Van Helsing, despite being possibly the most famous vampire hunter there is, hasn’t really many appearances in media as his arch-nemesis Dracula, this includes Video Games. Luckily NeoCore games has given us “The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing: Final Cut”.
Now, Final Cut is actually the entire Van Helsing ARPG trilogy condensed into a single game, featuring all three campaigns as a single one, with various changes made in order for the experience to be more enjoyable. Now, is this Final Cut worth your money? You’re about to find out.
The first thing you may want to know is that you’re not playing as Van Helsing himself, but rather as his son of the same name, who’s also accompanied by lovely ghost lady Katarina.
Van Helsing: Final Cut is what you call a Hack-n-Slash RPG, or a Diablo-like. If you’ve played games such as Path of Exile, Diablo 3 or Torchlight you know how it goes, clicking and clicking in order to kill hordes of monsters, gain exp, gold, and most important of all: Loot!
Starting with the gameplay, the game is your standard Hack-n-slash, the game gives you plenty of freedom in how to develop your character, choosing among various classes, and from there deciding how to distribute your character points (Used to improve Van Helsing stats such as health, damage, dodge or how much he benefits from his ghost companion), your skill points (Used to acquire both active and passive skills) and titles that you gain by leveling up your reputation (Used to give you some small stat bonuses or extra skill points). This allows you to try out different kinds of builds.
In terms of challenge however, the game can certainly use some improvements. I started on the hardest difficulty (Fearless) but by the end of the first chapter I found it a bit overwhelming so I decided to change to Normal, even in that setting, most mobs can kill you quickly if you get careless, of course a good game must not be a cakewalk to get through, but It’s certainly strange when some enemies are able to take down 1/3 or half of your health meter despite you having fairly decent resistance and defense stats. Now while some of this could be attributed to me focusing more on increasing damage rather than Evasion, other people who have also played the game tell me of similar experiences, where building a character and not focusing on heavy protection often results in dozens of deaths, having to sit through load screens and walking all the way back to where you were.
One interesting aspect of this game are the bossfights, Van Helsing bosses often use Area of Effect attacks or are supported by some device you have to destroy, making you move through the arena constantly, another aspect of said boss battles is that there’s also an endless array of normal mobs coming at you, this is mostly because of the Rage meter the game has, where you can add small bonuses such as damage or slowdown to your attacks or skills, and the only way to fill up the Rage meter is by killing enemies.
Ghost lady Katarina also accompanies you during your journey, you can customize her behavior (Whenever you want her to stay out of combat, act as a tank or deal ranged damage) and what items she wears. Katarina, despite being a ghost, is not immortal, and just like you, she can also be killed easily, despite you investing into her HP points, this is a good thing since it makes sure you don’t rely on her doing all the work. Her AI is not perfect though, and she often will aggro enemies that are rather far away from you and you weren’t planning to kill, which often leads to unwanted fights.
A design choice I’m sure not a fan of is the way potions are handled, unlike other games where you have to get gold in order to buy stacks of Health and Mana potions, you have a “unlimited” supply of them, and all you have to do is wait for the timer to end before you can consume the next one, you could say this is a glorified “Regenerating health” system.
In the technical aspects, the game looks good and It’s not too demanding on your system, but some busy chapters (Like the opening missions of Van Helsing II) can bring the dramerate down quite a bit (And you don’t want that happening in these kinds of games).
The High Resolution textures for the game are available as a separate download, a good decision by the developer since I was afraid the game is already big enough as it is without them (According to Steam it uses 34GB of HDD space without them).
There is something you must be aware of about this game though, there is an option for you to create a NeoCore account, you can play offline, but your NeoCore and offline characters are kept separate, NeoCore users get benefits such as Cloud Saving or extra multiplayer modes, but if you’re not interested in that, you’re not missing on a lot by playing offline. In fact, making a NeoCore character like I did would put it at risk of being unaccessible should your internet connection drop for some reason, or even worse, should the game servers go down.
Another small but annoying flaw of the game is the loading time, particularly when you first start up the game, I could start the game, go serve myself a cup of coffee, come back and still have to wait a bit before it fully loads, this is with a normal Hard Drive Disc, people with Solid State Drives could have have an easier time with this. Load times between areas and deaths aren’t that long but can consume a bit of time.
Maybe the reason for the rather long loading times is the scale of the levels, some of them, like when you first walk into the city of Borgovia, are rather big both in size and in scale, exploring all of an area and doing all the quests related to it can take a while. So those who like doing all the optional content before proceeding with the campaign will have a good time.
During one of the early game quests (That consists of collecting some mines) I came across a bug where if you interacted with a bomb more than once, it would detonate the amount of times you clicked on it. The developers implemented a “Bug report” option like in many other PC games, the issue with this, is that you need to create an account on the third-party service that manages bug reports, making the process tedious. To top that off, I don’t think I ever received my email, NeoCore should have just tied the Bug Report option to their own network.
Now there’s an aspect I do want to talk about: The characters and dialogue, most games of this kind usually treat story and characters as a secondary feature, an excuse for the game to happen, and of course, the characters don’t have any real personality.
That’s not the case in Van Helsing though, as both the monster hunter and ghost lady Katarina will often engage in rather witty and sarcastic dialogue, often mocking various cliches in these kind of stories. One of the villains even go as far as to drop a few pop culture villain parodies in the middle of the fight. Other NPCs can also reference popular modern sayings. There’s a bigger focus on the story than other games of this genre, but It’s the sort of cheesy story that’s enjoyable.
I wouldn’t dare to say that “The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing: Director’s Cut” is a must-have, but I say It’s worth to buy during a Steam Sale, they had a few issues at launch but they certainly listened to feedback and improved the game, this can be seen by how the game’s initial “Mixed” reviews on Steam slowly changed to “Mostly positive” and how most of the negative reviews in the “Helpful section” slowly changed to Positive reviews.
Is it the best ARPG in the market? I wouldn’t dare to say so, there are games with more freedom when it comes to building your character, like free-to-play game “Path of Exile”, and which also offer better gameplay mechanically, but Van Helsing is a journey you want to check out if you want something that offers a lot of content and gameplay
Disclaimer: The review key was provided by developer and publisher NeoCore games, for the Steam version of the game.