STAFF REVIEW of The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II (Xbox One)

Thursday, July 14, 2016.
by Jennifer Dingle

The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II Box art This is not my first time playing Hungarian indie developer Neocore Games’ The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II. I’ve spent quite of time playing the series on PC, having previously reviewed the first two games in the trilogy. Any opportunity I have to go back to the fictional land of Borgovia is always welcome, as the Van Helsing franchise is a fantastic action role playing game with a great story, strange and mystical creatures, weird and fantastic gadgets and gizmos, and epic quests rivaling many in the genre. While many are quick to compare it to other popular ARPG’s, particularly Diablo 3, the Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II stands out on its own in the genre, and like its prequel, it has made its much anticipated debut on Xbox One via the ID@Xbox program.

You play as the son of Abraham Van Helsing, the famous vampire hunter well known from Dracula mythology. Along with his companion, the lovely and sarcastic spectre Lady Katarina, and a cast very mysterious and odd characters. Van Helsing leads the Resistance against General Harker, the commander of the Borgovian army and cohort of the mad scientist Professor Fulmigati, who has unleashed an army of horrific creatures and mechanical monstrosities in his wake.

Staying true to the genre, the top-down gameplay in The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II centers around exploration and completing quests while fighting off mobs of enemies. Having previously played it on PC, I feel like some will find that it is best played with a mouse and keyboard, considering the numerous skills, tricks and power-ups available. I felt that I struggled at times using the Xbox One controller. It felt strange and slightly awkward using the left trigger button to open chests and interact with items, I fumbled with the menu screens a bit, and I found it somewhat difficult to use the skill power-ups by clicking on the right stick in the midst of a frantic battle. That’s not to say the controls are unmanageable, just hard to get used to after playing the PC version, however, those playing the game for the first time should settle right in with them.

There are three different character classes to choose from when you start your adventure. You can play as the hunter class, which returns from the original Van Helsing game. It is a standard melee class that uses a variety of weapons and pistols. The second class is the Thamaturge class for those who enjoy playing a magic focused character. Finally, the third class is the Arcane Mechanic, an engineer type class that relies heavily on gadgets and bombs to fight off the creatures of Borgovia.

With an extensive skill tree for both Van Helsing and Lady Katarina, along with numerous perks, tricks and auras to unlock, the character customization is quite impressive. Should you find yourself wanting to reset your character, you can do so in Van Helsing’s secret hideout, The Hunter’s Lair, which acts as a central hub for the hunter and his resistance fighters. A safe haven, within the Lair you’ll find numerous NPC’s to interact with, trophies to collect and modify your gameplay with, merchants to trade with, resistance generals to aid in your fight and provide quests, and portals to whisk you away to the far regions of Borgovia. It also houses your pet Chimera, which can be summoned into battle or sent off to find gold, potions or other useful items.

The story in the Van Helsing series is incredibly well written, a tale that will captivate you throughout the game. Along with the witty banter between Van Helsing and Lady Katarina, the best thing about the Van Helsing games are the Easter Eggs, a very welcome comic relief in a sometimes dark game. Van Helsing II certainly did not disappoint with numerous references to geek and pop culture. I had a chuckle when I was given a quest to find and save “Private Bryan”, and came across a fallen gray wizard with a sword named Glamdring, paying tribute to Gandalf the Gray in Lord of the Rings.

The bestiary is filled with strange and weird monsters. Odd creatures, the result of a mad scientist's experiments gone wrong, and ancient monsters pulled directly from the pages of Eastern European folklore, there is never any lack of enemies to face, and battling them never really felt repetitive. It feels like the difficulty level has drastically changed from PC to console, and Van Helsing II on the Xbox One seems quite a bit tougher. Despite being equipped with great weapons, and properly leveling my character, I found myself encountering huge mobs and was easily overwhelmed even when checking out the ‘casual’ skill level, and though Lady Katarina is a great ally and attacks alongside Van Helsing in the midst of battle, I still found myself dying frequently. Thankfully, respawning is rather cheap (you can spend gold to respawn at various locations) and once the Second Chance perk is unlocked, dying isn’t so much of a chore, but it still can be quite a nuisance.

The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II looks fantastic on the Xbox One. Unfortunately, on my last playthrough when I reviewed the game on PC I was cursed with a low end laptop and did not have the opportunity to fully enjoy the graphics. From damp caverns, dark and dreary tunnels to icy forests, Van Helsing’s environments perfectly capture gothic Europe, look good on the Xbox One, and are a delight to explore. Much like any ARPG there is lots of loot to collect, powerful weapons to reveal, and you’ll find yourself exploring every inch of the map with hopes of finding chests filled with treasure. The soundtrack is filled with hauntingly beautiful tones, perfectly suiting the dark and gothic setting, with hints of folk and classical music. The voice acting, particularly Prisoner Seven, is downright laughable at times, with the exception of Van Helsing and Lady Kataria whose hilarious banter adds a nice touch to the game.

For my review, I did not have the opportunity to play multiplayer, but The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II offers co-op, scenario and PvP modes. If given the opportunity, you may want to partner up with a friend, especially considering the difficulty level and the swarms of monsters you’ll encounter. And with numerous achievements to unlock, the extra hand in battle will be welcome.

The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II should not be dismissed as yet another Diablo clone, as it truly does stand out on its own. While I struggled with the controls a bit, and the change of difficulty was a bit frustrating, I was not left disappointed by my return to Borgovia. With a great story, a quirky cast of characters, tons of quests, and awesome Easter eggs, there is much fun to be had with high replay value. For the low cost of $15 The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II is great addition to any ARPG fan’s collection and a welcome addition to the ID@Xbox Collection.

Overall: 7.6 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 7.5 / 10


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