Developer: Haemimont Games
Publisher: EuroVideo Medien
Release Date: Summer 2015 [Now on Early Access]
Price: $19.99 Early Access
Victor Vran is an upcoming action-RPG from Haemimont Games, the developers of Tropico. The developer has not clued us in yet on the full story for Victor Vran, but it’s easy to piece together the premise. You are a monster hunter in the vein of Victor Van Helsing, out to explore dungeons, kill nasties, and collect lots of treasure and potions.
The game is fairly conventional, a safe design choice that I’m sure they are hearing a lot about from Early Access players. Breaking from conventions set by the likes of Diablo or Torchlight, you move your character utilizing the traditional WASD keys. This choice gives mouse and keyboard controls parity with Xbox controls, which are mapped by default. It’s a control scheme you could get used to in time, but given the genre, most would more likely prefer the use of a controller.
Another quirk the game has is the use of the right analog stick, which allows you to move the camera. While it proves occasionally useful for a game with an isometric view, it’s mostly unnecessary. It can at times cause confusion, like it did for me in a few instances when I moved it without thinking. See, the pointer on your mini-map does not adjust for the camera trailing. When you move the camera left or right, you will find the pointer moving down, left, or right, but all this indicates is the original camera angle. It can be nagging once you notice it, but admittedly, not that big of a deal.
When you get to the meat of the Early Access game, it’s quite good. Victor can switch between four types of weapons: guns, knives, hammers, and sickles. Each have their own properties, in terms of damage output, range, startup and recovery frames, etc. You will literally only get these four types of weapons, so you will want to sell and dispose of lower power weapons as you pick up more powerful versions of them.
Each weapon type also has its own unique properties, compelling you to think about how to use each one. Pistols recoil quickly enough that you can keep opponents stunned in place. However, you will find yourself surrounded by enemies frequently, making melee necessary.
Now, knives and hammers are like fire and water. Knives are fast, and recover quickly, but have low damage. On the other hand, hammers have a slow windup and recovery, but the damage they deal makes it worth it.
Sickles are a strange middle ground between knives and hammers. They deal damage between the single and double digits, seemingly based on your distance from your enemy. They are slightly slower and more powerful than knives, so they are suitable in some situations.
Sickles are good for facing larger hordes of enemies, and groups of enemies that include more powerful sub-bosses. Hammers are too slow to handle large numbers, and knives can’t dispose of them fast enough.
Level design is mostly average to simply OK. You were never stuck in labyrinthine passageways like, say, the winding paths of the Arcane Sanctuary in Diablo 2. Vran can jump and then bounce off walls, giving you new ways of exploring the dungeons. It may be a way to access hidden passageways in the future, but I hadn’t run across any such areas yet. [Most of the views on the map can be seen within the mini-map. However, there hasn’t been any indication whether or not these secretive areas will be shown or masked here.]
The minimap doesn’t necessarily help you find your way around, either. They are useful for finding enemies, but you’ll find yourself essentially hugging the walls to see what limits there are. Fortunately, there is always a lot of room to evade and run away from enemies, even if you are in the narrower passageways. You just don’t want to die in the middle or closer to the end of the map, as respawning will take you to the entrance of the dungeon or area.
The enemies are easy to figure out for the most part. Each enemy requires a particular strategy, for being fast and weak, or slow and strong. You will also want to keep your eye out for effects, such as exploding spider corpses.
These expolding corpses can be obnoxious to deal with, but if you pay attention, you can roll away the moment you’ve slain them, and avoid getting hurt completely.
The numbers of enemies that come at you can be occasionally overwhelming. In fact, the way enemies will crowd out Vran can be predictably cheap. This isn’t necessarily unfair, as you can roll or jump away, but it can eventually be tedious, since there isn’t much more to some stages than facing off against large numbers of enemies.
While some weapons are obviously suited for some enemies and situations, there was no situation which would require you to switch. You can take down giant bosses using only a pistol, or strike down a batch of mites with your slow prodding hammer. Of course, just because you can does not mean you should. The very simplest of strategies is more than enough to improve your overall gameplay experience.
Frankly, this aspect of the game seems half baked to me. Haemimont seems uncommitted on whether they want you to switch between weapons frequently to face different kinds of enemies, or stick to one between levels, or let you use just one weapon type throughout the game.
The way sickles were added in with the latest patch seems to indicate they want fans to play around and find a style they like. However, I feel the enemies have not been tuned appropriately to reflect this mindset. You can play through the game without thinking about this at all, but if you enjoy how combat systems are tweaked in a game like Bayonetta, you won’t find that level of satisfaction here.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get the full benefit of multiplayer. After finding a time and place to find other players and join in on the game, I found that I was nowhere near other players (either they were too far ahead or I was too deep in a side dungeon) and the connection didn’t seem stable enough. I saw some chat messages flickering in and out while I played. It was not clear to me if this was an issue from the game, a problem with my connection, or a little bit of both.
After experiencing the flickering occurrence on more than one occasion, I decided to test the accessible servers. Most of the available ones seemed to have ping between 15 and 16 milliseconds, although I was never sure my experience reflected that. In any case, from the little I did see in the chatroom, players were civil and helpful. Hopefully, this stays true all the way until actual game release.
Now, I must confess to this being my first Early Access game, but I want to point something out about games that enter this status. Some Early Access games are closer to a finished state than others. This of course is dependent on factors such as the developers’ resources, the scope of the project, and the many downsides to game development.
The Bottom Line:
You can’t rate or judge an Early Access game under the same standards that you do finished games. This mindset simply displays an ignorance of how game development works. Because of the complexity of game development, even on the smaller scale of an indie, it’s hard to predict how long to development process will draw out. This doesn’t even touch on exactly how much of the game will work, or even if it’s feasible to finish games on Early Access.
With the being said, Victor Vran still needs to be considered simply due to its presence on the Steam’s library of titles for consumers to purchase. So, what can be said about the actual game? I think development is progressing well. Of course, the game works, and basic elements like graphics, audio, gameplay mechanics, etc are complete and come together well. As it is, this is something you can already have fun with.
However, Victor Vran is far from presentable as a finished product, and it certainly needs some work before it becomes a compelling purchase. There isn’t enough variety in the enemies, you can’t configure your own controls or use anything other than an Xbox 360 controller or any others supported.
Victor Vran is a Diablo-like but doesn’t have the intuitive gameplay or addictiveness of a Diablo or Torchlight. If Haemimont won’t change the keyboard and mouse controls, they will have to find a way to tweak the core mechanics to make it as fun as those games. Beyond that, Victor Vran needs something compelling to make players want to keep going. It could be story, it could be gameplay, and it would be best if it was a combination of both.
If Haemimont ultimately fails to raise Victor Vran from its current state in Early Access, it will be an average action RPG at best. But hey, that isn’t too bad for a few hours.
Disclaimer: Steam Early Access titles are games that are currently enrolled in the development process. While it wouldn’t be fair to give the game a complete score, we will do our best to offer a current critique for the current build at this time.