game makes its return, which is a mode that I wasn't too fond of in the original due to lack of direction. I am happy to say, however, that Van Helsing II gives this mode the care and dedication it deserves, making it leagues better. The towers are more interesting, the maps feel better designed, and the package as a whole comes together nicely.
Van Helsing is also in charge of resistance commanders now, and can send one of his commanders out to do his bidding for him. Managing these commanders is a mini-game in itself, as each one has certain tactics they are better at and sending the wrong one can mean a mission failure.
The difficulty in the game works similarly to how the original Van Helsing did: throwing more enemies at the player equates to a "harder" game. It's an arbitrary way to challenge the player, and it made me feel forced to constantly be pumping points into HP, since I was absolutely melting to the hordes of enemies thrown my way, especially in my second playthrough of the Story Mode. Luckily, re-doing skills and skill points only costs gold, which is plentiful. It's much more manageable in multiplayer, though if you don't have someone specific to team up with there aren't many public games out there to join at any point in time.
Players can alter the difficulty in a different way, and can now add trophies to the Hall of Trophies to gain both benefits and challenges to the campaign. Said trophies will add bonuses like added elemental damage while at the same time adding a benefit to the enemies like giving them more HP. It's a nice risk-and-reward way of customizing the difficulty a bit and fits well into the game. In addition to the Story Mode, which can be played multiplayer, there are also Scenarios, which are only unlocked at level 57.
After finishing the story mode once, however, players will likely be around level 30, meaning that they'll have to go into New Game+ mode or grind out some levels online. It's a less than optimal way to get to the Scenario mode, and I feel as if it should unlock after completing the story, at the very least. The Scenario mode offers up a random "mini-campaign" with various effects on the world, but will mostly only be for the hardcore players due to its high level requirement. Likewise, the Battle Royale PvP mode is also locked until level 57.
The visual design of enemies in Van Helsing II is great, offering up some truly bizarre foes to take down throughout the campaign. Their behaviors are varied enough so that every enemy doesn't simply run straight towards the player, though many do. The visual style is alright, though things are overly shiny and can be a bit muddy as well.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II is a much better showing than the original. It's what a sequel should be; it improves on nearly everything while adding brand new ideas to the pile. Best of all, the core gameplay mechanics are still a blast to use and really spice up a genre that if often left untouched. It certainly has its shortcomings, but fans of games like the Diablo series, Torchlight, Titan Quest, or Path of Exile will love it.