by Ingvi Snædal
reviewed on PC
The first thing that really struck me about Van Helsing is how customizable the experience is. In the options menu, you can choose whether your character picks up potions automatically, whether enemy HP bars are visible, and whether or not to show Van Helsing’s hat. The guy looks good with most of the hats, but for some reason I kept getting the best stats on the ugliest looking trapper hats which made me look like a mentally challenged hick from a Cohen Brothers film. It breaks the style of the character a bit but every other hat looks much better.
During the character creation process, you have the option to create a Casual, Normal, Hard, or Heroic character. Having played both on Normal and Hard, I can honestly say that the game feels very different depending on the level. Normal mode allows you to take in the rich story at a good pace without being presented with too great a challenge, while Hard will test your gamer skills and ability management. There is even an option to create a Hardcore Character, whose death is permanent.
There are two skill trees, one for ranged and one for melee powers. In addition to that, you have certain tricks and auras that can aid you in combat regardless of which attack mode you are using. I chose to go the Mystic Warrior path (melee) as I left it to Lady Katarina to pick the weaklings off from afar. The powers imbue your weapon with elemental powers, give your character a better shot at evading attacks, or make your attacks land on more than one target to name just a few of the skills available on both the melee and ranged skill trees. Auras and Tricks must be taught to you by specific NPCs in towns and they range from healing and damage reflection tricks to damage boost and HP stealing auras.
A rage meter surrounds both the mana and health orbs and fills up incrementally with each kill. Every skill you learn has three rage powers that can be unlocked by spending skill points on them. A combo of three rage skills can be set which then gets unleashed each time you press the space bar. You can also ignore the whole rage system as there are some skills that boost your stats when at full rage. Spending the points on skills instead can be a powerful move. As your reputation increases, you will be able to choose perks which permanently boost your stats or grant you special powers and abilities unrelated to the skill trees.
Now that the boring technical stuff is over and done with, let me get to the real reason I thoroughly enjoyed this game and highly recommend it. The gameplay itself is nothing new, but the design team’s take on the severely underserved steampunk genre is very well done. You are not fighting demons. You are not fighting monsters (well...not the whole time).
Rich, detailed, and interesting setting; full of humorous references; great value.
Limited weapon choice; minor bugs.