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Another mini-game of sorts involves you running over 20 Resistance missions. Each mission is led by one of four captains, who control a collection of soldiers and equipment, which you can purchase before the missions start. Each time a captain succeeds in a mission, he gains a level, which allows you to improve one of his 13 skills, including Aggression, Reconnoiter, and Genius Defender. The higher your completion rating is for a mission, the better your reward at the end, which means if you want the best loot, you have to be careful about which captains you send, and when you send them. I never failed a mission, but I had a tough time earning "brilliant" ratings, and so the missions have a certain amount of replay value, depending upon how thorough you want to be.
Finally, you can meet a chimera during your travels, and it can level up and help you out as well. You can either treat the chimera as a secondary companion, where you summon it to battle every so often, or you can send it out on its own to defeat enemies and collect loot for you. The chimera must be fed (with essences) to maintain its energy, and you can also find candles that act as equipment for it. I mostly sent my chimera out to find loot, and it did a better job of collecting unique and set items than I did, which was sort of odd (and maybe needs balancing).
Sound and Graphics
Flat out, Van Helsing II doesn't look or sound like a budget game. The graphics are more than acceptable, with a nice variety to the enemies, locations, and spell effects. Even the equipment got an overhaul, with over twice as many icons as in the original game. I'd argue that Neocore Games too often likes to stick big things in the foreground, which gets in the way of trying to play the game, but there isn't anything wrong with the graphics engine, either technically or artistically. There are even some nice cut-scenes.
As for the sounds, once again Alex Warmer and Michelle Sparks do a wonderful job portraying Van Helsing and Lady Katarina, and it's strange that Neocore Games chose not to list them in the credits, since they're one of the highlights of the game. Some of the other actors are a little bit iffy, and sort of sound like they're reading their lines for the first time -- with the key word being "reading" rather than "acting." But heck, most budget games don't have any voice acting at all let alone every line voice acted. The music, meanwhile, is pleasant to listen to. I'm surprised that Neocore can survive only charging $15 for the game. In my mind they could be charging more, easily.
Unfortunately, Van Helsing II has numerous technical issues, and if there's a reason why you shouldn't buy the game -- at least not yet -- this is Exhibit A for the prosecution. Van Helsing II has been out for about a couple of weeks now, and despite Neocore releasing three hotfixes already, there are still people out there who can't get the game running. There are also bugs with multiplayer, rune-crafting, skills, quests, and more. If you go to the Steam forum page for the game and do a search on "bug," you get 115 pages of results. Of course, if you do a search on "good," you get back 91 pages, so it's not all negative.
Luckily, the worst thing that happened to me is that my copy of Norton Antivirus kept thinking that Van Helsing II's executable contained a virus, and it kept quarantining it. So I had to learn how to create exceptions for Norton so I could play. Given Neocore's track record, I'll be optimistic and predict that they fix most the things that can be fixed, but other issues, like excruciatingly long load times (which were also the case for me in the original Van Helsing), are probably here to stay.
Van Helsing II, like its predecessor, is a lot of fun to play. It doesn't travel far away from any action RPG standards, but it's consistently amusing, and it has enough variety that it never overstays its welcome. The campaign takes about 20 hours to complete, and if you repeat it on veteran and then play some of the level 60 content (where you can earn glory points and continue to improve your character), then that's 40+ hours of content right there, without even getting into multiplayer, where you can play co-op or pvp. And all of that only costs $15. So if you like action RPGs, and especially if you enjoyed the first Van Helsing, then there isn't any reason not to try out Van Helsing II, although you might want to wait for a major patch to come out first.
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