Action RPGs, or loot-playing games, saw a bit of a surprising renaissance in 2014 and 2015. In the midst of Diablo 3 and its expansions and Path of Exile, it may have been too easy to let The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing and its sequels slip under the radar. The steampunk monster-hunting themed click-fest launched on PC to positive reviews and the series has since been slowly coming to the Xbox One. The second installment, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II, launched on the Microsoft console on July 1, roughly two years after its PC launch.
Van Helsing II picks up almost immediately where its predecessor left off. The titular monster hunter and his ever present ghostly companion, Lady Katarina, are fighting to maintain order in steampunk Borgovia and cracking jokes while they are at it. Although many ARPGs rush through plot and get straight to the barrel smashing, Van Helsing II actually contains an interesting and funny narrative focused on the continuation of the war from the first game and a new mysterious figure called Prisoner Seven. The ghoul appears throughout the game to warn the hero of incoming danger and a large portion of the plot is built around whether or not it is trust-worthy. Both the main quests and side quests provide tons of pop culture references and witty banter between the hero and Lady Katarina. The dialogue may go on a bit too long for gamers who are only interested in brawling, but it’s easy enough to skip lines and rush through the cut scenes to the quest objectives.
Xbox One gamers who played the first installment on the console will be happy to hear that level 30 characters can be transferred over to the sequel. Players who don’t still have that save state on the HD (like us), have two other options. One game mode allows players to start from level one and build up a character from scratch. This is good for players who want the full experience, but we actually preferred the game mode that allowed players to start with a pre-made veteran character. The veteran characters are level 30 and come equipped with a full set of skills, that would otherwise take a few hours of grinding to level into. This can feel a bit like jumping into the deep end, but it does provide a much better feel of how the game is meant to be played.
One of the downsides to Van Helsing II is that it really does look like a two-year-old game running on the Xbox One without many graphical updates. This isn’t a major problem, but it may bother players who are used to sharp, HD character models and enemies on the PC. Although the game may lack the aesthetic polish of something like Diablo 3, the customization of each character’s skill set is incredibly deep and layered.
The game’s armor, skill trees, stats, and abilities all offer the player a ton of power. It’s quite overwhelming early on, and the game’s tutorials don’t do the best job of spelling things out, but the amount of control that players have over every option makes it very easy to sink dozens of hours into the game. In addition to keeping track of your own stats and skills, players must also manage the skill set of Lady Katarina. This offers a fun opportunity to spec complimentary builds and create a synergistic team.
Another way that the game brings some replayability and depth to the table is by offering three character classes: Hunter, Thaumaturge, or the Arcane Mechanic. The original game forced players into the hunter role, so having more options this time around provides a nice change up. Again, it’s not quite as many classes as Diablo 3 or other AAA ARPGs offer, but considering the $15 price tag, it’s still a decent amount of content to work through and explore.
Although many mechanics feel familiar, Van Helsing does offer a few unique twists on the ARPG genre that help it stand out from the competition. Like the original, the game brings a series of mini tower defense challenges to the table. The feature is expanded in the sequel and some improvements over the original system are made. Enemies invade the hero’s Lair in waves and players fight them off with traps and upgrades. The tower defense distractions are a lot of fun, but are entirely optional and offered through a long chain of side quests at the Lair.
Another feature that stands out from the usual ARPG formula is the Resistance Management quests. These are reminiscent of the fleet missions in Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag and give Van Helsing the opportunity to act as the leader of the Resistance and send out his troops and commanders on particular tasks. Much like the main pair of heroes, gamers can use the loot that the troops find on their missions to make them stronger for the next run. Again, this feature is pretty much entirely optional, but does offer an addictive reason to return to the game and check in on the Lair.
Although The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II doesn’t look as sharp, it certainly delivers more than enough entertaining content for the price of entry. Fans of ARPGs who enjoy micromanaging can’t go wrong with this title, but its lack of deep tutorials might make it difficult to jump into for gamers who aren’t already familiar with the genre.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II is now available for PC and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided an Xbox One code for this review.