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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.
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.
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).
Thaumaturges also get new tricks and auras to choose from. These include Scorching Footprints (you leave burning footprints behind to burn the enemies chasing you), Phantasmal Aide (you summon a werewolf to fight for you), and Storm Adept (you gain a bonus to lightning damage). Most of the Thaumaturge's spells, tricks, and auras are new, but a few are repeats from the Hunter class, like my good friend the Arcane Healing trick.
Another difference between Hunters and Thaumaturges is the equipment they use. Hunters wear hats and capes, and they wield guns and swords. Thaumaturges meanwhile wear occult masks and runecloaks, but they don't really have weapons. Instead they wear spellcuffs, which improve the damage of their spells. Thaumaturges can't use items meant for Hunters, and vice versa, which is fine thematically, but it causes some problems in the campaign. Neocore didn't change any of the fixed rewards you can receive for saying or doing the right things, and by my count half of them (like Darko's Hat and Excalibur) can't be used by Thaumaturges, which is sort of annoying.
To make up for this a little bit, the Thaumaturge DLC adds some new Thaumaturge equipment for you to find, including a handful of item sets, and the three new quests in the DLC can only be completed by Thaumaturge characters (even though the content and rewards would work just as well for Hunters). As far as quality goes, the new quests are competent enough, and they even include voice acting and two new maps, but they're fairly minor, like most of the side quests from the original campaign. In total, the new quests might take you about a half hour to complete.
Arcane Mechanic DLC
The Arcane Mechanic DLC is roughly the same as the Thaumaturge DLC, except that it adds the Arcane Mechanic class instead of the Thaumaturge class. Arcane Mechanics are basically engineers, and between their equipment and their skills, they get to shoot grenades, place mines, and construct minions to help them in battle.
The main Arcane Mechanic skill tree has 20 skills in it, including Minefield (which places mines around you), Mechanical Aide (which summons a mechanical spider to shoot at your enemies), and Artillery (which hits an area with significant damage after a short delay). Arcane Mechanics also get new tricks and auras, including Elyctric Sphere (which places you in a protective sphere so you can heal), Barrier (which places a wall between you and your foes), and Tox-Chemist (which increases the amount of poison damage you do).
These skills, tricks, and auras work well enough together, but I had trouble finding auras that I liked (since my character mostly only did physical damage, and none of the auras benefitted that), and I considered many of the skills to be mediocre, making it tough to pick which ones to use. For example, mechanics get no less than six summoning skills (not to mention the Ghostly Mirage trick from the Blue Blood DLC), and four mine skills, but they're all sort of the same, and because of the interface, you can't use them all. So it was basically a coin flip to determine which ones to put points into. As I mentioned earlier, I like it when games give you options for developing characters, but I'd rather have the choices be a little more meaningful.
For equipment, Arcane Mechanics use the same items as Hunters, except they replace swords and guns with dischargers (which shoot grenades), they replace capes with charger packs (which increase the effectiveness of dischargers), and they replace hats with headgear (which are usually some sort of goggle-type mask). Arcane Mechanics can also find some new unique and set items specific for their class, and the new quests in the DLC can only be completed by them. Just like with the Thaumaturge quests, there are three Arcane Mechanic quests, and they take place on two new maps, but they don't take very long to complete. However, on one of the quests you're guaranteed to find an Arcane Mechanic set item, which is nice.
In other words, the Arcane Mechanic DLC has about the same quality as the Thaumaturge DLC -- except for one semi-serious gaffe from Neocore. This gaffe revolves around DPS (damage per second) versus DPH (damage per hit). Neocore shows DPS for Hunters and DPH for Thaumaturges, and that works fine, but for some reason they decided to show DPH for Arcane Mechanics, and that doesn't work at all. The problem is that while Arcane Mechanics technically use spells with cooldowns rather than weapons with attack speeds (like Thaumaturges), their dischargers affect cooldown rates, and it's tough to tell the difference between fast dischargers and slow dischargers. Worse, instead of using the average DPH when making weapon comparisons, the game uses the minimum DPH, which doesn't tell you anything. So trying to figure out which discharger to use for your Arcane Mechanic is often a headache and then some. Really, since spells have cooldowns, which give them a rate of fire, there isn't any reason not to use DPS for all of the classes.
Overall, while I can always nitpick problems to death, I found the Van Helsing DLC packs to be fun. The Blue Blood DLC gives you more ways to build up Katarina, and the Thaumaturge and Arcane Mechanic DLCs give you more ways to build up your character, which in turn gives you more ways to play the game. Plus, the DLC packs increase the number of quests you can complete in the campaign, and they give you more equipment to find. And they only cost $10 combined, so what's not to like? If you played Van Helsing back when it came out six months ago, and you've been thinking about booting it back up, then I'd recommend buying one or more of the DLC packs first, since they change enough things in the game to make it into a new experience.