For me, this foray into the closed beta build of The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing 2 was a tale of two characters. Perhaps that’s appropriate for this not-quite sequel, which aims to pick up where the original Van Helsing left off as the second part in a proposed trilogy of games. I tried to do the same by importing my old character into this beta, but eventually had to switch to a pre-built option.

More on that in a moment, but in case you’re joining The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing late here’s the “previously on.” NeoCore’s action-RPG saw Van Helsing (son of the famous one) and sassy ghost pal Katarina foil a science-punk plot to mechanise the city of Borgova and enslave its populace. Or, to put it another way, Van Helsing hit a lot of monsters with his sword until magic rings and gloves popped out.

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Or hit them with massive pillars of energy, whatever works for you.

The first title ended on a bit of a cliffhanger, but it’s either been too long since I played that game or the beta shows a section from later in the story because it took a while before I figured out what was going on. Apparently, General Harker (affiliate of Professor Fulmigati, defeated in the original game) is laying siege to Viaduct Junction, an industrial area of Borgova. Van Helsing isn’t going to stand for any of that nonsense, so it’s up to the player to organise some troops, spoil some war machines and hit monsters until goodies appear.

This is where my imported character gave me some problems. Despite making it through the first game in great shape, the level 30 Van Helsing I brought across was pretty much bouncing off the swarms of monsters in the lone ‘Veteran’ start option (for levels 30 and up) offered by the beta. The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing 2 was tossing sword-sponge enemies at the poor guy and he was getting wrecked.

The original game’s final third was a bit of a slog, as you’d probably already reached the max level of 30 and the industrial steam-punkish setting had begun to overstay its welcome. Enemy groups became vast hordes, the decent loot dried up, and certain sections were a bit of a chore. Being dropped in the middle of a factory fire-fight with a (seemingly) underpowered character was a bit of a depressing reminder.

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The void spell is pretty good you guys.

Though I couldn’t engineer a change of scenery, Van Helsing 2’s additional character classes (also retrospectively added to the first game through DLC) gave me an option to alter my approach. Once I’d selected one of the beta’s pre-made Doctor Fate-ish Thaumaturge characters, things got a whole lot simpler. Rather than taking 90 minutes to claw half-way through the level, I could run through the entire beta in about 40.

The Thaumaturge is a magic user, and the fellow I’d chosen could produce a massive, semi-sentient column of fire that would track down foes. He also had a devastating void vortex type spell, which could layer even more damage with the returning ‘Rage’ mechanic from the first title. Topped off with a basic freezing attack, he was pretty much a killing machine. Lesson learned here? Use a magician in Van Helsing 2, I guess. Your other new option is the Arcane Mechanic, who can call helpful bots to his aid and lay down automated devices like turrets.

As metioned, this closed beta build takes place on a single ‘map’ where the overall aim is to repel General Harker’s troops in a series of player-triggered waves. You can optionally give some orders to your AI resistance buddies who are holding down key junction points too, although aside from a minor experience point boon this may be best left to the AI commander. The final build should allow players to upgrade and manage your rebel chums a little more directly, but that feature wasn’t present here.

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There’s the tone I enjoyed in the first game: goofy, but fun.

Snarky dialogue between Van Helsing and Katarina remains a highlight, and there’s a new mysterious character hanging around to draw your ghost lady friend’s ire. Katarina’s pithy opinion of Van Helsing’s willingness to trust this ink-travelling stranger is that if he were wearing a mask and hanging around under Opera Houses he wouldn’t be quite so well received.

A couple of optional side-quests also demonstrated that the absurdist tone from the first game is alive and well. After being told to find and rescue “Private Bryan” (yep,) it was revealed that the war council deemed him vital because they enjoyed his delicious chocolate cakes. Maybe not the greatest joke ever penned, but it’s the kind of silliness that kept me going through the original Van Helsing title.

A few attempts miss the mark, though. It only took a few moments of the beta before I heard a Skyrim reference. Yes, that one. The one that has no business being in a videogame due for release in 2014. Every time the NPC repeated it, I felt a little more embarrassed on Van Helsing 2’s behalf.

Of course, a lot of people playing a game of this type won’t give a hoot about story, characters or gags. They’ll be here for the Mystical Boots of Martin Doc +4 and so-forth. It’s difficult to accurately gauge how well that’ll be handled in Van Helsing 2, as the majority of items I found in the preview had missing artwork and placeholder names like ‘vh2cloak.’ Nothing I picked up seemed to be any better than the gear I was already using, and because the game is throwing even more battalions of evil-doers at the player you end up with a lot of trash to pick through.

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I don’t think I’ll be wearing that, thanks.

But since so much of the loot doesn’t even have placeholder image art, it might be best to assume that the values, buffs and bonuses are still to be tweaked too. Maybe I was finding items intended for the “New character at level one” starting option. Who knows. Hopefully the gold values get sorted out too, because finding 1,000 gold inside a chest is a bit underwhelming when my imported character carried 1.5 million Helsingbux over with him in unmarked bills.

Though my experience with a pre-built character was better than my first, imported, attempt, it’s really too early to judge The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing 2 on either of them. This beta build feels like quite an early pass, and is too small to include any of the promised new mechanics like Runecrafting or the Chimera pet. Multiplayer was missing too, so there was no chance to see if the co-op has improved from the rather inconsistent affair it was in the first game. With an April release date on the horizon, it’s a bit concerning to see so many items which don’t seem to be written or balanced yet (though, again, this may be a build from a much earlier development date.) The most positive aspect I can report is that the tone of the quests and dialogue is intact.

All of which leaves me a bit unsure about Van Helsing 2. The additional character classes will bring opportunities for more creative character builds, but beyond that the beta was too truncated to get a sense of whether the series will be maintaining the charm and ideas of the original or simply stagnating.

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