Developer: Neocore Games / Publisher: Reverb Publishing / Platforms: Xbox 360 and PC / Release Date: May 2013 / ESRB: Rating Pending
Armed with an assortment of weapons and a host of supernatural abilities, Van Helsing’s son and his snarky ghost companion, Lady Katarina, have been summoned to the country of Borgovia to combat mysterious dark forces. I learned later in the demo that the letter calling us to Borgovia was sent by some of Van Helsing’s old enemies. Strange new scientific (vaguely steampunk) monsters are plaguing the country and the old monsters cannot handle them alone.
My hands-on demo was a hefty one, weighing in at about three hours. It dropped me right in the beginning as Van Helsing and Katarina travel to Borgovia, encountering handfuls of enemies along the way, from average human bandits to mythical beasts like rusalkas and werewolves. As I made my way to the first mission objective I was treated to a refreshing supply of sassy banter between Van Helsing and Katarina.
The first village I reached acted as a sort of hub for the beginning of the game. Here I received my main story objective–find the mayor of the town, who is out in the surrounding wilderness somewhere–and a side mission involving a cursed alchemist. The sidequests I accepted ranged from fetch quests to escort missions to defending the town against hordes of enemies. The town is riddled with things to do and treats to discover. I spoke to various townspeople and crafted new weapons. I chased a white chicken for a bit and was rewarded with a mystery item dubbed Easter Egg, which gave Van Helsing a permanent stat bonus. I sat and chatted with a grumpy two-headed cow (I don’t think he liked me all that much). The quirky bits of personality shown throughout the game are certainly promising.
This town is also where I first discovered The Ink–a parallel reality that allows Van Helsing to teleport between town and portals he encounters in the world. He can also travel into the parallel reality and does so for the first time when I stumbled across my first boss, the leader of a werewolf pack. Inside The Ink I had to destroy a series of Summoner Sigils before I could return and decide whether to kill the werewolf leader or spare him after hearing his story. Each decision you make, we’re told, has an effect somewhere in the story. If you spare the leader perhaps he shows up again later. If you choose to do a sidequest for a Romani tribe they will enchant your items and reset your skills for gold.
As I leveled up I chose to focus my skill points on ranged combat and Van Helsing’s magical abilities, namely his lightning attack. Each of these skills has three power ups, which you can channel Rage into to make the attack even more devastating. Using Rage on multiple power ups at once–slow enemy and increase area of effect, for example–can turn the tide in a particularly overwhelming battle. Your Rage meter is refilled by killing enemies. Like most action RPGs, the game relies on mouse-click movement and hotkeys. My left hand hovered primarily over R (weapon swap), Q (quick health potion), and A (healing spell) as I used my mouse to move around and perform basic attacks. As is typical for most Diablo and Torchlight-esque games, I also found myself jumping in and out of my inventory screen constantly to see if the gear I just picked up is better than what Katarina and I already had equipped.
Lady Katerina is perhaps Van Helsing’s greatest tool. She acts as a part-time guide while the pair is in Borgovia and can hold her own in a fight. She has three forms, each with its own skills and behaviors. Her Ranged Form and Melee Form are exactly what they sound like and as I am a ranged fighter, having her up close and personal with my enemies made Melee Form my top choice for the demo. Her Ghost Form makes her impervious to attacks and allows her to provide Van Helsing with a variety of buffs. As well as being formidable on the battlefield, Katarina will gather money and loot for Van Helsing and take them into town to sell them when he is over-encumbered.
Though The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is only about eight to ten hours depending on the amount of sidequests you choose to take on, this is only the first installment in a trilogy and is priced accordingly at $14.99. Each part features a unique story so you could reasonably only play the second or third installment and still walk away with a complete story.