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Van Helsing II uses roughly the same engine as the original Van Helsing, or at least the game looks about the same and has the same interface. You play using an isometric view of your surroundings, which surprisingly can't be rotated or otherwise adjusted in any way. You move Van Helsing by clicking where you want him to go, or by using the arrow keys. You attack primarily by using the mouse buttons, but you can also use the 1-6 keys. The Q key quaffs a health potion while the W key quaffs a mana potion. The 0 key allows you to use scrolls, which are new consumables that give you a temporary bonus (like invulnerability for 10 seconds). You can also press the spacebar to trigger a "powerup" attack, which becomes available after you've generated enough rage during a fight. And if you don't like the key assignments, you can change them in the interface. About the first thing I did when playing the game was switch the movement keys from the arrows to WASD. Supposedly controller support is coming soon, but it isn't available yet.
The campaign for Van Helsing II takes place in and around the city of Borgova. You still have your Secret Lair located in the sewers beneath the city, and that's where you do the majority of your shopping and quest-receiving. The tone of the game is a little more grim this time around -- since you're essentially fighting a war where you're vastly outnumbered -- but there are still moments of levity when Van Helsing and Katarina share some banter. There are a ton of pop culture references, from Sherlock Holmes to Batman to the Wizard of Oz, and there are any number of jokes referencing the first game as well, with broken bridges and crazy domovoys taking center stage.
For the most part, what you do in the game is kill stuff. Van Helsing II is still an action RPG, after all. Luckily, there are plenty of different enemies for you to deal with, and so the mayhem never gets stale. Some enemies cast spells on you while others use guns or clubs. Some enemies charge at you and knock you down, some breed other enemies, some target you so other enemies can deal more damage, some protect other enemies with a shield, some slow you down with their aura, and more. I'm pretty sure Van Helsing II includes all of the enemies from the original Van Helsing, plus at least that many (if not more) new enemies, and that's plenty of variety for the game's 20-hour playing time.
While killing monsters and completing quests, you of course also find equipment. The drop rate is lower than in the original game (only once did I come close to filling up my inventory), but this seems to be at the expense of normal (white) and magical (blue) items. Rare (yellow), unique (orange), and set (green) items are still plentiful. Van Helsing II includes all of the equipment from Van Helsing, plus roughly double that amount in new equipment, including somewhere around 20 new high-level sets.
Van Helsing II also has a variety of ways to manipulate your equipment. Some items allow essences to be inserted, where each essence gives a small bonus. All items can be enchanted by a merchant in the Secret Lair, and new in Van Helsing II, that merchant can now replace or reroll enchantments so you can fine-tune what your equipment does for you (assuming you can afford her prices). This is particularly useful for Katarina, since some enchantments (like Mana and Spellpower) don't do anything for her since she can't cast spells.
But the most interesting equipment change in Van Helsing II is the new rune system. If you go to a runecrafter and break down items, then you earn rune fragments, which you can combine together to form runes. If you then go to the runecrafter with a template item, all of the enchantments on the item are removed, three random ones are added, and you can add up to four more enchantments with your runes. This allows you to create some pretty powerful items, provided you don't mind dealing with about 100 different types of runes and rune fragments, and figuring out where to store them. Runecrafting is only available to veteran characters, and I'm still in the process of collecting runes, so I can't tell you yet just how worthwhile the crafting system is, although it certainly sounds useful.
One of the more unique features of Van Helsing was its tower defense mini-game, where you had to defend your Secret Lair from hordes of enemies. Well, developer Neocore Games has expanded upon this mini-game, and it shows up no less than five times during the Van Helsing II campaign. Each mini-game takes place on a different map, and while you only have 14 traps available to you, the maps remain interesting, mostly because you're extremely limited in how many "machine parts" you have available for constructing and upgrading traps. I almost always enjoy mini-games in RPGs, and the tower defense mini-games here are no exception. However, if they're not your cup of tea, you're allowed to skip them so you can get right back to the regular killing of monsters.