EA SCOUT the last line of defense for buying on Steam's Early Access
by Robert Thomas
previewed on PC
It's fair to be cynical about games these days, especially Steam's early-access. When Victor Vran came across my lap I feared that it was just your average early-access schlock, cursed with an unfortunate name. Despite its name, Victor Vran turned out to be a pleasant surprise. The game follows the typical isometric action RPG standard but carefully avoids the usual traps that the rest of the genre tends to hit.
Tones of Decay and Darkness
The city of Zagoravia comes under attack by beasts and monsters of unknown origin. Its rulers call out to any and all hunters to come stop the menace. They come in droves, seeking gold and glory, but ultimately most end up dying and the city is all but lost. Victor Vran is half-way across the world when the call for the hunters goes out and ignores it thereafter, seeing it as a hopeless endeavor. That is until he receives a letter from Adrian, the classic 'letter from an old friend'.
Vran heads into the city in search of Adrian, fighting through hordes of monsters. Along the way, he encounters the people that have survived in the decaying city, drawn to it in some way. Vran brushes them off as na´ve and foolhardy, not seeing the hypocrisy with his own journey. Victor is a pessimist by nature and sees the city as utterly hopeless, but he never realizes what a difference he is making.
The game does not drift too far from classic RPG tropes, featuring spider enemies, necromancers, a Queen who won't leave her city, and a voice that talks to Victor, giving him someone to chat with on his missions.
Reflecting the dark tones of the story, the game's visuals are very dark and grimy. The city is decaying and the associates of evil have seized control. Streets and buildings are crumbling and the city has fallen into disrepair. Most of your time is spent in the city at night or in dark places, setting the mood quite elegantly. Only a few places offer reprieve and these are given brighter, more vibrant colors. The most standout of these is the Palace which becomes a base of operations for Victor. Haunting melodies drive the sense that something dark has befallen the world, agreeing with the overall tone nicely. While mostly instrumental, a vocal part will occasionally appear, that crescendos then decrescendos, to add another level of eeriness.
Attacks are in the cards
The game, currently in Early Access, opens with a work-in-progress cutscene which is followed by a nicely-packaged, non-intrusive tutorial. It's well enough put together, giving players that are new to the genre a feel for the style of the game while allowing veterans to quickly move past it. Players are guided through the decaying urban sprawl, battling spider enemies with Vran's three main weapons, a sword, a hammer and a shotgun. The latter of which is a nice break from the trend of bow-and-arrows. Weapons can be used through the classic click-and-hit system and adds hotkeys for special attacks.
The hollowing city has dozens of areas that can be explored but you will have to battle your way through skeletons, pyromancers, demons, and the corpses of former hunters to see them. The levels vary from wide and expansive to very linear and direct, but all have five extra challenges. These challenges are composed of usually out-of-the-way boss battles or killing enemies in a certain amount of time and keep the levels fresh when returning. I didn't return though - I found myself refusing to end the level until I completed all of its challenges.
As you level up, you receive a stat upgrade choice such as upgrading attack power or health, and also receive a choice of three cards that grant a passive ability. The cards range from giving increased attack power to chances for a massive enemy explosion that puts fear or panic into its peers. These cards become part of your loadout, which culminates towards the game's major difference from other Action RPG's of this kind. Instead of focusing on armors and potions, the focus is almost entirely on improving your attacks using cards, weapon boosts and dropped gear.
As an early-access game, Victor Vran stands unfinished and is not without errors. The developers acknowledge the possibility of bugs by having the 'report-a-bug' option featured prominently, though I've not run into many. Those that I did experience were graphical and fixed themselves quickly.
The story is understandably hampered by a lack of voice-acting and missing cutscenes. It may be an overstatement to say that voice-acting can make or break a game like this, but Victor Vran needs something to separate it from other Action-RPGs. Victor's character is nothing unique and neither is the Voice in his head. The same is true for the cutscenes, which I hope will be heavily edited. The flavor texts on the codex entries are excellent, showing a lot of skill on the writer's part and I hope to see his skills transfer into the full game's cutscenes.
An Unfortunate name
Despite a terrible name, Victor Vran turned out to be a very good game. The combat is mechanically sound and lively enough to keep most players interested. Even in its undeveloped state, the story is grasping enough that I was eager to uncover the mysteries of both Victor Vran and the town itself. All the elements come together extremely well to present a game that creates an excellent mood and tone.
There are no guarantees - but we'd bet our own money on this one. If you're going to take a chance with yours, odds are good this one will deliver.