You rarely see action RPGs buck the trends that have made them such a successful sub-genre in the larger role playing game industry. While you do get a few that change things up a bit – such as Sacred with its open world – it’s a very rare occurrence. There’s a reason for this, of course, and that’s because action RPG fans tend to be the kind of role player that loves to min/max builds and values math over style. Change is anathema to what these folks desire and that’s why most of the genre still resembles the instant-classic Diablo 2.
Enter Haemimont Games and their new action-heavy RPG, Victor Vran.
While Victor Vran looks like your typical ARPG, it’s incredibly different and introduces a great many features that attempt to shake up the genre’s tried-and-true formula. These features, however, aren’t all great ideas. At least, not for genre diehards who expect a certain kind of “progression” from their games.
First off, the one major change in the way ARPG progression is handled within Victor Vran is how the game doles out equipment. Unlike nearly every genre game made since 1996’s Diablo, loot doesn’t flow out of corpses like water from a spring. Drops are only left by elite enemies, and even then they are awfully rare and usually un-enchanted garbage. The only use these rare and low-powered pieces of equipment serve is trade-in fodder at the hub’s merchant. Selling them for gold to buy actual usable gear is the only thing you pick them up off the dungeon floor for.
You do get a smattering of drops for completing the challenges each dungeon asks you to do, but in my experience, the most common thing you get from them is gold or experience boosts. Even when you do get a piece of gear from completing a challenge, they are usually lightly enchanted green items that rarely do anything more than the items you can buy at the merchant.
I led the review off with the gear drop system because as much as developers may try to get us to believe otherwise, ARPGs are all about gear and min/maxing. You can have a great story, gorgeous graphics and a soundtrack crafted by the resurrected corpse of Mozart himself, but if you don’t have a pleasing drop system your game will fail. Ask Blizzard how panicked they were when Diablo 3’s server population took a dive three months after launch and why they completely retooled the drop system if you don’t believe me. Simply put, gear drops are a huge part of the ARPG formula.
As I mentioned before, each dungeon in the game has a set of “challenges” that are unique to each area. These range from simply killing a set number of enemies with a certain weapon type to going a certain length of time without getting hit. Completing each one drops something on top of you (usually gold, sometimes an item chest) and gives bored players a reason to re-run old levels. The feature, while new and clever, doesn’t feel like it was given the care it deserved. I like the idea of the challenge system, but since I very rarely received anything interesting from taking part in it, I eventually stopped caring and stuck to simply completing each new level that opened up. Perhaps having 2-3 guaranteed enchanted drops fall out of the sky when you complete them would make it more appealing, but as it stands now, the system feels half-baked.
Speaking of odd and unfulfilling new ideas, Victor Vran also did away with skill trees and instead has your skills tied to weapons. This means that instead of focusing on one skill or attack move, you have to deal with having your abilities branded into weapons and only being available to you if that certain weapon is equipped. This wouldn’t be so bad if you could upgrade the weapon and keep it – perhaps even increasing the power of that weapon’s skills as well – but no such depth exists in the system. There’s a crafting system that opens later on, which allows you to affix properties to your gear, but all it does is force you into situations where you use the same weapon for 10 levels.
Making this worse is that when you level up, you gain next to nothing. All you have is a choice of cards (which you can actually purchase at any time from a merchant back at the hub) that you slot into your character’s inventory screen. These cards add passive abilities to your character but do little to create any real depth or build creation to the game. It’s roughly the same kind of system that the FPS Painkiller had, where you would equip cards that added minor effects to your character that you could easily live without if you had to.
Even the armor “system” is worthless since you only get new outfits after certain levels, and these “outfits” are nothing more than a way for you to decide what minor passive ability you want keyed into your character. It’s depressingly anemic and takes yet another layer of depth out of a game that is desperately in need of some deepening.
Maybe this is why Haemimont Game’s hired Doug Cockle to be the voice of the main character. While it’s nice hearing one of my favorite voices talk back at me in my headphones, the fact that they created a monster hunter that acts and fights exactly like Geralt of Rivia makes it feel really cheap when he is, in fact, voiced by Geralt’s actor himself. It comes off feeling silly and I’d rather them have grabbed some unknown man to do it rather than Cockle. Considering all the game’s other shortcomings, you don’t want to add to the list by bringing attention to the fact that your unimaginative protagonist is basically Geralt in a hat.
Truthfully, Victor Vran is a very shallow and unfulfilling ARPG. It lacks depth, is extraordinarily easy, has no replay value beyond the “challenges”, and is more of an “introductory” ARPG than one that redefines the genre. It’s to Path of Exile what Final Fantasy Mystic Quest was to Final Fantasy VI. A game that is far too plain and simplistic to be played by anyone with any kind of significant experience within the genre. A nice jumping in point for newcomers, sure, but for veterans? Absolutely not.
Victor Vran lacks nearly all of the standard features that make ARPGs so appealing. The lack of any real build creation, weak drop systems, no skill trees…it’s hard to believe that so many people are already touting the game as the best ARPG since Diablo 2. The defense this game receives on forums and the devotion it gets in hardcore CRPG communities is something I have yet to understand.
There is simply nothing to sink your teeth into. After having reached level 20 I took a long look at the game and simply uninstalled it. There was nothing there that I couldn’t get in better forms elsewhere.
Path of Exile’s depth? Grim Dawn’s class combo system? Torchlight 2’s immense amount of loot whoring? I couldn’t stand playing a game where I could go 5 hours without changing my weapon and 5 *levels* without getting new armor. I know everyone despises so-called “Inventory Tetris”, but is this really the necessary cure to that problem? Must we abandon all complexity whatsoever just to avoid “port-to-town-and-sell”?
There are a couple pluses hidden behind all the negatives, like the controls being WASD (or even gamepad) based, as well as the ability to jump letting you discover cleverly hidden secret chests, but it isn’t enough for me to recommend the game to anyone but those who despise complexity and want something as simple and plain as possible.
…and that’s the game’s real failing right there. Haemimont went through so much to create a new and refreshing type of ARPG, but all they did was end up creating something plain and lifeless. No depth, no supreme challenge, just well-acted dialog with an admittedly nifty Revenant-esque gamepad control system. That’s it. There is simply nothing here that will hold the interest of anyone who had cut their teeth on Diablo 2, Sacred, or (God forbid!) Path of Exile.
I would only recommend Victor Vran to people who despise the complexity in those games and want something a bit more “introductory” in design.
Victor Vran was reviewed on PC using a code provided by Haemimont Games. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.
The Verdict 5.0
- Great new WASD/Gamepad control system
- Well-acted dialog
- “Challenge” system is a clever idea
- Horrible drop mechanics
- Complete lack of character creation/depth
- Level-ups are pointless
- Non-existent skill system.