I noted the existence of the series last year in my Victor Vran post when I thought how odd it is to have two games of the same genre in the same setting so close in their release dates. Van Helsing even turned out to have just as many, if not more, pop culture references as Victor Vran. They are everywhere in the game.
Unlike Victor Vran, however, Van Helsing takes a more traditional approach to isometric ARPGs. The camera does not rotate nor is there jumping. It does have a similar optional challenge increase system, though.
A mix of the genre's titles
In fact, many of Van Helsing's features seemed to have been at least particularly nicked from other titles of the genre. I get the feeling at least someone at Neocore has played quite a few ARPGs. Van Helsing's "pet" (ghostly Lady Katarina) is much like in Fate and Torchlight, skill synergy bonuses are from Diablo 2, and how the skill tree is a huge unwieldy thing reminded me of Path of Exile.
There are also things I would not have expected to see. Things the game maybe could have been without and which appear later in the game in parts which I assume to be the originally of the second and third game.
I think Van Helsing might be the first ARPG to have tower defense missions. Most of them (if not all) seemed optional, but I did them all as an occasional TD sounded fun. The missions could have been better in design though. For example, flashier towers would have been nice. And I felt the missions towards the end got even a bit tedious.
Van Helsing has a bunch of difficulties to choose from and I picked Hard, which wound up being the perfect choice for me. Albeit at level 40 after unlocking the final skill tier, the game did get noticeably easier -- Poison Blast works wonders against monster hordes. That is the one thing the game does very right -- too many ARPGs are afraid to throw that many enemies against you at once.
Even if varied in appearance, the monsters of Van Helsing are not easily distinguished from each other, however. Maybe that is the problem with constant mass fights -- individual monsters and their abilities become irrelevant when they attack you in one huge mob.
Van Helsing puts much weight on its story. That is one reason why I do not see myself replaying the game. Going through it once as well as hearing Van Helsing's and Katarina's banter was entertaining enough but things like repeating hideout defending sections were already annoying on the first time.
There is an online adventure mode like in Diablo 3, and I did try it a bit. Its problem is using the exact same maps as the campaign. I think procedurally generated maps is one of the main things that separate the truly great ARPGs from the rest.
The game's presentation could be more impressive as well. The main title tune is memorable but that is pretty much where it ends. And even at max settings with higher resolution texture pack installed, The Incredible Adventure of Van Helsing: Final Cut looks blurry and bloomy. It ran very stable but did so at a weird 54 FPS according to Steam's counter. What happened to the remaining 6 frames?