Victor Vran is not a bad game, it just doesn’t really have any bite, which is somewhat funny when you consider that it has a pretty strong focus on vampires. Made by Haemimont games, long time developers of the Tropico series, Victor Vran aims to take the traditional Diablo style ARPG formula and jazz it up a bit, making it more dynamic and streamlined. While they most certainly accomplish that, it comes at the cost of some of the finer edges of addictive min-maxing goodness that we normally associate with the genre. Without that greater compulsive itch to drive players forward, it becomes clear how toothless the rest of the game really is, especially when it concerns the ‘Castlevania lite‘ story and setting. But while there are most certainly issues in this game that should be discussed (and we most definitely will be doing that), underneath it all lies pretty decent ARPG that’s especially welcoming to genre newcomers while at the same time providing enough new ideas to entice more veteran players.
With that why we don’t we start off by getting into the story, which despite feeling ultimately inconsequential and boiler plate, does at least attempt to have a little fun here and there. The premise involves our protagonist, the titular monster hunter Victor Vran, fighting his way through the embattled city of Zagoravia, a very Transylvania-esque locale that is under siege by all manner of monsters. Victor is here to rescue his friend and fellow hunter Adrian, one of the few people who knows about Victor’s ridiculously vague and obviously plot important past. However things are not as they seem in Zagoravia and in very short order Victor starts to hear an evil goading voice in his head that makes it clear his fate and the city’s are intertwined, leading Victor all across the realm in order to repel the otherworldly invasion and set things right again. It’s a serviceable enough plot but it’s saddled with one note characters, stupidly convenient plot twists, and a messy back half that seems to end three separate times with three separate boss fights before finally rolling the credits. The characters in particular are something of bummer as there’s actually a fair amount of dialogue in the game. Victor is literally just Geralt from the Witcher (which is fitting as the same voice actor plays both characters) but without any of the charisma or humanity, the evil voice is basically just a hammier and less threatening version of the Joker, and all the NPCs each have a single character trait they work to bloody nub while blithely spitting out exposition. While the lazy but occasional humorous writing is by no means a dealbreaker, it does remove any sense of motivation to see the story reach its climax; frankly if I hadn’t been playing the game for review, I probably would have put it down at about the halfway point.
Not helping things is the gameplay, which despite being ultimately very solid, lacks a strong enough gameplay loop to keep one’s attention. The basic concepts here are more or less the same as any other ARPG you’ve played in the past; you’ll click things until your wrist ignites, all while picking up scads of coloured loot, most of which you’ll ignore because it’s no better than what you’re already wearing. Where things get interesting is in how the game doles out actual character progress. First off there are no traditional classes in this game, instead all of your stats, abilities, and general play style are defined by the equipment you’re wearing. Costumes (there isn’t armor in the traditional sense) provide damage resistance and determine how your overdrive (read: mana) bar fills up, accessories called Destiny Cards provide passive buffs and abilities, and your active attacks are all attached to the weapons and demon powers you have equipped (of which you’ll have two each at any time given time). Each weapon class, of which there are currently seven, has three possible methods of attack, and these don’t ever change throughout the game. While this does streamline things quite a bit, allowing you to easily create a new build just by swapping out your equipment, it also ends up feeling very limited and impersonal. The range of equipment and attached abilities ends up being somewhat shallow and you end up seeing everything Victor can possibly do in very short order, making it easy to settle into a rut. This isn’t helped by the loot distribution, which can be somewhat stingy with the legendary items and ended up serving me the same few weapon types with the same general passive abilities for most of the game; let me tell you, once you’ve seen one hammer with extra crit damage, you’ve seen them all, regardless of how high the numbers on it go.
That said there are a few interesting new ideas kicked into the formula here, specifically when it comes to incentivizing creative play. They do this through the use of unique side objectives in each level, which ask you to slaughter certain numbers and types of enemies with specific weapons, without healing, within a strict time limit, or while having any number of challenge increasing hexes on. These bonus objectives cause satisfying fountains of XP, gold, and loot to spring up when completed, providing a nice immediate feeling of gratification. They also count towards a larger tally of completed challenges, which presumably awards something when filled out, though I haven’t been able to discern exactly what. While this system is a fantastic way to give players a reason to tread back over old levels and play creatively, and more importantly provide them with an immediate and hefty reward for doing so, it is hampered quite heavily by one major factor, and that’s the fact that the game scales to your level. This means that the puny spiders and creaky skeletons who menaced you early on are just as threatening during the end game as they were ten hours prior, regardless of your badass new equipment and increased level, removing the fun of going back to older levels and plowing through everything with a single almighty swing of your legendary sword. I get the reasons behind this, as it helps keep the level of difficulty balanced throughout, preventing the player from brute forcing their way through things that should be a genuine challenge, but it also removes much of the tension from the game and makes the rewards provided by those challenges feel somewhat hollow.
Lastly we have the presentation, which sets a decent tone and is of fairly high quality, but doesn’t push far enough in any direction to be memorable. The sound design is surprisingly sedate, dominated by the ramblings of the ‘Voice’ who spends the whole game essentially doing an impression of Tim Curry who is himself doing an impression of the Joker. Occasionally you’ll get a line or two from Victor as well, but the bulk of what you’ll be hearing is that Voice over top of generically spooky lilting dungeon themes, punctuated by the sound of smacks and explosions from the combat. Visually it’s a fairly sharp-looking game, but it’s also a rather generic looking one. The colour palette is unsurprisingly on the grim side, with most of the game being shrouded in pale shadows and fog, accentuated by the occasional splash of orange pumpkins or blazing red blood energy. The general design is consistent but doesn’t really make the best use of the setting. The buildings and architecture all look very much like standard 19th century buildings and architecture, rather than going for something more stylized as would suit the classic monster movie tone. Similarly the enemy designs are also kind of bland, for example the spiders just look like any other old video game spiders, just with a bit more fluorescent paint and spikes then you might normally see. The saddest thing of all in my eyes though is the fact that they don’t push hard enough with whole haunted house pastiche in terms of what you’re fighting. Sure you get some vampires, skeletons, spiders, and ghosts, but you see those beasties pop up in pretty much every RPG. Where are the wolf men, the creatures from the black lagoon, or Frankenstein’s monster? In their place you get blobs of random elemental energy and some gargoyles, more enemies from the standard RPG bestiary checklist.
I’d once again like to emphasize that I don’t think Victor Vran is a bad game, it’s just kind of bland and never quite manages to find its footing. The gameplay, despite all of its flaws, remains solid and introduces some unique concepts. The story, despite being about as deep as a puddle in the Mojave Desert, serves its purpose and at least manages to have a sense of humour. Even the presentation, despite being aggressively generic and unwilling to fully commit to the game’s theme, still feels well crafted and delivers enough atmosphere to keep things from feeling sterile. As such I’m giving Victor Vran a 3 out of 5 stars, a middle of the road score for a middle of the road game.