The action-RPG is having a rather bountiful season at the moment. Grim Dawn is in alpha, Path of Exile has an open beta running, and the recent Torchlight 2 and Diablo 3 are ever-present options as well. Where, then, does the newly-released The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing fit in this melange of button mashing?
Last year’s release of Diablo 3 was rough. Think the SimCity debut raised some flags? Child’s play. Diablo 3 sold 3.5 million copies in 24 hours, crashed servers, thrilled players, and got more people angry than any reasonable person could have predicted. World governments got involved when Diablo 3 came out. Seriously! The Korean Fair Trade Commission actually raided Blizzard’s offices in Seoul because of reports that the studio refused to give refunds to players that couldn’t sign on to the game as it was buried in the deluge of new players.
One year later, things are different. Diablo 3 is plugging away and entering a new life. For the first time since EA ported the original to PlayStation, Diablo 3’s coming to consoles. Not only that, but Blizzard continues to tweak and refine the PC game to try and chisel away those features that catastrophically failed to connect with gamers. It is, like its beloved predecessor Diablo 2, a living game that continues to change and grow.
Accompanying you on your adventures (incredible and otherwise,) is the ghostly form of Lady Katarina. As well as providing handy buffs and a quick way of offloading some unwanted loot (in the style of your faithful pet in Torchlight,) Katarina is there to trade banter and foresight with our hat-wearing protagonist. She can also be encouraged to pick up gold and the trashier bits of loot you don’t want to sully your delicate fingers with.
The verbal sparring of Van Helsing and Katarina, along with a set of weirdo NPCs and a reliably over-theatrical plot about a mad scientist, are what really propels this title along. Its comedy references are hit and miss (we didn’t need another thing doing Hitchhiker’s Guide gags, but an unexpected nod to Blade Runner got a smile out of me,) and Katarina’s character leans a little too heavily on the “oooh I’m a lady so I like shopping and shoes” stereotype; but for the most part it’s an entertaining, old fashioned fantasy caper.
At first, the quest design keeps pace with the tone of the story. You’re chatting with confused wisps, deciding whether to leading a stray ghost into the light or back to his hanged corpse (you dick) and shooting the breeze with a frog professor. The first couple of areas are full of neat little side-quests, encouraging full exploration of the map and employing dialogue choices or optional ways of completion to make them more interesting.