Victor Vran Review
I previewed this game in my first article ever for the site. I played it, and it was full of promise and life and all kinds of exciting potential. In short, while it was definitely rough, at the same time, it was a lot of fun to play.
I don't know what the developers did, to take that game so full of potential, a game with a decent premise, and drop it off a cliff, but I intend to find out in great detail. Because this is not the game I previewed way back in the spring. This is a game that is significantly not that game, and it bothers me.
The plot, such as it is: Victor Vran, a renowned monster hunter, comes to the walled city of Zagoravia looking for a fellow hunter. Instead, he finds the entire city overrun by monsters and under attack from some kind of demonic force. Using the palace of Queen Katarina as his home base, Vran sets out to liberate the town and destroy the monsters bit by bit.
All of this is kind of an excuse plot for a Diablo-like (or, since it's more Victorian gothic horror, a Van Helsing-like) where your demonically powered generic hunter, with the generic voice that sounds like he's been gargling two pounds of driveway gravel, battles his way through spiders, skeletons, and other baddies that one might find decorating a front door on Halloween. In addition to the usual isometric gameplay, Victor Vran adds another dimension to the mix: Height.
Yes, in Victor Vran, you can actually leap on to high obstacles, wall jump, and in one area solve a maze by jumping over its walls. You can use these abilities to maneuver around the battlefield, keep from being overrun, or even gain the high ground over your opposition. In theory, anyway. In fact, I'll go one better, that is exactly what it was like in the preview and what made me like it so much.
Unfortunately, the released version of Victor Vran is somewhat hampered. Many of the areas I could previously jump to are now railed-- you can jump over the hedges in the maze in the first part of the game, but can no longer run along them shotgunning enemies to your heart's content. The weapon ranges are also changed-- no more shooting across gaps or nice area control situations any more. In fact, much of what has been changed is meant to get you into combat more, something which rubs against my play style. I never liked the "hordes of enemies" approach, and Vran lured me in with the premise of something fresh, only to show it kept it as a pretense, not the reality.
What's left is kind of bland. The environments are colorful, to be sure, but the gameplay is kind of samey. While challenges help mitigate the blandness a little and add some dimensions of play, your achievements shouldn't be doing all the heavy lifting, and what else there is of the game feels unsatisfying. Instead of a skill tree, you gain equippable cards that take the place of such things. Each level you gain unlocks new things: levels, abilities, extra weapon slots, and extra item slots. Instead of an overworld you can travel and explore, you get a map with level select and a rating of stars and secrets in terms of completion.
I do like the streamlined level process out of all those things, but at times I wish it were more customizable. It's a game about hitting things, it makes that very obvious from the first step. It's not as interested in magic or area control or strategy, it's very much about combat. Head-to-head combat. It's also got a lot more rails than the pre-release version, forcing me to change my strategies but...not leaving me very much to change them to.
Enough about what this version subtracts. What it adds are some very nice visuals and pieces of art, and full (unneeded) voice overs. This is especially egregious as the ultimate evil has some kind of taunting voice in the protagonist's head, but the writing staff didn't bother to make him particularly funny. There's also more of a story than previously, but the story isn't really the point here.
So in the end, if you want a game that reaches for innovation with a ton of action, and some interesting choices in height, then this is definitely a game you should watch out for. But be warned, it doesn't really do anything out of the ordinary, and even the few charms it has aren't really worth the full price of admission. Wait for a sale.
Full Disclosure: Reviewer received a review copy of the game.