If there’s a genre I specialize in, it’d be dungeon crawlers. My first PC “game” was the Diablo Battle Chest, which is still sold for some reason. The PS2 game I put the most time into was Dark Cloud, with one file actually going longer than the save file could display correctly, which would be over 100 hours on a single file. The only game I’ve been hyped for was Diablo III, which paid off for me quite well. So when I say that, aside from a single thing, this game is pretty much dungeon crawler perfection, I have some idea of what I’m talking about.
The name in the title might make you think you’re playing the Hugh Jackman Van Helsing, the popular one in movies and books.
You’d be wrong. You’re playing that Van Helsing’s son, who gets even more difficult moral decisions than the original found himself in. You assistant is a ghost, Lady Katarina, who plays the role of Snark 1 to Van Helsing’s Snark 2. The only game with this much sarcastic banter was The Bard’s Tale, also for PS2, which was pretty much based on that.
In terms of mechanics, this takes a more complex route to what amount to the same mechanics as Diablo III, with the single companion gaining similar stats and skills with a much deeper development than any other game in this subgenre I know of. Part of the problem with describing this game is that the phrase “Diablo III, but better and offline” describes pretty much the entire game. The only thing that’s simpler in this game is the crafting, which wasn’t that complex to begin with, but is mostly just combining items and getting a random result…sort of like the Horadric Cube in Diablo II, but with fewer and simpler recipes. It’s enough to get you through the game, to the single part, repeated twice, that infuriates me to no end. That will be later, though.
In the meantime, stats. The stats in this game are effectively RPG-standard Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and Constitution, which probably have some different names but the same meaning. The skill system is well-designed for the main class (two are available as DLC and offer different playstyles entirely, but I’m excluding those since I don’t have them) allowing a vast difference between melee and ranged characters, along with a Torchlight II sense of all four stats being useful. What makes this game different than most dungeon crawlers is the reputation system. Most people probably know it from Torchlight, but it was actually introduced in Fate, which was oddly designed by WildTangent, mostly known for casual games. It defined a number of mechanics now used, like consistent companions with inventory space, reputation gained by killing champion/named monsters, and a secondary system designed to use levels gained from reputation. Fate had it give you just skill points instead of both stat and skill points, Torchlight continued that, but this adds in a Fallout-like Perk system, which can do everything from add damage to you or Katarina to increasing your inventory size to even my personal favorite, Second Chance, which acts like an improved version of the ability of the same name from Kingdom Hearts, turning you ethereal when you take fatal damage and letting you get out of the mess you were in and heal up every few minutes…which on that note, the biggest problem this game has…
Infinite spawns during boss fights. Boss fights that would otherwise be a battle of attrition due to extreme armor or a Borderlands-style shield that needs to be broken. Both of the fights with this plague have ways of evening the odds with an achievement for not doing so at all…which wouldn’t be a problem without the infinite spawns. The first boss with this was the reason I took the difficulty down from Hard to Easy, which annoyed me quite a bit. The second boss has enemy generators instead, which again, have an achievement for not destroying them. Thankfully, the second game used this mechanic in a much better way during a pitched battle between two enemies, but even then there was a clear end to the waves of enemies, something this game lacks. If it hadn’t happened here, this game would have probably been the best dungeon crawler on the market aside from Path of Exile, but that mechanic cripples it, taking it down quite a few pegs.
It’s not perfect, but as it stands, it’s still a really good entry into the subgenre. I just wish that the infinite spawns were left at home for this game, since that’s what keeps this from being effectively perfect for what it tries to be.