The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing DLC Review

Introduction

Over the past few months, Neocore Games has released three DLC packs for its entertaining action RPG The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing.  Combined, these packs only cost $10, and they add new classes, skills and quests to the game, but do they provide enough new content to make it worthwhile to return to Borgovia and defeat Professor Fulmigati again?  In this review I'll take a look at all three of the DLC packs, and hopefully my comments will give you your answer to the previous question.  My answer is an easy yes.

Patches

Before I get to the DLC packs, I'd like to mention some of the things Neocore Games has added to Van Helsing just through the patching process -- that is, for free.  Most of these changes are minor, but a couple have important ramifications.

For starters, right after Van Helsing was released, Neocore introduced a "scenario" patch, which allows you to replay certain maps with higher level enemies, so you can grind to your heart's content while searching for equipment (or so you can earn more money and gamble for equipment).  The initial patch included two scenario maps, but now there are four, and you can face enemies between levels 31 and 33 (Van Helsing's level is capped at level 30).

Moreover, Neocore also added a glory system, where you earn glory points while playing the scenario maps.  These glory points can be spent on bonuses that apply to all of your characters, and they cover most every aspect of the game, including damage, resistances, HP, mana and more.  However, it takes a lot of time to grind for glory points, and the bonuses are small, so you have to play the scenario maps a lot to make any sort of a difference.

Other changes include a rebalancing of the equipment, mostly to tone down some of the more outrageous bonuses (like the Amulet of the Veil, which used to heal you for 70-80 HP after each attack, but now only heals you for 10 HP).  Tricks and auras are no longer purchased; they're now available from the start, and you just have to place points in them like any other skill.  The storage chest grew in size, and it now has five tabs instead of just three.  And new class mastery bonuses were added; the original game only included bonuses up to 50 points for the classes, but now there are bonuses at 60 and 70 points as well.

But my favorite change is that Neocore added two new hotkeys for tricks and skills.  This means that you can have up to four tricks active instead of just two, but more importantly it means that it is much easier to use a variety of skills.  In the original game you could only have skills mapped to the left and right mouse buttons, and you had to use the function keys if you wanted to change those mappings on the fly.  This system was a little bit cumbersome, and it probably meant that most people played Van Helsing using only two skills.  But now with the new hotkeys, you can use up to four skills (plus two tricks) and manage your fights with roughly half as many key presses.

Of course, all that being said, hopefully when Neocore puts together the interface for Van Helsing II, they allow for a much greater number of hotkeys.  The more hotkeys there are, the more relevant builds there are, and this is one of those places where more is better.  (Despite what AT&T's commercials might claim, more isn't always better.  Think homework, train wrecks, and AT&T commercials.)

Blue Blood DLC

Blue Blood is the smallest of the DLC packs, but it adds some things that are useful for all characters.  For starters, it adds a new trick called Ghostly Mirage, which allows you to summon two mirror images of Katarina for a short period of time.  These images have the same stats as Katarina except for their HP (which is always lower), and so they can turn the tide of a battle, or at least distract enemies enough so you can make a quick exit stage left if you're taking too much damage.  This is now my favorite trick behind Arcane Healing, and I use it on all of my characters.

Another addition is the Aura of Counterbalance.  This aura automatically heals Katarina each time you use your rage for a powerup.  Since I don't use powerups very often, this isn't an aura I put any points into.  Besides, there's hardly any downside to Katarina dying.  You just have to wait for a minute, which is usually just the right amount of time to check if you picked up any good loot recently.  It's better to have your auras help you, especially if you're playing a hardcore character.

Finally, the main addition from the DLC is a new page of skills for Katarina.  In the original game, Katarina's skills only helped Van Helsing, which was great for Van Helsing but not so great for Katarina.  But now Katarina gets skills to improve things like her HP, her damage, and her attack rate, and she also gets skills that give her a small chance to cast debilitating spells one enemies -- or even explode when she dies, causing a massive amount of damage.  There's probably a good build out there for hardcore characters, where you use Katarina as a suicide bomber, and you lay waste to enemies while hiding in the background.  In all, the new skills help to make Katarina a much more useful part of the team.

Thaumaturge DLC

The main addition from the Thaumaturge DLC is the new Thaumaturge class.  In the original game, when you created your character, all you had to do was type in a name and start playing, and you were allowed to put skill points anywhere.  But now you have to choose a class when creating a character.  All of the original game's characters are considered Hunters, and they remain unchanged.  Thaumaturges get a completely different set of skills, tricks, and auras to choose from.

Thaumaturges are basically spellcasters.  They get one big page of skills (instead of two small pages like Hunters), and their options include damaging spells like Firewall, Blizzard, and Swirling Void, and they also get some utility spells like Control (which charms enemies), Blindness (which can prevent enemies from attacking), and Ink Jump (which allows you to teleport around).  In total, the Thaumaturge skill tree contains 20 spells, which is well more than any one character can use.  When I played my Thaumaturge, I focused on lightning spells, which meant I cast Energy Bolt (a basic attack), Thunderbolt (a targeted area attack), and Elyctric Discharge (a summoned ball of energy).