Van Helsing is back, Katarina is back, and you’d be forgiven for thinking it was literally more of the same. It is – sort of – but Van Helsing II makes a lot of improvements over the original.
Isometric loot-em-up is the style offered here, and initially it felt massively overwhelming. There are menus, sub-menus, icons on screen, a very complex weapon/health heads up display, numbers of hit damage and spell damage and health floating all over the place. If you’re itching for another dungeon-crawler type game then this has more than enough depth to sink your teeth into.
My core complaint from the original – the control scheme – seems a lot more favourable to joypad users this time around. The buttons are mapped sensibly and whilst it still feels like Van Helsing is designed to be played with a mouse and keyboard, the gameplay isn’t ever really hindered. There certainly seems to be more control over who you are attacking which was mightily frustrating in the first game.
Customisation is also a much more considered feature this time around. More class options are available for Van Helsing from the offset, and a considerable many are also available for Katarina, allowing you more focus on how she is levelling and how best suited she is to assist you according to your playstyle. I favoured arcane attacks to disembowel my foes with Katarina on hand to support my relatively weak health. Shooting lightning bolts from your fingertips never gets old.
This is also a downside of Van Helsing II. As you dip into the menus, you will uncover an absolute stunning amount of stat improvement options, skills points, abilities, weapons, equipment. The potential for customisation is truly staggering. Even if you have adequately levelled up your Van Helsing from the first game, you can import him and failing that, you can select a premade Veteran character, already at level 30 and fully equipped with all sorts of stats and powers. This is great fun if like me, you struggle to make it to the end of some of these monster (in length and content) games. It also addresses another of Van Helsing’s slight issues which is pacing.
Fairly quickly in the game you’ll encounter rather tough foes. These take some focused energy to dispatch and are at odds with the many much weaker enemies you face earlier on. Resulting in more frustrating experiences than challenging encounters, I felt like I poured everything into defeating what wasn’t even really a mid-level boss.
Co-op play helps some and as is often the case in these types of games, adds more fun too. The tower defence mini-game also returns and is improved in scope and fleshed out. However one of the things I enjoyed more than anything else is the voice acting. The delivery of the script (and script itself) serve to help explain the story (which carries on the first but could also be played independently). Having it reveal as you play is a good way to tell a story in games, and the banter that goes backwards and forwards from Van Helsing and Katarina is delivered well and is often funny. There’s also a vast number of pop-cultural references thrown in, my favourite being a Harry Potter quip about one of the baddies.
The more I played of Van Helsing II, the more I could not help but feel like the control scheme or perhaps even the style of the game was hindering my enjoyment of it. Despite improved, the control scheme still felt limiting. I would stand there and exchange blows with an enemy until one of us died, and every encounter feels a bit like this. I can’t put my finger on why this felt different in Diablo 3 which has a similar style. Perhaps it’s all just a bit more fluid, there is definitely a clunkiness with Van Helsing. The vast customisation aspects do very quickly overwhelm too, and I never really felt I was in complete control of the information presented to me. This could well be a user-issue rather than a fault in gameplay.
Like the first, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II proves to more than scratch the itch of those looking for a deep, isometric fantasy action-RPG. It won’t suit everyone, and probably only the more seasoned players of this type need apply. Whilst Incredible Adventures it might not quite be, The Quite Good Adventures of Van Helsing II doesn’t have the same ring to it, but is a bit more apt.
Reviewed on PS4