Victor Vran Review

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Independent
Developer:Haemimont Games
Release Date:2015-07-24
Genre:
  • Action,Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
Buy this Game: Amazon ebay

Victor Vran has three control schemes available.  You can use a controller, you can use a typical mouse-dominated scheme (where left-clicking moves and attacks), or you can use a more keyboard-heavy scheme (where the WASD keys control movement, and left-clicking attacks).  I used the latter scheme, and it worked really well -- so well in fact that I suspect other developers will copy it for their games in the future.  One of the highlights of the scheme is that you don't have to press shift to attack without moving, which has been a fairly consistent headache in other action RPGs.

However, while I loved the engine for the game, the campaign didn't work as well for me.  Like a lot of action RPGs, Victor Vran has a thin storyline that's just there to direct you through the world and set up the major boss fight at the end.  What's unusual about the campaign is that there are barely any characters of consequence, and there aren't any side quests.  It's pretty much Victor Vran against the world.  The main exception to this is a character called the Voice, who snarkily narrates your activities, and who spends a lot of time insulting you and your hat.  As an example, at one point you get surrounded by enemies, and when you execute a "tactical retreat," the Voice starts singing the Brave Sir Robin song from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Instead, the campaign focuses on challenges and secrets.  There are 41 maps in the campaign, and each one contains 5 challenges and a handful (usually 1-3) of secrets.  Challenges include things like killing a certain number of enemies without taking damage, or killing a boss within in a time limit, or killing a certain number of enemies using a particular weapon or demon power.  Secrets are always secret chests, but they're well hidden behind illusionary walls, or on platforms that you have to jump to, or at the end of lonely hallways.

The problem with this -- if you agree that it's a problem at all -- is that the challenges are actually challenging, even on the normal difficulty setting.  I started out by trying to complete all of the challenges, but somewhere around the halfway point in the game, I threw in the towel.  For example, early on you get a challenge where you're supposed to kill 70 enemies without taking any damage.  I repeated this challenge over and over for about an hour before I finally got it, and later challenges are way tougher than that.

I don't mind beating my head against the wall every so often to get past a tough encounter, but I don't want that to be the focus of a game.  As an analogy, if you've played Pillars of Eternity, then you no doubt remember the adra dragon, which presented by far the toughest battle in that game.  Well, the Victor Vran version of Pillars of Eternity would have an adra dragon on every map, and laugh at you during your struggles to defeat them.

And if the challenges weren't enough, Victor Vran also includes hex cards, which can be used to increase the difficulty of the game even further.  The hex cards can do things like make enemies move faster or hit harder or regenerate health, and while they can be toggled on or off at any time, they're linked to a lot of the challenges, so there are situations where you have to use them.  Worse, if you make it through the campaign, then each map suddenly comes up with 5 elite challenges, just in case the regular challenges didn't aggravate you enough.

Now, that being said, the challenges (and the secrets) are completely optional, so you don't have to complete them, and the main quest objectives are about as difficult as you normally see in an action RPG.  The thing is, you only really have two ways to play the game: you can accept the pain of completing the challenges, or you can skip the challenges and feel inadequate.  Which is worse?  To me, Victor Vran was designed for those people -- and you know who you are -- who post in game forums about how easy the games are, and how they need a difficulty setting above "insanity," which wasn't any challenge at all.

If you're still not sure if Victor Vran is the game for you, here's a litmus test.  Shortly after the game's release, Haemimont Games released a free DLC called Cauldron of Chaos.  It generates a random map with random boss fights every day, which is great if you're trying to grind up some better equipment, and you're tired of repeating the existing challenges and boss fights.  So I tried it out, and after playing for about a half hour and defeating the first few bosses, I finally died -- and got sent back to the beginning with all of the boss fights reset.  If your reaction is, "Wow, great, more games should be like that!" then you're the kind of masochist who is going to love Victor Vran.  But if your reaction is more like mine -- a mixture of irritation and annoyance -- then not so much.

Conclusion

So clearly I didn't enjoy Victor Vran very much.  But I always try to separate the quality of the game versus how much I like it, and Victor Vran is a well-made game.  It looks good, the voice acting is solid (particularly from Doug Cockle as Victor Vran and Andrew Wincott as the Voice), the maps are distinctive, the enemies are diverse and interesting, and I never experienced a single crash or bug.  Plus it includes free DLCs, which is always a plus.

So if you enjoy tough games, and like the idea of grinding away to improve your gear, and don't mind the idea of studying and thinking about and frequently repeating challenging battles, then Victor Vran might be for you.  But if you play RPGs more for the stories, the character development, and, I don't know, the fun, then maybe not.  Either way, Victor Vran is pretty reasonably priced at $20, so it's a game you could check out if you're at all curious.