Victor Vran: Desktop Confessional (Review)

2015-07-30_00005 Victor Vran has stolen my heart. I love Action Role Playing Games (“ARPGs”) – I grew up on Diablo I & II, Dungeon Siege and Sacred. I’ve recently dedicated more than 400 hours into David Brevik’s Marvel Heroes. For those that are new to ARPGs, and Geeks With Wives, David Brevik is a friend of ours and the creator of Diablo. He’s the king of ARPGs. And the next time I see him I’m going to ask him what he thinks of Victor Vran.

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Victor Vran successfully incorporates the typical functions of an ARPG: plenty of loot, hordes of enemies and logical skill progression. In the 15+ years since Diablo first hit the gaming scene, ARPGs have evolved to a point where they are primarily loot driven. In instances like Grim Dawn and Diablo III, the player can change their character’s appearance and play style with loot and item transmutation. For those who intend on or enjoy putting 500+ hours into an ARPG, this is a necessity. Otherwise, replaying the game is reduced to starting new characters and playing the same story mode and maps repeatedly. This is not for me. I’d prefer a 50 hour expedition where I’ve set out to build my character a certain way from the outset. Something I typically do in any ARPG, particularly Path of Exile, is level up and bank my points until the bad guys are nearly too powerful for me. So around level 10 I pause combat and allocate my points based on how I’m feeling at the time. For a game like Diablo III, that is pointless since every level 70 character has the same class skillset. Since the ARPG style has evolved to be less about story and more about loot, I did not expect Victor Vran to be equal parts a blast-to-the-past and progressive.

Right off the bat in Victor Vran, players lose a standard function: character classes. As the title suggestions, this is a game about a specific man voice acted by Doug Cockle, the voice of Geralt in the Witcher. Victor is a hunter of demons that uses Van Helsing-like weapons to slay Van Helsing-like enemies. These weapons, and Victor, have levels and attributes. The higher the level, the better the item. Weapons include: swords, rapiers, shotguns, lighting rifles, scythes, and more. Each weapon brings new standard and special attacks with it. Victor’s animations change as well. The rapier, for example, is great against a single enemy, dealing armor-piercing damage to a targeted opponent. While a sword is best for hacking and slashing away at small groups of enemies. Like all ARPGs the items have attributes that help you combat the variety of enemies you’ll face. Be them in hordes or boss battles. Oh goodness the boss battles are great!

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Victor-Vran-screen-3-1920x1080Victor begins his mission with a brief tutorial that teaches the player how to interact with the environment. In every map you are given five optional challenges and secret areas with treasure chests. The tutorial teaches you how to rotate the camera and scale a wall by jumping between structures to find a secret area. This set of actions is rewarding and atypical for an ARPG. Rotating the camera is one of my favorite features. During combat you’re haunted by a companion who serves as comic relief – adding a feeling of lightheartedness to an otherwise brutal game.

What Victor Vran does exceptionally well is the de-emphasis on abundance. I mean this in every aspect of a modern ARPG. There are so many items, enemies, recipes, etc. that I can’t walk into an ARPG and feel like I can eventually master it. Forget mastering it; I just don’t want to look up at mountain of a game. In Victor Vran there is a variety of weapons and enemies but they’re enough to digest. You’ll know how to fight each bad guy and the affixes they posses with the right equipment. That brings me to skills. Skills are used in ARPGs to support particular play-styles and unleash awesome rage against your enemies. You will still find that here but, again, without abundance. There are 3 skills per weapon type and then you’re able to equip 2 powers, regardless of weapon, at anytime. There are several powers to choose from but not many. Once again you’re able to master all of the skills and use them as needed.

2015-07-30_00007Perhaps the best feature of Victor Vran, and where it improves upon standard ARPGs, is how it handles difficulty. The game features 5 hexes that can be activated once you reach level 10. You can choose to enable any combination of the hexes that change the gameplay by making enemies faster, tougher, stronger and so on. You can even enable a hex that converts some standard enemies into champions – the classic ARPG nomenclature for “harder to kill, drops better loot and grants more XP”. By enabling a hex, Victor gains more XP for any kill and has a shot at better loot. These hexes and bonuses can be stacked and changed at any time.

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victor vranAfter completing the tutorial you’re taken to the hub where you interact with non-player-characters (NPCs) that offer dialog and will trade you loot. One of the punishing things about games in this genre is the buyback or “oh crap I didn’t mean to right-click” penalty. No worries here! In Victor Vran you can buy back for the same price that you sold your loot, whether on purpose or accident. This applies to all loot such as weapons and Destiny Cards. Every piece of loot has varying conditions and levels of rareness. These can be altered with intent or via gambling using the Transutation switch located near the bottom left of the hub. Loot still matters in Victor Vran and it drives your play style to an extent. As you level progress you unlock the ability to swap between two weapon sets. You’ll find that you need to keep at least 1 weapon of each weapon type in your inventory to be successful. My standard combination is a shotgun and sword. This gives me a ranged option and melee. It’s really fun to approach a group and fire a wide shotgun burst, switch to my sword and place a few slices before rolling away and switching back to my shotgun for a targeted shot. You can switch weapons while rolling! Ultimately you’ll want to equip your two go-to weapons based on the optional challenges in each map. I attempt to get 5 stars on each map but I’m not going to replay them if I only get 4. Some of the challenges are difficult but most are easy to achieve. I struggle with challenges that ask me to kill without using potions or taking damage. Even seasoned ARPG’ers like myself will find Victor Vran to be challenging at times.2015-07-30_00008

In terms of replay value, I don’t see much here. Since there aren’t character classes, a second play-through would be much the same as the first. I’m not yet done with the game (approx. 15 hours played), which looks pretty long, but I imagine I’ll look back at it fondly and hope for an upcoming sequel.

Victor Vran is available on Steam and GOG for just $19.99. It was developed by Haemimont Games (the team behind Tropico). I strongly suggest it to any ARPG fan or someone who wants to dip their toe into ARPGs without the pressure of Diablo III or the overwhelming choices in Path of Exile.

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