The other monster hunter.
When most people hear the name Van Helsing, they think of that Hugh Jackman flick about hunting monsters. I, on the other hand, have come to think of the action RPG that has been thriving on PC from developer Neocore Games. Last year, Xbox One gamers finally got their chance to check out this series in the form of the first game, for free if they had a Gold subscription even. Now, Neocore Games has decided to port the second outing to Microsoft’s console, and while there are some new ideas littered therein, it remains fairly similar to the first, warts and all.
For the uninitiated, Van Helsing is a top-down, action RPG in the same style as Blizzard’s popular loot game Diablo. Players mow down monsters, gather new loot and equipment, all while gaining experience to unlock a massive skill tree full of abilities. The biggest differences here are that Van Helsing has fewer classes to choose from, which can make repeating areas upon completion a little stale. He also comes with a companion in the form of Lady Katarina, who I like to call the ghost with the most. She can attack, has her own separate skill set, and can even take items back to town to sell while out on mission.
Platforms: XB1, PC
Price I’d Pay: $14.99
The story picks up after the events of the first game, and the setting continues to be one of the more appealing aspects of the series – taking place in the gothic wonderland of Borgovia, a place where any mad scientist would feel right at home. The story is cliché, and while there are dialogue decisions, they really only dictate whether I had to take of the action or send out troops to do it for me.
Of course I rarely come to these games for their compelling narrative. Instead I want to lay waste to minions of baddies, while constantly picking up better loot. Van Helsing II has plenty to offer in that area. I am constantly finding new armor, swords, guns, and of course hats to outfit my character. The inventory system is a little clunky at first, but I got used to it an hour or so in. I do like the bevy of options available for quality of life improvements. Being able to auto-equip better items goes a long way in streamlining the experience.
In addition to hacking and slashing and loot gathering, Van Helsing II does add a bit of flavor to the mix. There is a built-in tower defense game that allows players to take on waves of enemies with combat and traps. This is the building block for a spin-off from Neocore Games, but it is pretty fun here as well. There is also an area in the secret lair where I could train soldiers, and send them off on missions for me, thus reaping the rewards. The same can be done with the Chimera pet I earned later in the game. There are a lot of minor systems scattered throughout the game that really spice up the constant hack and slash game play.
Even with this being a sequel though, things still feel rough around the edges. I already mentioned the clunky inventory system, but that is just one piece. The skill tree is also a mess. Screens and screens of upgrades and upgrades on top of upgrades is ridiculously overwhelming at first. I found myself picking one or two things and sticking with them. Combine that with the fact that Lady Katarina also has her own sets of skills and upgrades, and it is easy to get lost. There is also a reputation system that is used to unlock perks, and oh did I also mention the Chimera has his own upgrade path and needs to be fed essence on a regular basis. It is a lot of micromanagement.
The game also suffers from some performance problems. The first game ported to Xbox One had plenty of frame rate issues and hitches in game play. The Unity engine is not the best on consoles, but I figured the team would spend some time addressing these problems for the sequel. Sadly, they did not; the game still does not run great, and even crashed on me a few times, which is unacceptable.
Van Helsing II is more of the same, both good and bad. I really enjoyed the core game play, loot gathering, and environments in the game. I did not appreciate that most of the technical issues of the first title on consoles also came with it. Still, for $15 it is hard not to recommend this title for anyone looking to scratch that action RPG itch. It is solid, entertaining, and most importantly fun, if you can get past its issues.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.