When The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing first came out a few years ago, it was a bit of a surprise. A robust, if technically flawed, action RPG with an interesting plot and some thoroughly entertaining writing, it went a long way to clearing some of the stink from a certain Stephen Sommers film. The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II treads a very similar path, but much of that novelty has worn off, leaving it stuck in the shadow of its predecessor.
Van Helsing II feels more like an expansion to the original than a brand new game. The game as a whole looks exactly the same—visual engine doesn’t appear to have been touched at all—and the user interface is identical. A new story means new locations to visit and some new enemies to face, and there are some minor new ideas in play such as a Dragon Age: Inquisition-like war table, but I still never managed to shake the feeling that I’d been here, done this.
The biggest culprit, I think, is the lack of any new classes. Thaumaturge and Arcane Mechanic are available from the outset now, rather than being DLC extras like the were in the first game, but there’s little in the way of anything to make The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II feel new—if you’ve played the first game, it’s more of the same.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Like I said, the first game was great—visually impressive, carried by a neat story with great (and often hilarious) writing, and with more loot than you could shake a stake at—and all of that is true of The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II as well. The banter between Van Helsing and his ghostly companion Katarina is certainly a highlight here, as it was the first time around, and I seemed to be laughing out loud at every turn, which I can’t really say about a lot of games.
Combat is grunty and satisfying in a similar fashion to other ARPGs and games like Dynasty Warriors, in that it doesn’t demand tactics so much as it just throws hordes of foes at you and gives you the gratification of carving your way through them. The constant ticking along of your experience bar and the regularity of loot drops made it easy and even enjoyable for me to just keep hacking away, even when I realised I was doing little more than just mashing X.
The sudden and massive difficulty spikes took care of that, though. Like its predecessor, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II is plagued by some infuriating balance issues. There’s nothing quite like breezing through an end-of-chapter boss, only to find yourself getting slaughtered repeatedly by the trash mobs in the very next area. Given the lack of tactical scope, you don’t have much option at that point other than to go back to previous areas to get stronger.
The other troublesome carryovers are the technical struggles—namely, the frequent crashes. I don’t think I ever went more than an hour or so without having the game freeze up or simply shut down completely, forcing a restart either way. Liberal autosaves mean this isn’t as much of a problem as it could be, but it’s still more than a bit annoying. Couple this with the aforementioned difficulty spikes, and working your way through Van Helsing II’s campaign an exercise in patience and endurance more than anything else.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II isn’t a bad game by any stretch, but it’s not really a great one, either. ARPG fans will be sure to get a kick out of it, especially with the depth of character builds on offer and a sprinkling of post-game content, but it doesn’t do anything to carve its own niche in the way that the first game did. It’s more of the same, and that’s not a bad thing, but it means that Van Helsing II never really manages to feel like more than a standalone expansion to The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II is developed and published by NeocoreGames. It’s available now for Xbox One and PC.
An Xbox One press copy was supplied by NeocoreGames for this review.