It’s hard to be a sequel to a game, it’s harder to be a sequel to a game that is clearly so inspired by others that it becomes a meta game to scream out where certain mechanics came from. The saving grace for The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II is that its writing, story and setting are all so interesting that you do get pulled in and will want to see how it plays out.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II starts with Van Helsing moments after defeating the big boss of the first game, you’ve lost your equipment and are trapped an underground lair. Working your way through with basic attack to kill the swarms of enemies you are trying to make your way to the surface to see what state your country is in. The primary focus of the early sections of the first game were traditional fantasy locations and monstrous enemies that Universal Pictures would love to have again. Towards the end of the game Van Helsing moves to metropolis hub of Borgova, the capital of Borgovia, where you are introduced to more industrial and technological enemies, steampunk creatures and robots chase you down the streets.
Van Helsing II is clearly inspired by Diablo 3 and other Action RPG games that push more for direct control and fluidity over the complications of most straight RPG games. From an isometric perspective you, playing as Abraham Van Helsing (Van Helsing’s son), and a Russian ghost called Lady Katarina you must use your specialism in melee, guns and magic to take out various classic and new monsters. After killing the mad scientist in the first game there is a power vacuum that the military looks to capitalise on and take over Borgovia. Joining the resistance you will do missions for various rebels in the hope of gaining power, control and new helpers on your goal to free the country, or at least that’s what i assume the mission is, the game kind of skips over a lot of motivation and almost does a Chekhov’s Gun principle where you join the resistance, simple because it is there.
The first couple of hours of the game see you trudge your way through some underground systems before joining the frontline resistance. This is an awful experience from start to finish; mediocre objectives that are barely made clear anywhere tarnishes what is probably supposed to be an epic fight. “Defend the front line” is not a concise objective, I ran around for 5-10 minutes just killing random enemies I found, none of whom had come to the front line yet, instead I just did it until the game had become as bored as I was and it decided to throw some XP my way. The opening location of the industrial city centre doesn’t look all to impressive for a game that doesn’t need to worry about fully creating buildings as you can’t rotate the camera. Rather than it being city streets and narrow alley ways it’s all pathways hovering high above a city below that I would much rather be in.
Once you push through the slog of an opening you get sent into some sewer prisons which again just don’t take advantage of the game’s engine or story setting. Thankfully once you get by the monotonous start you’ll be treated to a couple of hours doing missions on top of a snowy mountain top looking for a thunder-god to help you in your rebellion, this was where the game finally grabbed me, running through trees to cause choke points, aiming down cliffs and over rivers and generally loving the look of the world all meaning I got that great and yet rare thing in games, immersion. Unfortunately that can only last so long before I was returned to the city to mess around in some more tunnels. With your various cool powers and skills you mow down waves of enemies with various items flying to the floor ready to be looted. Very quickly this game becomes a Clicker game where you are just there to make the numbers go higher, but as with all clicker games, man does is it satisfying to get that ding of a level up.
Speaking of number games, the worst introduction to this series is the “send people off to do missions” sub game from the Assassin’s Creed series. An impenetrable UI cripples what is already a tedious affair of sending some captains off to attempt to do missions that sound quite fun sometimes but instead you decide to micromanage between various murderings that you fill your day job up with. There is a similar sub game with a Chimera that you take on as a pet, but thankfully that has the decency to only take 5 minutes and he will give you crap when he comes back.
The game does feature multiplayer but for some unfathomable reason you are limited to only playing with people on your friends list. The game also limits multiplayer to people who are at the same point in the story as you, which is fine and makes sense, but to not be able to at least experience the multiplayer due to no local and the restrictive online limitations means the majority of people are going to see this as a solely single player game.
Van Helsing does welcome new players to the series quite well and the movement from PC to Console has been more than successful. Although nowhere near as accessible as Diablo 3 or other action RPGs the Goth Noir setting and writing is incredibly strong if you can look past the game’s desperate need to be funny and full of pop culture. If you can brute force and push your way through the unforgivably slow opening couple of hours of the game you are then released into some great looking locations with interesting set pieces, locations and stories. Mechanics are obviously inspired by other games but with a couple of exceptions they are well implemented. If you’re looking for something a little bit tougher than Diablo or something that leans into its story and decisions more than a lot of Action RPG’s then you can’t go wrong with The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II, just be prepared to use your intuition and don’t expect anyone or anything to hold you hand for support.