by Derk Bil
previewed on PC
The prodigal son
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is a step off the beaten path for developer Neocore. They have earned their stripes enriching the strategy genre with role-playing elements in King Arthur: The Role-Playing Wargame but are now aiming for a broader audience with an Action-RPG in the vein of Diablo and Torchlight. But don’t expect this to be a simple clone, Van Helsing game will have a few twists not seen in either of those illustrious titles.
In the first part of what has recently been revealed to be a trilogy, an unlikely call for help reaches Van Helsing. The call comes from Van Helsing’s arch enemies, the vampires, who need his help against a mad scientist who threatens everything living and undead. Through the marvels of science, he is slowly but surely taking over Borgovia to turn it into his own scientific freak show. Van Helsing recognizes the need for this uneasy alliance with the vampires if he is to quench the mad scientist’s ambitions. Unfortunately, he is not as young as he once was and has grown old and weary. But help turns out to be close by as old man Van Helsing recruits his prodigal son to mop up the mess.
Young Van Helsing is a capable vanquisher of things that go bump in the night. Handy with swords and guns and blessed with a predisposition for magic, he is a dangerous man but his people skills leave a lot to be desired. That is where his sidekick the Lady Katarina comes in, or rather her ghost does. Together they will be the comic duo through whom you will overcome the mad scientist’s monstrosities.
We played a pre-alpha build that gave us a good, in-depth look at Van Helsing’s many talents. Other than Monster Hunter Extraordinaire, Van Helsing does not have any specific class but that does not mean there is no diversity. You start the game with a basic proficiency in gun slinging and sword wielding and get to specialize or diversify your skills as you level up.
Ability points can be spent on four main stats consisting of body, dexterity, willpower and luck. These in turn influence sub-stats like attack, spell-power and ‘rage’ (more about that later). So even when you have spent most of your ability points fueling the dexterity stat to increase your proficiency with ranged weapons, it does not mean that your melee combat has been completely ignored.
Skill points are crucial to personalize your gameplay and can be invested into one of three skill trees; melee, ranged and magic. Each has around six different main skills that can be leveled up multiple times in order to maximize their effectiveness. Skills also come with two to three special power-ups that can enhance or warp the effect of the parent skill into something more effective in specific situations. Better yet, power-ups can be used in tandem to increase their effectiveness even further. You cannot use them at will however, they require ‘fuel’ in the form of rage (there it is) which builds up as you kill enemies. A rage-induced spell or action can give you a clever and decisive edge in battle, usually in the form of wanton destruction on the baddies.
Loot, either dropped or found, abounds throughout your adventures. Some of it will be good, some of it will be pure rubbish. You can either leave or sell the gear that is not worth your while and enhance the stuff that you do like with ointments and gems that can be picked up along the way.
An incredible adventure
The pre-alpha build was far from finished but even at this stage, Van Helsing’s artwork looked absolutely stunning, living up to the high expectations Neocore has set with their gorgeous looking King Arthur games. The game world is dark with a colorful undertone and the creature base is imaginative and detailed. Ranged combat felt a little lacking in power but that could be a balancing issue or that the demo’s character was built unfavorably for ranged combat.
Neocore will be self-publishing The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing and is planning to release the full trilogy over a period of 18 months. Each game will have a storyline of its own but the three stories will also be part of a single overarching one. So who knows, perhaps we get to kick some vampiric butt after setting things straight in Borgovia.