"NeocoreGames seeks to please its fans by keeping everything they loved about the first game — the absurdly high enemy count, the bombastic attacks, the quirky, humorous story, the tension between magic and science, and plenty of loot — and making it all bigger and better."
Overlooking a quaint souvenir market in a Budapest square, NeocoreGames' modest studio houses just a handful of artists, programmers, and designers. In this sparse and immaculate modern setting they created The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing and are now finishing its sequel. Soon, they will begin work on the third and final entry in the trilogy, or perhaps they already have.
In a bright, capacious room, I played the entire first chapter of Van Helsing II. I spent three or four hours barreling through to see as much as possible, but thorough players will spend another two or three completing all the side quests. Van Helsing was always intended to be a trilogy, and, despite a competent recap at the beginning, Van Helsing II is best played with full knowledge of its predecessor. The story continues the marvelous adventures of monster hunter Van Helsing and the ghostly Lady Katarina as they lead the resistance against the militant mad scientists of Borgova. The themes of the first game are expanded upon and given more weight. The main theme is the intersection of magic and science, perhaps inspired by the city of Budapest itself, in which modern buildings stand between old ones, still redolent of that precious Eastern European magic. The medieval ruins on the cliffside above the Danube face seats of technological power, and the stone faces of leafy green men and elegant nymphs adorning tenements glance meaningfully at glassy buildings like the one in which Neocore inhabits.
If you've played Van Helsing I, you know the structure and gameplay of Van Helsing II, and if you haven't, yet are familiar with Diablo or similar hack 'n' slash RPGs, you also know what to expect. This is a click-to-move, click-to-attack, kill-and-loot action RPG, albeit with a bit more story and fluff than the typical hack 'n' slash game. Van Helsing II is bigger and better than the first game. It feels more put together, with better pacing and more variety, more compelling conflicts, and an overall greater density of content. That's not to say there isn't more work to be done before release (proofreading, balancing, and so on), but it's apparent even in beta that this is an improved Van Helsing.
Neocore has focused on tightening instead of inventing, but there was one completely new feature shown in chapter one: management of the resistance forces. Van Helsing commands a (very) small army, and the player gets to decide what to do with it. The player can send captains and troops on missions undertaken off screen in real time, all of which I believe are optional. The player selects an appropriate captain to lead the mission, assigns the necessary number of troops, dispatches them, and then waits for results. Each captain has detailed strengths and weaknesses, and mission briefings only hint at which captain might be best suited for the task, so strategy is required. Captains level up, items modify mission parameters, and troops can be hired, killed, and healed. It's a fun and well developed mechanic that makes Van Helsing II more than just another hack 'n' slash RPG.
Other than that, Van Helsing II is largely more of the same. That said, levels are more diverse and more heavily populated with side quests and NPCs. I traveled from the steampunk city of Borgova to the rebels' underground lair to a frigid forest, all the while battling automatons as well as classic monsters straight from folk tale and legend. Most areas have two to four optional quests, and they seem more varied than those in the first game. There are even small choices to be made, like whether to keep a magic item or return it to its owner, the quest giver. These may not have colossal narrative implications, but they make the experience denser and more rewarding.
NeocoreGames seeks to please its fans by keeping everything they loved about the first game — the absurdly high enemy count, the bombastic attacks, the quirky, humorous story, the tension between magic and science, and plenty of loot — and making it all bigger and better. The full version of Van Helsing II ought to be a familiar, yet more potent experience than the first for fans of the series. Newcomers might want to go back and visit the first game or simply skip to its sequel. If you've exhausted Diablo III and Torchlight or seek something a little less sanitized and commercial than some of the big hack 'n' slash titles, you might want to seek out The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II upon release.