Early Access: Victor Vran

Victor Vran is the latest game being worked on by Bulgaria’s largest game developer Haemimont Games (city-builder Tropico). It also sounds like something that’s come straight out of a marketing department. The game is named after the monster-hunting protagonist, a sort of knock-off Van Helsing with a leather hat and all black getup. Things become even more confusing when you consider Victor Vran is an action RPG, something new for the team of strategy veterans, but similar tonally to that other gothic-noir Diablo-like The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing.
victorvraninsert1At this early stage of development Victor Vran doesn’t really appear comfortable with its own setting. Not only does the main character feel like a copy-cat, but the early levels don’t make the most of the gothic cityscape the map alludes to, and the story and character development is yet to be implemented. Haemimont Games are however tackling the action RPG with considerable confidence.

Victor Vran immediately feels more arcade-like than the point-and-click Diablo. This is partly due to the controls, which have you moving Victor using the keyboard’s arrow keys (WASD) whilst directing your attacks with the mouse. It also works well with a controller. Unusually for the genre, Victor Vran also features jumping. It adds some verticality to the zones you’ll be hacking and slashing your way through. There’s a double-vault ability that allows you to somersault up on to secret ledges, as well as some creative use of depth where rather than simply clicking on a cave-opening to move deeper into a dungeon, you’ll physically descend.

Unlike most action RPGs, the camera is rotatable. This can be nice for those awkward moments where you need a better view on the carnage below, but it also has a flattening effect where each scene seems less considered. One of the advantages of having a fixed-isometric viewpoint is the artistic control this gives a developer. When Victor Vran’s areas look a little bland, you’re never sure whether it’s just because you’re looking at it from the wrong angle.

Victor Vran is strong where it needs to be – in the action combat. Despite the lack of “classes”, each weapon has a unique style, set of animations and spells associated with it. Fighting with a two-handed hammer is different from slashing at enemies with a sword. This is a given in most action games, but less so in the realm of the action RPG. Victor Vran also does a good job of allowing you to switch back and forth between weapons. A scattershot blast from your shotgun can weaken enemies and increase your attack speed, allowing you to switch to the rapier and poke holes in monsters at a blistering speed.
victorvraninsert6The newly added lightning gun is also a destructive spectacle. You can fire out bubbles of charged electricity and then let rip with a “Ghostbuster” beam. The bubbles will then hone in on where the electricity flows strongest. It’s an effective way to clear up a large cluster of…  spiders. In the first few hours alone I fought two spider-bosses and destroyed what seemed like an endless supply of hatching eggs. Thankfully, the further you progress the less eight-legged freaks you’ll come across. Still, there are probably too many spiders.

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Felled foes will have a chance to drop “Destiny cards”, power-ups that you can equip in order to tailor Victor to your play-style (massive critical hits, life leeching etc). It’s a simplification of the often unwieldy “skill tree”, although I’m not convinced that three card modifiers will offer enough flexibility. Whilst the action has an enjoyable substance to it, loot – what many would consider a mainstay of the genre – is almost entirely dispensed. There’s an argument for quality over quantity, but Victor Vran walks an odd path where there’s an abundance of junk weapons, but no clothing, armour or equipment. Armour is instead bundled into “outfits”, of which there are only two at this stage.

The combined decisions of simplifying the skill-trees, level-ups and loot, along with the more action-orientated combat is fairly indicative of where Victor Vran wants to go. The final version will feature co-operative multiplayer, and I’m confident it will offer an adventurous hack n’ slash romp in the vein of Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance. Not every action RPG need strive to be Diablo, although I do hope Victor Vran ends up finding a little more personality on its journey to completion.