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Page 2 of 3You can also earn perks for your character. As you defeat boss creatures in the game, you earn reputation points, and then every time you earn a reputation level, you're allowed to select a perk. Interestingly, most perks only become available once your character has met certain criteria. For example, if you loot enough dead bodies, then you gain access to the Scavenger perk, which increases your magic find chance and your poison resistance; if you do enough elemental damage then you gain access to the Elementalist perk, which increases your elemental damage and your elemental resistance; and if you do enough melee damage, then you gain access to the Bully perk, which gives you a bonus to the Body attribute and also increases your sell prices.
Finally, since Katarina is your companion in the game, you can build her up as well. She is a little more limited than you are -- she doesn't have any active skills or perks -- but she has attributes and a single skill tree (where her skills mostly just give you passive bonuses), and you can spend points in each. Nicely, Katarina also has a behavior tab, where you can control some of her actions. You can choose to have her use melee attacks or ranged attacks (or not fight at all), you can set up who she attacks (including your target or the target most vulnerable to her fighting style), and you can select the different types of loot she picks up (or none at all). And just like in Torchlight, you can order Katarina to head back to town to sell her inventory and buy potions.
Van Helsing plays pretty much like every other action RPG out there -- which is good because it doesn't come with any sort of a manual, and it includes only minimal tutorial popups (which you can't reference later). You use the left mouse button to move, pick up objects, interact with people, and attack (and you hold down the left mouse button to continue attacking, so the game isn't too rough on your mouse hand). You use the right mouse button to attack with a secondary skill. You use the shift key to attack without moving. You use the 1-3 keys to add power-ups to attacks, or the spacebar to add your predefined power-ups. You use the A and S keys to trigger tricks, and the Q and W keys to quaff health and mana potions (there is only one of each). You can also use the function keys to switch between active skills, but I was pretty much at my limit with all of the other keys, and so I just assigned one skill to the left mouse button and another skill to the right mouse button, and I left it at that.
What sets Van Helsing apart is the setting. You start out in an area of forests and swamps, where "murky" is the operative word, and then you move on the eastern European city of Borgova, which mixes together a 19th century look with a lot of strange, mechanical contraptions. The graphics engine is more than capable of handling these sorts of locations, and I didn't have any trouble running the game at its maximum settings even though my computer is a couple years old.
Van Helsing also has a nice amount of variety with the creatures you face. They're not just a bunch of melee and ranged fighters that look cosmetically different. Some creatures breed other creatures, some grab you and draw you into melee range, some charge at you and bowl you over, some swing a large weapon that it's a good idea to dodge around, some toss bombs at you that you need to avoid, and more. If you play the game at the "normal" difficulty setting then you might miss a lot of this, since at that difficulty you can pretty much just go toe-to-toe with everything, but if you make your way up to "heroic" then you really have to pay attention to what you're doing, and the detail of the enemies becomes more apparent.
The major boss fights also work well in the game, although surprisingly there are only two of them, one for each of the campaign's two acts. At the end of the first act you face off against a Drill Worm and host of spiders, and then at the end of the game you have your showdown against Professor Fulmigati and his Doomsday Automaton. The two boss fights are well thought out, they have tricks to them so you have to use some strategy in order to win, and they're pretty tough -- it took me about 20 minutes to defeat Fulmigati on heroic -- but an action RPG really should have more of them.
Along with the enemies, there is also some nice variety to the equipment. You and Katarina wear the same things (although Katarina has a reduced set of item slots), and so you have to find lots of items to wear. Most of the time this is accomplished by killing enemies, but you can also use an arcane forge to create items (by combining three items of the same quality to form a new item of possibly better quality), and you can gamble for items. And when you pick up an item, the game makes it easy to compare it to what you and Katarina are wearing, to see if it's useful for you.