How does this premise sound: a hack & slash RPG, where the protagonist is being voiced by Doug Cockle (aka Geralt from The Witcher-series) and travels through a cursed land? This was pretty much what sold me on this game, as I actually stumbled upon Victor Vran searching through GOG’s catalogue one day. I know that Haemimont Games might be better known for having a hand in the Tropico- and Imperium-series, but I have no idea what they are about besides being different takes on the strategy genre. I am much more into killing Gothic creatures in horrific lands, especially with an intriguing arsenal at disposal. While not a perfect title, Victor Vran did not disappoint me in this regard.
Annoying voices in my head
The cursed land of Zagoravia has been infested by creatures from your worst nightmare and become lost to the darkness. While many demon hunters have tried to save this land, no one has succeeded or even returned alive. Despite this, Victor Vran travelled to Zagoravia after getting a message from his dear friend, Adrian, telling him that he found something they are both looking for. With this in mind, Victor hopes to acquire what they seek and more importantly: make sure that one of his last friends is safe.
The plot starts out great with a simple, yet intimidating concept: find your precious friend in a land lost to horrific creatures. It is heartwarming and interesting to see such dedication and loyalty to someone dear to our protagonist without any hesitation, while also presenting Victor’s dark past that gets elaborated on as you play through this game. Speaking of, our hero is a likeable character. He is clearly struggling from previous depressive and regrettable events, but also shows compassion for his fellow human beings and why he is a force to be reckoned with. This makes Victor more than just a grumpy and lonely wolf. It actually makes him a strong humane character, with experiences that both helps and haunts him.
The castle in Zagoravia is the only place of safety, functioning as the hub world that contains few survivors affected by their losses, but still trying to keep their hopes up. While none of them are as memorable as Victor, they all convey good personalities and make me care for their safety. Even if they are based on rather traditional stereotypes, such as the generalised strong female character or the old and wise priest, they always showed a will to help out. None of their traits were overplayed either, making them become more realistic and relatable.
The story is also structurally told, with a good progression that makes a smaller task into something much grander, giving the story a clear growth to it. The lore revolving both the land of Zagoravia and Victor himself are interesting and add to the story as you progress, but only in small amounts to keep you speculating and creating theories. This is done fantastically, since it always gives enough information to make you wiser on what is going on, but still glutton for more knowledge. Not to mention, the areas you visit are vast and diverse, making it interesting to find out what once was, such as the bizarre circus or the different mansions.
However, there is one thing that makes everything falter from the lovely tone Victor Vran presents: the voice inside Victor’s head. This creature functions as a commentary on the world around Victor, cracking jokes and trying to be a humorous addition. I genuinely hate this voice. There is no talking between him and Victor besides two occasions (one in the beginning and one towards the end), he is not needed when Victor can make more immersive observations, and the jokes he spits out are just references to other media or poor takes on Victor’s hat.
It would have been one thing if he referenced something similar to this game’s style, but references to Skyrim and The Incredible Hulk shows that the developers had no idea on what to do with him. He is here for the entire journey and constantly comments on everything with no taste or humour, making me wish I could mute him. This is one flaw that destroys an otherwise interesting world with a lovely atmosphere, because of how big of a contrast and an underdeveloped addition he is. At least the downloadable stories adds more engaging adventures, but it is hard to forgive the constant idiot talking inside your head.
Story Score: 5/10
I wanna slay monsters with everything!
In this hack & slash RPG, you take control of Victor Vran from an overhead perspective, with a hub world for purchasing or selling items and equipment, as well as choosing the stage you want to visit. While a game with this setup might sound most appealing with a mouse and keyboard, this title works wonders with a controller. This is because Victor Vran is played out like a traditional action game, instead of a point & kill so to speak.
This game has a huge arsenal to choose from, where every single weapon comes with one main attack and two special attacks that has a cooldown each, all three being interestingly unique to each type of weapon. For example, hammers will have a devastating chargeable attack and one move that slams the hammer down to affect an area, while scythes will have a whirlwind attack and a daze slice. There are plenty of firearms, melee weapons, and even magical tomes to choose between and because of this, you are always able to find your preferred fighting style or easily try out something different.
You will also be able to equip demon powers that uses different amounts of your yellow bar (known as overdrive), which charges up as you hit enemies or through other means depending on your outfit. These demonic powers can range between firing lasers, creating icicles, forming a healing aura, and plenty of others, giving you a range of varied magic to utilise. The mentioned outfits differ both in visual design and function. Some will grant charges to the yellow bar only over time, while another might provide better defence and so on. These come in limited quantity, but are strong supports and can even make you consider changing up your playstyle should one be a game changer.
As for the more defensive or supportive moves, Victor can dodge-roll out of harm’s way, as well as jump and wall jump in order to explore and progress through the areas. The rest of his arsenal are more traditional and come in limited quantity, such as potions for healing or boosting stats, and bombs for causing some inventive carnage. These will also have a cooldown to make sure you are not abusing these powers, but you can dodge until your heart is content.
Lastly, you can find destiny cards to equip. These grant you passive abilities, such as a chance to freeze enemies on critical hits, gaining health back by attacking them, upgrades to stats and so on. You can only equip a certain amount of cards, with the amount of spaces for holding cards and the number of points you have for equipping cards being the restrictions. Each card has numbers and the better or rarer the card is, the more points it will require in order to be equipped. Again, this is a nice way to not make something overpowered, but still give the player choices on how to take on the plentiful of enemies.
By levelling up, you will acquire some permanent boost to stats and can pick between three items the game presents. Eventually, you will also be able to equip two different potions, demon powers, and change between two weapons at will, making Victor into quite the diverse hero to compliment any playstyle you wish to take on. That is the keyword for this title: your playstyle. Since all choices on how you play the game comes through the equipment and not by choosing a class, you always have the ability to tweak some aspects if you want to have a more comfortable approach or try something completely different. This amount of freedom to make Victor into the fighter you want him to be, is wonderful and keeps the game from ever getting stale.
Unfortunately, while the enemies come in a high variety, they do not share the same amount of diverse approaches. While spiders spawn from nests and some demons will have an elemental effect to them, this is rather done to slightly spice up the combat, instead of forcing the player to make tactical choices on the go. They are still challenging fiends that test your abilities in combat, but rather because of the amount of enemies instead of the different types you will be facing at once. Thankfully, the game is never cheap with their designs and should you be unlucky, dying will send you back to a generous checkpoint.
While the common enemies are rather underwhelming, the boss fights are exciting! These creatures have varied setups with patterns and attacks to dodge and be aware of, and no fight went on for too long. Some fights even add in creative setups, such as one that makes you destroy columns to make a giant spider boss fall down, with tons of smaller ones attacking you simultaneously. In other words, these fights can become severely intense and are definitely the highlights of this adventure. What also helps neglecting the issue of lacklustre fiends, is that each stage has five different secondary objectives for adding some optional and creative challenges. Some can be about killing certain enemies with specific weapons, not taking too much damage or put on one of the hexes on.
Hexes are forms of difficulty options that affect more directly the game, such as making enemies regenerate their health, have more armour and so on. In exchange for putting them on, you will get more gold, XP or better items for your character, making them fun options to consider. By doing one of the mentioned side objectives, you will also get treasures, XP or more gold, depending on what the objective says. Victor Vran will ramp up its difficulty, so gaining some extra support on the way is a good option for those who struggle easily in such tense action-titles.
Another option for gaining more upgrades or items, are the optional dungeons scattered throughout this world that also contain their own side objectives and boss fights. Not to mention, secrets can be discovered through exploration, using your wall jump for scaling, or studying carefully the map for layouts that seem off. Should you want a more straightforward approach despite the difficulty ramping up, the map always shows you where your main objective lies, making sure you are never lost.
Where Victor Vran shines, is in its diverse combat. While you play as one character, being able to change up the setup with magic, weapons and stats to your liking, can create a very imaginative and fun character to play as. You can even combine weapons to make a stronger arsenal and colour your outfit, both being impressive and nice attentions to details. The lack of diverse enemies will make the combat not as interesting as it could have been, but the optional side objectives and bosses make this title into something more than just a solid hack & slash.
Gameplay Score: 7.5/10
The love for Gothic creativity
I am amazed with what a budget title like this can accomplish with its presentation. Each area is different from one another and contains great amount of details, such as a rundown village having destructible sceneries, the enormous garden filled with infested plants and critters, and an uncomfortable and mysterious circus, just to name a few examples. Even the caves have different interiors, making them actually sights to behold and memorable.
Speaking of which, the backgrounds are wonderful with plenty of details scattered that makes me wonder how this title can run so smoothly. Complementing these Gothic places, are the varied enemies that add to the unsettling vibe. Spiders come in all shapes and forms from ceilings or nests, skeletons fly into pieces when they are destroyed, gargoyles waking up to life from their sculptures, and vampires and liches being as imaginative as the horror genre itself. It says something when even the overworld map for choosing between stages is appealing to look at, due to its diversity.
The characters are well animated and have an appealing and colourful look to them. A strange element, is that the game changes between using watercolour style for the cutscenes and plastic profile pictures for the in-game dialogues. The cutscenes are lovely to look at, and it feels disorientating when it lowers itself to ugly CG characters. Both are done with still images, but the watercolour makes the cutscenes come slightly to life thanks to minor animations, almost like the colours are floating. A shame that the dialogue sequences could not have used the same art style.
This is luckily not a huge problem when the voice of Geralt from The Witcher-series plays Victor himself, and the rest of the cast are on par in terms of quality, with other known voices such as Peter Marinker being included. This makes it easy to forgive the shallow in-game character models for the fantastic actors and to give credit where it is due, the voice inside Victor’s head is also competent. It is just a shame he gets such poor lines and setups to work with.
The atmosphere is strengthened even further by the music. The eerie echoed use of symphonic instruments like drums, flutes and harps, add to this dark and forgotten land’s setting. It perfectly gives an uncomfortable, yet inviting emotion, almost like a siren of sorts. Some tracks are more light in tone, making the atmosphere almost seem cold and uncertain, while the darker and stronger ones are set for the grander battles, and all songs come with varied notes.
If that was not enough, every sound of spells, attacks, and screams, are beautiful and varied depending on the action, making this game an auditive treat. The action is also just as visually stunning, with the huge amount of lights and visual effects from the stronger attacks being magnificent and impressive. This mixed with the dark Gothic creativity, creates imaginative and glorious carnage that is hard to put into proper description. Not much to complain about here.
Presentation Score: 9/10
In a cursed land, you are gonna need friends
Victor Vran supports online co-op upwards to four players, and two locally. This is not just fantastic for adding some multiplayer in the main campaign, but the demon powers can affect your comrades as well, such as the healing aura. Not to mention, you also share all the loot except for the dyes for your costumes, which is a great for making everyone equally powerful. It can create confusion when you share the same look as your friends, but this is less of a problem online as you will have the screen centred on your character. Locally, you have markers to dictate which player is controlling who, but it can still be become a slight problem until you wear different looking outfits.
The side objectives for each stage are entertaining challenges as mentioned for testing your skills, and this also goes for the optional dungeons and boss fights to tackle for more loot. Even better, is the Overkill edition that adds both the Fractured Worlds and Motörhead: Through the Ages DLCs. Fractured Worlds is more reminiscent of the main game by having an endless dungeon with tons of monsters to fight, and adding talismans as fun equipment for giving more to the different playstyles. Motörhead on the other hand, while short, is a just a fantastic contrast to the dark tone of the main game, going all metal and insane for pure entertainment. Who does not want to slay monsters while listening to Motörhead, and using a guitar as a weapon?!
Extra Score: 8/10
If the idea of horror hack & slash sounds appealing to you, you will get that and more in Victor Vran. You will be taken for a ride with plenty of weapons and playstyles to try out in a huge and diverse world. Repetition will be present because of the lacklustre enemies and I cannot act like the story does not suffer due to the annoying voice in Victor’s head. However, the extra content, intriguing exploration, implementation of co-op, exciting boss fights, magnificent presentation, and tons of elements to take into consideration for combat, helps to never make Victor Vran boring or unappealing.
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