There’s a moment in a gaming writer’s life when she doesn’t want complex storyline, character depth or non-linear game play. Instead, she wants the sheer joy of mowing through the endless hordes of monsters to remind her of the misspent youth when she lost days and night playing Diablo and Diablo 2. At such moment she thinks of Diablo 3 buried somewhere at the bottom of the box with her game discs and before she even considers digging it out, she remembers that the third installment of the third series failed at the most important aspect: being addictive.
But my GOG library has a solution for any case, and in its depths I found Victor Vran. I still remember buying that game, and that I hesitated between Victor Vran and The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing. I wasn’t sure I wanted either of them, as I’m not a fan of playing a male character (to me, it affects immersion), but I don’t mind it as much in action RPGs since the storyline in them is meager at best. In the end, Victor won me over with the trailer narrated in what one had to consider a classic (if not a bit cliche) lone hunter’s voice.
When I launched the game, I got instantly drawn into gloomy Zagarovia with beautiful graphics and a story that was engaging enough. A city overridden with demons. A demon hunter who doesn’t come to purge it, but simply seeks for his friend. And monsters of all shapes and colors. I couldn’t have asked for more.
The graphic is very appealing. The abundance of details (which I sadly had to switch off after a while, because my poor laptop cried for mercy), beautiful color palettes, and varying locations make exploring Zagarovia very pleasant to the eyes, while the sound effects and music only add to the mood. The monsters are quite a typical menagerie, with few twists when it comes to how they look and how they behave, but anyone who played any action RPG won’t be overly surprised.
Same goes for the game mechanics, explained in a short tutorial in the beginning, and later as new options are unlocked during the character’s progress. One interesting twist is lack of a typical skill tree, which was replaced by weapons choice, demon powers choice, and destiny cards.
Victor can choose from multiple weapons: swords, rapiers, hammers, scythes, shotguns, mortars, lightning guns, and magical tomes. Aside of a normal attack, each of them has two unique special attacks, and two weapons can be equipped at one time (though there’s no problem in opening equipment window and swapping them even during the fight). The choice affects the game style, so it’s obvious you’re going to have your favorites, though some challenges in the game require you to use a specific weapon.
Demon powers come from a pact Victor made with a demon—a juicy tidbit of back story we learn in the beginning. Demon powers, just like weapons, can be looted, equipped, and upgraded. One demon power can be equipped at time (this changes to two once Victor levels up), and there is just enough of them to provide choice for various game styles while not making the player feel overwhelmed. Initially, demon power gauge fills as we deal damage to the monsters, but later in the game it can be changed with outfits Victor wears. I really liked the one that fills once you receive damage.
Lastly, the destiny cards. Equipped, they provide bonuses like higher critical chance or more damage, life steal, armor, and many others. Destiny cards slots unlock with the character progress, and so do destiny points—each card has a certain value, and one can only equip cards with combined points not exceeding the character’s threshold.
All that makes the mechanics easy enough to comprehend, but at the same time offers enough options for customization. With challenges for each locations: finding secret spots, killing certain monsters with particular weapons or within set time, fighting with hexes activated (hexes are a way to make monsters more powerful, making even the first maps quite challenging), etc. this provides a game play varying enough to keep the player’s interest.
And what about the story, you ask? Well… There’s some. As we annihilate our enemies, we get to learn bits of it: what happened to Victor’s friend Adrian, what is the reason for the city being overrun with monsters, and some more. The plot seems “classic”, but offers enough twists to breathe a bit of freshness into the common tropes, and along with the steampunky horror-ish fantasy atmosphere of the game it engages enough to keep going. There won’t be too many surprises along the way, and seasoned players (and writers) will recognize the plot twists long before they come, but the story is well-structured and well-delivered, so while uncovering it won’t bring many surprises, it definitely provides satisfaction.
There’s also the Voice. Mysterious narrator which we might guess has something to do with the bargain Victor made. The Voice is full of sarcasm and I always look forward to his comments. In the tutorial it asks Victor to jump if the demon hunter can hear him, and I confess I played through the tutorial twice just to check the outcome of both jumping and ignoring the Voice’s requests. The Voice doesn’t shy away from popcultural references and I sincerely laughed at blatant references to Skyrim, Star Wars, Twilight, and Firefly, at his book-like narration of the character’s journey through a dungeon, or playful pleas to stick around for some more fun in a lair or daring Victor to enter another location where a powerful enemy lurks. There’s just enough of the Voice to make him fun, not a nuisance (you probably know how quickly the phrase “I used to be an adventurer like you, but then I took an arrow to the knee” in Skyrim became boring and annoying), and even though I had my guesses of what he was and how the story would unfold, I still looked forward to seeing it in game.
Aside of Victor’s bodiless companion, there are only few NPCs, who provide simple services to the player: shop (equipment and destiny cards) and stash, and sometimes advance the plot, directing Victor to another location. Their lines are quite limited, but at least they fit in well into the game, helping immersion.
All these things make Victor Vran a classic action RPG, but the suggestive atmosphere makes the game a lot of fun and can get a writer’s creative juices flowing (and if it doesn’t, nothing helps to relax like bashing hundreds of skeletons, spiders, and other nasties to their death). And my only quiet complain is that I didn’t get a choice to play Victoria Vran… Especially that the storyline hardly requires a male character (few lines would have to change, but nothing crucial to the story), thought Victor’s voice, so well-fitting, compensates it a bit.
- Story: Low
- Immersion: Low
- Inspiration: Medium
- Relaxation factor: High
- Procrastination risk: Very High
Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games.
Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English.
Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.