Developer: Haemimont Games
Publisher: Euro Video Median
Steam Price: £15.99
Despite Early Access being a recent development, a cursory glance at titles currently using the system reveals that studios largely adhere to a standardised set of pledges. Regular updates, an openness to user-input, and the diligent removal of bugs and optimisation improvements are all par for the course. While circumstances vary case to case, since Valve launched the program only 25%* of games have been completed. Infamously, The Stomping Lands developers did a runner with over $100,000* of Kickstarter backing. Even “completed” games such as Towns remain unfinished due to developer ‘burnout,’ and shovel-ware like Grass Simulator gained no noticeable enhancements.
Fittingly emerging from this frontier of broken promises is Victor Vran, a Demon Hunter Extraordinaire backed by a studio who have created a well optimised, graphically polished, and mechanically rich experience at release. Yet, as if unsatisfied, Haemimont Games continue to clamour for community comments with simple bug-reporting tools (no bugs were experienced during this review) a feedback form within the game’s menu, and 3 free DLC’s promised in addition to a local co-op mode. Before discussing the title in depth, Haemimont Games should be commended for their clear commitment towards their player base.
As for the game itself, there’s a lot to appreciate in this content rich isometric action-RPG. Hacking, blasting, and dodging through the demon infested Kingdom of Zargovia entails the bulk of what is on offer, and that’s a good thing. Shotguns, Lightning Guns, Hammers, Rapiers, Scythes and more represent the game’s array of weapons, all of which come with their own inherent strengths and weaknesses. Hammers are slow but devastating weapons, rapiers swift but can only target one foe, scythes swing rapidly but with wildly fluctuating damage outputs whilst the lighting gun can flood multiple enemies with electricity at low but consistent levels. Atop this further variety is added with each weapon having two special abilities and varying cooldowns - the Scythe with a devastating whirlwind and daze attack, Lighting gun with a home in bolt and explosive trap for example. Switching between weapons is easy, with a gamepad assigned button or click of the mouse wheel, and enables tactical siphoning between skills in order to efficiently deal with mobs or single demons. Thanks to some slick animations, Victor responsively attacks in the direction indicated, and can also happily jump from wall to wall like Jackie Chan or perform a roll, invaluable for dodging. All of this combines to form a fluid combat system which controls easily and makes encourages the use of multiple abilities.
There’s a solid amount of enemy variety on offer too. Skeletons, ranging from a standard feeble model, to lumbering brutes and sneaky pyromancers, represent the bulk of the game’s demons, but there are numerous wraiths with nasty AoE’s, spiders, gargoyles, bandits who can turn invisible, and elemental creatures rounding out the diverse roster. None of them are particularly special from a design standpoint, but they each must be dealt with differently, coming with their own unique flairs. Some explode on death, while others dart around the battlefield eerily fast. Skeletons not overkilled the first time will reassemble themselves, whilst those put to rest for good have their bones scatter all over the place. Although the game does commence a little on the easy side, as new foes emerge and the amount of hostiles on screen ramps up things start to get challenging. On the other hand bosses do not mess around, and will require some thought and solid dodging to best.
And what of ‘overkilling,’ well it’s just one of many mechanics at work under the hood. Certain weapons can inflict a ‘vulnerable’ status on a foe, rendering the next hit a crit, while others still heal Victor every or emit a knockback . Then there are destiny cards which each come with a number representing how strong they are. Victor is only capable of holding a certain number of cards at a given time, whose card strength can only sum to his card level. The level increases over the course of the game, which makes way for numerous combinations of crit, speed, and various other buffs and effects. Alongside weapons potions and demonic powers, these can all be bought from vendors or found exploring dungeons and they all combine to make numerous character builds viable. Items can also be combined to form new gear through a basic crafting system, ensuring that selling items isn't the only option. Indeed, those looking for specific buffs to their weapons will find transmutation, the combining process, rather helpful.
Demonic Powers? Look, Victor’s a complicated man, and for reasons the plot explains later on, once his overdrive meter reaches full capacity, caused by damaging foes rapidly, he can unleash whatever demon power he has equipped, from meteor strikes to invulnerability and a wealth of others. As for the plot itself, it’s a fairly routine affair. A lone wanderer is called to a forsaken city by a friend in need, and during his search Vran decides to stay to put an end to the demons which infest Zargovia. More interesting are some of the characters, and particularly voice actors, at play here. Some, like the punnily named coward, Private Stash, who looks after looted items, are a little overblown in their delivery, while Victor's voice is the epitome of a generic dark hero. Alternatively, a witty, arrogant and wonderfully written narrator/voice in Victor’s head provides some charming flair to dark dungeons, making some nice game references in the process and doing much to enhance what would otherwise be a mechanically fantastic but narratively underwhelming piece.
Aesthetically, there are some good lighting effects here, with fireballs and other spells lighting the nearby area in a colourful, dynamic manner, with all character models nicely defined such that despite the title’s obviously dark aesthetic, levels have just enough visual divergence to stand out from each other. Mansions, ice caves, and untamed gardens represent some of the locations, and therein lie a good amount of things which can be smashed outside of demons, giving levels a nice amount of interactivity. Each level is also well designed, with multiple secret chests scattered throughout each area, and numerous challenges, such as completing a stage with a challenge hex cast, or defeating a certain number of specific demons without taking damage, entailing just a couple of the ways in which value is added to repeating dungeons outside of hoping for luck loot drops.
All of this goes without mentioning the multiplayer, which I haven’t played, but an online co-op mode is available. In all, this is a really well polished game, which ran smoothly throughout my time with it. There is a wealth of optional objectives and secrets that will keep those looking to platinum it playing for a long time, and free updates still to come for those who would prefer to simply play through the game without 100 percent-ing it. At £15.99 this is a really well priced game definitely worth picking up if you are a fan of the Action RPG genre, but even those traditionally not enthralled by the genre will find this a well priced entry into it. This is something I’ll be playing for quite a while yet.
*Patrick Walker, via games industry http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2014-11-13-early-access-popularity-growing-but-only-25-percent-have-released-as-a-full-game
** The Stomping Lands
*** All images sourced from the Victor Vran Steam Store Page