Victor Vran Review
Lacks originality and depth, but the combat can be fun
Diablo was not the first hack-and-slash dungeon crawler, but it is one of the most influential. After nearly two decades, action-RPG games are still using the same mechanics that earned it so much praise. In recent times, games like Torchlight and The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing have exploited the isometric viewpoint while guiding players through dungeons as they versed supernatural creatures and collected treasure. Victor Vran draws heavy inspiration from these prominent games, taking players through an eastern European setting as they fight vampires and skeletons. While progression is shallow and replay value limited, the combat makes the dungeon crawling fairly enjoyable for a little while.
Somewhere over the rainbow, there is fire and brimstone
Victor Vran has made his way to the city of Zagoravia to find a friend; unfortunately the city is overrun with paranormal creatures. A small resistance group has taken refuge in a castle and called for hunters to eradicate the monsters. But the hunters never stood a chance against exploding spiders and spinning flame elementals. A curse has befallen the city and your demon-hunting friend has become another in a long list of victims. Victor agrees to lift the curse, to prevent more deaths and to take his vengeance. With special Demon powers at your fingertips, players will control Victor and try to save the city.
Victor is joined on his adventure by a maniacal voice emanating from his head. Self-titled the Voice, this narrator tries to lighten the experience with mockery. The voice has clear similarities to the narrator in The Stanley Parable, but he is not as effective. His best contributions occur when he reacts to the action, saying that you ventured the wrong way or that you should loop the dungeon again. There are too few of these moments and he is typically voiceless for much of the journey. Like the narrator, the story is minimal. It is also generic, even for a simple hack-and-slash game. Victor Vran is voiced by Doug Cockle and most of his dialogue is so vague it could apply to any game with monsters or dungeons. It comes as no surprise when the Voice is connected to the fate of the city and insulting when Victor is oblivious for much of the adventure.
The city of Zagoravia is comprised of several connected districts, each containing a few small dungeon-like levels. They are presented on a glorious 3D map, which is used to fast-travel to each area after they have been visited. Each district can be explored and cleared of monsters, but retreating back to the castle to sell items will cause them to repopulate. Likewise, any dungeon will reset the instant you leave it, exemplifying the arcade design. Going back to town is usually only required to advance the story because inventory space is vast and treasures are rare. This level resetting becomes a problem if you clear a dungeon prior to the story sending you there; all of those vanquished enemies return and the best option is to just run past them. The regenerative property of levels is an immediate deterrent to actually explore newly-found dungeons.
The 3D map overview makes it easy to travel to districts or dungeons
The districts and dungeons within the city of Zagoravia are hand crafted, not randomized. Major areas include gardens, city quarters, caves and a graveyard. The vivid color and directional lighting is particularly effective within these locations. Level interaction is minimal, but bric-a-brac will crumble during battle. Unfortunately, the world never feels original. The developers, Haemimont Games, are from Bulgaria, so that explains why the city area is quite similar to the one in Van Helsing, also created by an eastern European developer. It does not explain why the game has a cave level that is virtually identical to the spider caverns in Diablo 3. Nor why the mineshafts have glowing blue crystals, just like those found in Torchlight’s ember mines. These similarities extend to boss battles, monster abilities and creature types. While some derivation is inevitable, there are a few too many cases of imitation here.
The combat is slightly different from its peers although limited in scope. Like Guild Wars 2, each weapon comes with a different set of skills. For example the scythe can daze ranged attackers and deploy a whirlwind attack. The shotgun, one of several ranged weapons, can immediately fire after every kill. You can switch between two weapons and get the most damage or just use their varied skills when required. While there are only two skills per weapon, plus a normal attack, most are satisfying and recharge quickly. Vaulting into the air, with the aid of a mortar gun explosion, and damaging enemies upon landing is one attack pattern that remained entertaining. The most gratifying weapon has to be the lightning gun. It vaporises monsters with a continuous stream of electricity and almost turns the game into an arcade shooter. Unfortunately there are only seven weapon types, so there are not many skills to master. In any case, you will probably stick to the one weapon that feels the most comfortable.
Multiple lightning guns in action just makes you love it even more
Challenges within every level encourage the use of other weapons or different play styles. All areas have five normal and five elite challenges. These might tempt Victor to kill enemies without using health potions, find all hidden treasure or even use the sword to kill a particular enemy. Completing a challenge gives you gold, experience or items. More advanced challenges require the use of the vexing Hexes, which are just global modifiers that make the game more difficult. Some challenges do force different approaches, but it was always a relief to switch back to a reliable loadout. While they serve a purpose, the timed challenges were typically uncomfortable. As the game progressed, the challenges transitioned from being nice alternatives to absurd tests that were best ignored.
Destiny cards provide bonuses to help complete harder levels. Card bonuses range from stealing health to producing an explosion after foes are killed. These cards have point values which indicate strength, so you can equip a few powerful cards or use many lower rated cards. Most card modifiers are bland health upgrades or slight increases to a character trait. The cards never provided much surprise after the first few hours, and once you find a good combination there is little incentive to change.
Further character customisation comes via Demon powers, which are basically spells. These powers can be used to create a shield, rain fireballs or propagate shockwaves. Like in the Van Helsing games, they are fuelled by standard attacks. Many were underwhelming to deploy during the general action. On the plus side, both the Destiny cards and Demon powers are inventory items, dropped by monsters, which can be combined to improve weapons. Sadly, the weapons modifications seemed fairly minor, only really needed for harder modes and challenges.
Perhaps the best aspect in Victor Vran is the free movement. During action or exploration Victor can jump or dodge. Jumping is used mostly to find secrets, either by leaping off walls or finding hidden ledges. If you get surrounded by melee attackers, it can also propel you to safety. Dodging is quite useful when dealing with ranged attacks, and you can avoid nearly all damage if your fingers are nimble enough. An unexpected benefit of the jumping mechanic is just how much better it makes navigating dungeons. There are many opportunities to take shortcuts by jumping to an adjacent tier instead of taking the stairs. This can save minutes of backtracking, depending largely on the dungeon layout.
It is times like these you will appreciate being able to jump
Action is further improved with a camera that can rotate. Monsters hidden in the corners of rooms can be seen clearly by spinning the camera. It is worth noting that the game typically does a good job of hiding walls that obscure the action, so it is not necessary to rotate if you prefer a fixed isometric view. One disadvantage of rotating the camera is that it can compromise orientation, although given the small levels you will not get confused for long. While rotating the camera is fantastic, it is a pity that it could not be zoomed or tilted slightly to provide the perfect view.
Co-operative online play is available for up to four characters and this has players progressing through the same levels from solo play. Online connections are good. The framerate is practically the same as playing alone, even when four players are dropping spells and fighting hordes of gargoyles. Latency delays are nearly invisible, and this ensures combat is responsive. Most of the value comes from hunting down legendary items or finishing those difficult challenges. The online component is good but not flawless. Some players will join open games with hard mode or hexes enabled, activating those same settings for all other players in the game. If one character dies in a dungeon, then any relevant challenges will be compromised for every player. Alternatively, joining someone just before they finish a challenge will grant rewards for no effort. There are some technical issues as well. During one major boss fight, the camera broke and began twitching; it could only be fixed by creating a new game. Even with these minor issues, online is a decent option for players who want to enjoy dungeon crawling in a group.
Victor Vran is neither particularly good nor bad. Its mediocrity is accentuated by several imitations of notable games in the genre. The combat is good, despite it being shallow and mainly encouraging diversity via tiresome challenges. At least the jumping and dodging makes the action more involving and it is fantastic to have a camera that can be rotated. Customisation is limited, with unexciting Destiny cards and Demon powers that lack influence. The progression and treasure system is not great and this lessens the already flimsy incentive to replay levels that just repopulate with the same enemies. The online portion may provide entertainment for a short time although it also has problems. Unfortunately nothing in Victor Vran is cause for great excitement although it is a solid base to build on in the future.