Hack & Slash Action RPGs are very well settled by this point in time. Monsters rush towards your character and they either promptly take them out or die trying. Felled monsters physically drop gold and loot while giving you experience towards a character level up in order to tackle even tougher enemies for even better loot! This essentially forms the core of the system. What is done with this idea after the fact is what makes or breaks the experience in which very few ever truly manage to make it into the top where select other titles* almost immortally sit.
Victor Vran changes a lot to the core formula making it something fresh and new. Following the idea of a free rotating overhead camera (in a Third Person Isometric View), Victor can turn and see around corners instead of simply having shaded out buildings in the way. While this isn’t a new idea as Sacred and others did this way back when, it isn’t a common occurrence either. It is always appreciated to see that extra level of added attention as it makes the world that much more believable. Rotating the camera is also going to come in use as Victor is allowed to jump over obstacles. Wait… jumping?
If absolutely nothing else, jumping was in all seriousness one of the biggest things that could have been added to this style. There are a lot of times in which the sheer frustration of having to go ALL the way around something because you can’t just “fall” down or “hop” up feels like it kills the momentum. Allowing players to jump honestly opens up a whole new world and combining it with being able to do full 360 rotations with the camera truly makes it so.
Now, jumping is freaking awesome but it was nothing compared to wall jumping. Just when we didn’t think it could get any better, Haemimont one upped themselves. Victor is allowed to perform up to two wall jumps in order to reach higher places that may not even look like anything at first glance but contain secret treasures and more enemies to slay. Being able to jump is one thing, but it has to be done right. Honestly with how well the jumping works, Haemimont would have no issues in designing either a Platformer or a Metroidvania as what they’ve designed trumps half of the systems out there with its smooth responsiveness.
Moving into combat, weapons take an interesting approach as each one comes with its own skill set which is quite a change from requiring a character to learn skills from a tree in order to use them. Going in this direction fits in quite nicely with the quick paced and versatile approach that Victor Vran has taken. Hammers, Swords, Rapiers, Mortars, Scythes, Tesla Guns, and Blunderbusses all act differently and are useful all in their own rights as long as the situation allows for it. If the situation doesn’t? Victor can instantly switch between two onhand weapons (once a few levels have been acquired) for some fairly impressive combos to change the course of the battle.
Because weapons are never enough power for heroes fighting against the forces of darkness they get skills! Instead of going about a traditional method in order to use different abilities such as mana and / or cooldowns, Victor is instead going to have to work for them by filling up his Overdrive meter. Once a segment is filled, powerful abilities known as Demon Powers can be used such as launching a Sanguin Aura to restore health, Fire Storms to burn enemies to a crisp, or Time Bubbles to slow enemies to a crawl, and those are just a few. Like weapons, two Demon Powers can be equipped at a time (after a bit of leveling of course!) and they come in the same rarity types making mixing, matching, and upgrading just as necessary. Like the choice of which weapons are equipped to battle against the hordes that would eat you for breakfast, the only choice that you are going to have to make is “which one of these do I use my overdrive meter on?”.
Weapons and Skills are both powerful active abilities but sometimes that’s not enough. Working alongside these are Destiny Cards that can be equipped which all grant various passive abilities to give that extra needed boost. Life stealing, adding percentages to both critical damage and hit rates, boosting base damage, adding more health, all of these and much more are possible to pick up. What was most impressive is that even the cards follow the same principle as the two prior equipable categories in regards to levels in which these come. Unlike the first two however, the cards do not use rarity like they use actual level definitions which in the end amounts to the same thing. They come in all shapes and sizes to allow plenty of mixing and matching to suit your playstyle.
Being an RPG there is going to be a decent amount of leveling going on. Levels don’t exactly work out the way most people would generally expect which follows on the general theme of “This is not your typical Hack & Slash adventure”. Instead of granting stat boosts at every level Victor will instead receive a variety of “other” bonuses. Each level up comes with it’s own flavour of upgrades such as Hit Point upgrades, an additional weapon slot, first Demon Power, more overdrive meters for Demon Powers, a second Demon Power. Each of these only adds to the repertoire of what is possible when running around the city of Zagoravia on the various quests both in terms of the main storyline or sub-quests and challenges.
Finally Zagoravia itself is an interesting experience. Here we have what amounts to an open ended city that unlocks more quarters and surrounding regions as gateways are discovered while adventuring. Each of these areas both big and small come with their own sets of challenges that award amounts of experience, gold, items, and each of these rewards are labeled under the challenge that can be viewed on both the map screen and the area’s intro page prior to entering.
As areas are explored and sub-areas are uncovered, there is going to be a lot of space that can be roamed through making it quite far to run between these time after time. This is especially the case when delving back into sub-areas to complete challenges. Using a form of what we’ve all come to consider a “town portal”, Victor can quickly hop back to the game’s main hub and then select from there which area that he wishes to go back into and explore.
The only downside to going back to the hub is more often than not an upside when attempting to complete challenges as any progress of an uncompleted challenge is erased. Certain challenges require xth amount of enemies taken out in under thirty seconds, two minutes, and so on. Others require a certain amount of enemies taken out without receiving damage, without using potions, without using demon powers, or even only with demon powers. Sometimes these are easy while other times they are exactly what they are called. Challenges.
Falling more into the challenges than the leveling up are Hexes. These have to be one of the more interesting “bonuses” that can be acquired when hitting a particular level up. Hexes essentially act as a modifiers which can drastically increase the difficulty but should be kept in mind that to be considered in effect for a challenge, they have to be activated prior to entering the area. Use these with care as they can truly be the difference between challenging and impossible with your current repertoire of equipment and skills.
Now while reviewing is not always fun and games, it can really seem that way at times. Taking the release version out for a spin from scratch, Robert and I had a blast playing for at least another four solid hours from our previous seven to eight hour stint. Playing online with Robert is always a fun time and here is us going a bit nuts at times and thankfully me not dying twenty times to a particular boss fight. Amusingly, I didn’t die first!
Multiplayer is a rather solid affair other than a few internet hiccups here and there. Between the sheer amount that we played during early access and the amount of time that we’ve spent on full release there was never any issues in joining up and slaying monsters together. Things to be kept in mind however are the following. The first is that any character that discovers a new area to enter and teleport to only unlocks it for themselves. The second is that challenges such as defeat xth amount of enemies with a hammer count for everyone present. Lastly, any challenge that requires “not” using items, Demon Powers, or getting hit are all individually based. This means that one’s misstep is another’s gloating and bragging rights.
Victor Vran is a must for any lover of the Action-RPG / Hack & Slash genre. Taking in elements that should have been in for ages such as the ability to simply jump without it being a special ability with a cooldown or a mana cost was sheer brilliance. It was the “little” (okay HUGE) things like this that opened up a world for so much more gameplay possibilities while never sacrificing speed or performance to do so. I love Blizzard’s Diablo just as I love Ascaron’s version of Sacred, but Haemimont, you now have my heart when it comes to Hacking and Slashing and I hope that this isn’t the end to this incredible style that you’ve created within Victor Vran.
Needless to say that I’ve just crowned Victor Vran my King of Hack & Slash. There. I’ve said it!
Hack & Slash
Review by Pierre-Yves
* Immortal titles would be with the likes of Diablo, Torchlight, Titan’s Quest, and Sacred. Some of these are viewed in much higher esteem than others but all have been remembered and adored by various people over the past decade or more.