Earlier this year, I took a look at The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing Final Cut, a collection of all three adventures featuring the eponymous Van Helsing descendant fighting bad guys and arguing with an old, dead woman. I viewed them very favorably, citing them as an excellent addition to the ARPG line-up that the PC has nowadays. I felt the game had one glaring flaw, however: it was trying just a little too hard to be Diablo. Everything from it’s end-game multiplayer raids to its practically infinite loot system ( a near quote from my previous review) is almost exactly the same.
Fortunately, all three games passed my seal of approval due to their fantastic aesthetics and humorous presentation of the otherwise bland and pointless story. Yet, how do the console ports fair? Unfortunately, not as well. But we will get to that. Today I am looking at The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II: Extended Edition. How is it extended, you might ask? Well, much like The Final Cut, it includes all of the game’s DLC, including a multitude of pets that will follow you around the world, as well as the Ink hunt questline. But, as I have already reviewed the overall games, I will mostly be focusing on the port to Xbox One in this review.
First off, Van Helsing II almost gets on its knees and begs players to play Helsing and Katarina’s first adventure from the start. If you know you want to get into this series then this is not the game to begin with as it literally starts players right after defeating the final boss of the first game. Fortunately, for those of you who do begin here, the game offers a Veteran system that allows you to play as a pre-made level 30 character to get you right into the action.
These pre-made characters are the crux of one of my biggest gripes with this version of the game. Sure, you can begin the game at level 1. The game will even adjust its difficulty to support this. But, due to how poorly balanced the adjustments are (the game will often throw tons of enemies at you regardless of how experienced you are with the combat system), players will likely find themselves frustrated from the start. This was an issue with the original Van Helsing II as well, from what I have researched. So, it seems unfortunate that Neocore Games did not try to fix it, or if they did, it was not implemented that well. As such, you should definitely pick one of these pre-made characters, even more so as one of the bonuses for owning the extended edition is a level 30 set of gear that can carry you through the entire game if you let it.
Fortunately, these characters are really well made. Van Helsing II features three classes, a plus in my mind from the disjointed, identity-crisis of the six classes in the Final Cut edition, that all focus on various points of combat: Hunter as either a warrior or tank, Thaumaturge as a Mage or Summoner, and Arcane Mechanic as a trapper or ranger. When I say really well made, however, I mean on a broken level. Whoever made these characters definitely knew the ins and outs of gameplay. While I only experimented with a few of them, I ultimately settled on a Thuamaturge build (I played Hunter during my Final Cut playthrough and wanted to switch it up a bit). The Thaumaturge build I was given began the game with an auto-win button. I could simply hold down A and a magical, enemy-tracking ball of darkness would pop up in the middle of the massive hordes rushing towards me and just tear through their health bars in literally seconds. Even some of the stronger bosses did not stand a chance against my darkness ball. The few that did were usually met with my very spammable (as the pre-distributed stats and perks favored giving me as much mana points and regeneration as possible) other button that caused Helsing to shotgun blast enemies with ice spikes that also did large amounts of damage.
I honestly did not find this much of a problem due to the absolutely terrible menus in-game. Let me preface by saying that, while the PC version of the Van Helsing trilogies were by no means perfect, their menus were still quite intuitive and easy to follow. On the Xbox One, the hardest part of the game is navigating the obtuse skill “trees.” Learning new skills felt like such a pain that I literally gave up once I realized all I needed was my darkness ball and ice spikes. It’s difficult to describe, but rather than a simple skill tree like the PC version presented, everything is listed out in these weird boxes (almost like switching your Windows File Explorer into Thumbnail mode). To the game’s credit, there are some nice features present, such as having each skill light up either green or red to identify which prerequisites you need for a new skill. But, otherwise, everything felt ridiculously unorganized compared to the PC version. As an aside, the equipment screen is more or less a knock off of the Diablo 3 console edition, albeit less responsive for whatever reason (though that could very well just be my controller). Even the console ports can’t get away from this glaring comparison.
Finally, being a PC port, the Xbox One version does not feel optimized for the console. There were regular frame drops in my time playing, especially during explosions or when a large number of enemies were on screen. More so, while this could just be my memory of playing the PC version with an ultra high-end rig, it felt like the game could look a lot better for being on the Xbox One. Graphics are definitely not everything, of course. But, when you have a console capable of running modern mid to high range PC quality visuals, you would expect a three-year-old, isometric game would look almost, if not just as good as its PC counterpart. It is not a terrible looking game, it just really seems like it could have been better.
This all feels incredibly unfortunate as Van Helsing II is my favorite game in the trilogy. When I played through the PC edition of these games they definitely had their flaws. Yet, despite their obvious influences and odd design choices, there was a genuinely enjoyable time to be had playing each game. In II specifically, Neocore introduces many new features, such as a pet Chimera that you can take care of and train to a Metal Gear Solid-esque base management that allowed you to train subordinates to go on missions for you. Van Helsing II is where the series truly separates itself apart from other games. It’s just sad that this port is not very good at all.
With that said, unless you can get this game on PC, I highly recommend playing this game regardless of its issues as there is a lot to love about the overall game (seriously. You should check out me review on the Final Cut to get a full sense of how great these games really are). My time with the Van Helsing series is some of the best fun I’ve had playing games all year, and if Xbox One is where you have to do it, you definitely should. But, if you can play this and the other two games on PC, please do yourself a favor and play those instead.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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