Victor Vran Review

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Secrets Abound

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One of the hardest parts about getting steam gifts for folks… is trying to pick a game that you think they will really like.  I know in one case every single game I thought “man that is perfect” for a friend of mine, it turned he had… and had already beaten.  Every now and then someone completely nails it though, and I think this year my friend Ashgar did just that.  As a kid I envisioned this game that I wanted to create, that was a lot like Castlevania in setting, but while adventuring you might see something in the background of a level.  Then through doing a specific ability sequence you would be able to enter the background and find secret areas.  The concept was pretty straight forward, and I’ve mentally conformed it to lots of different genres.  The game I have been playing however… Victor Vran… does this thing and does it extremely well.  You cannot imagine how exited I was the first time I played the game and saw it doing pretty much that thing I had always wanted to do.  The game has old school secret areas, that are accessed by blowing up walls, jumping over seemingly impassable objects… or sometimes wall jumping your way up to a higher game field that you didn’t notice at first.

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The gameplay itself is this strange amalgam of Diablo, with a setting that feels like the love child of Witcher and Castlevania.  The monkey wrench into the traditional Diablo model is that the Z axis exists… you can jump and even deliver jump attacks.  In many ways there are aspects of the game that remind me of Guild Wars 2, where there are several different types of weapons you can pick up and wield:  sword, rapier, hammer, lightning gun, shotgun, spellbook, scythe, and mortar.  There might be other weapons available but these are the ones that I have seen so far, and each of them comes with a specific main attack… as well as two special attacks that are bound to Q and E if you are using the keyboard and mouse controls.  In addition to this you have two demonic power slots, which serve as spells that you pick up while playing the game.  These are extremely varied and do everything from hurling down fireballs at the opponent, to shielding the player… to throwing you into a frenzied rage increasing your melee damage…. but also causing you to take more damage yourself at the time.

Your Destiny

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Finally you have a series of Destiny cards that tweak your character in certain ways.   At level 18 I have 11 Destiny points worth of cards that I can use at any given time… and as I open chests, kill monsters, and complete quests I often times have the chance of picking up additional cards.  These vary greatly in their effect… so for example The Sun that I have equipped gives me a chance of proccing a huge explosion anytime I “overkill” a mob… meaning deal more damage than is needed to kill them in a single hit.  Others like Hope simply increases your hitpoint pool directly, and others still add additional combat traits like The Vampire which causes all of your attacks to life steal.  The game feels like it has just enough customization to let you feel like you have some measure of control on how your character feels, but not so much as to cause a quagmire of possible build options.  Diablo almost suffers from this at times, and it feels like in order to really play your character efficiently you need to do a lot more planning than I really want to do while playing a game.  In this game I often fiddle with my equipped items in the middle of levels just to see how it feels differently, and the ability to hot swap between two different weapons comes in extremely handy when dealing with different monster types.

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The aspect of the game that most endeared me, was that every single area of the game feels like it is part of the larger game as a whole.  What I mean by that is that there is one big play field for an area, and then linked off of that are a bunch of smaller sub dungeons.  Then those dungeons often times are cross linked to other dungeons as well, giving the progression of play field an almost MMO like quality.  Sure this exists in Diablo, but it feels almost accidental rather than “these are the building blocks of this zone”.  What I like quite a bit is the fact that you can get a preview of a zone before you actually enter it.  The above screen is an example of that, it shows what the new zone is, some examples of what kind of critters might be found in it… as well as a listing of all of the challenges.  So in the above example I know that I probably want to have a scythe at the ready, so I can swap to it in order to kill a certain type of mob in the zone known as the “Volkavs”.  I know the area has three secrets to find, and that I want to try really hard to power up my demon abilities so that I can kill lots of mobs with them.  Then while going through the level each time you trigger one of those objectives it spawns in some sort of a reward.  Finding all of the secrets will reward lots of gold, or slaying the champions will spawn a banner that starts to spit out experience globes for example.  Each of the symbols out beside the objective means something different.

Not Perfect, But Fun

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When I initially looked at this game, there was a lot that made me interested…. but the big turnoff was that you seemed to be playing a single character named Victor Vran that almost felt like this generic demon hunter character.  Now that I have gotten into the game, the setting itself is way cooler than I gave it credit, but at the same time… it does feel a bit like a heavy metal video.  You are a lone demon hunter entering a city that has fallen to the demons…  one that has been a death trap for so many other hunters.  As you go through the zones you are constantly seeing reminders of other hunters fallen and dead, and as the plot unfolds you get an understanding of why exactly this one city has been so besieged.  There are so many common tropes here that the story itself could be a bit of a turn off for many players.  The gameplay and moment to moment fun of the game however is amazing.  You end up picking up a “Bob the Skull” like companion that serves as a voice in your head… and a running narration of your actions.  There is a moment when if you don’t head towards the clear objective… but instead wander around trying to make sure you have cleared everything out… he accuses you of going in the wrong direction…. and then begins to sing the “Brave Sir Robin” song from Monty Python.  So at times this ever present narrator feels like it does in say Thomas Was Alone or Bastion.

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The other negative is… you are stuck being Victor.  You don’t get to create your own demon slayer, but instead are dumped into the role of this existing one.  So much like playing Uncharted where you are always going to be Nathan Drake…  you are always going to be Victor Vran.  I mean I get why they are doing what they are doing, because it makes a much cleaner and more simple narrative path for the game.  That said you encounter other cool characters, that I had hoped maybe you would be able to take them out adventuring instead.  You meet another Demon Hunter pretty early on named Irene, who eventually serves the role of selling advanced gear back in the castle.  It would have been really cool if when you met her… you could have chosen to take her out adventuring instead with Victor guarding the hunter stores.  Similarly you bump into a royal guard, that I could see taking out for a spin, or a grumpy old military adviser or priest.  The feeling that you are adventuring with a team and rather than just one dude with a sword would have been welcome.  I guess they are still adding content and planning on releasing expansions, so here is hoping at some point they will flesh out some of that.

Team Play

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Last night my focus was less of working through my own story, and more on hanging out with Grace and Thalen who now also have the game.  At first it felt like there was not much challenge at all, but I think maybe the game has trouble scaling up content the moment a new player joins.  As we started moving around more the challenge level seemed to increase to something of an average of our levels.  So for Grace and Thalen the mobs probably felt really rough, and for me… since I was as eight levels over the next closest player in the above example…  it felt something on the easy side.  What I enjoyed the most about group play, was that even though I had already completed the objectives… I was still able to get rewards from helping Grace and Thalen complete them.  Additionally “Kill X” type tasks… count for the entire group so every hammer kill counted for a hammer kill objective… regardless of who got the final blow.  The game seems to use Diablo style personal loot, and the exploration aspect was really cool when one of us would figure out how to get up to some secret… then have to show the others how to get there as well.  My only real complaint about grouping was that there is no trade system.  I would have happily dropped some decent weapons on my friend when we first started, because I personally have ended up favoring a specific set of weapons that is different from what they ultimately ended up enjoying.  All of this said…  the game works well, is gorgeous to play through… and controls better that I would expect.  If you are looking for a fun dungeon crawler with some unique twists on the Diablo model… I highly suggest you check it out.

 

 

Hammerwatch

Steampowered Sunday #2

Steampowered Sunday episode was relatively well received, and that was a pleasant surprise.  So much so that it seems that my friends have conspired to grief me.  When I set forth on this journey I probably had a years worth of games to play before I needed any assistance.  However over the course of the week a good friend of mine, Ashgar, decided that I needed to play a game of his choosing.  So we made plans yesterday to meet up this morning and play some Hammerwatch multiplayer.  I have to say it was a really enjoyable hour, before I needed to leave due to some bad news.

Red Warrior Needs Food Badly

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For starters, Hammerwatch is the fruition of the yet another Steam Greenlight process.  You can buy it without discount for $10 from steam, and at that price I consider it well worth it.  However thanks to the insanity that is the steam sale, you can generally get it at a significant discount.  It is in every way the spiritual successor to the original arcade Gauntlet by Atari.  For those with no cultural reference to this king of all quarter munchers…  it is basically a four player game that focuses on each player providing a different class.  From what I have seen the single player game is just as enjoyable, but the real fun comes from multiple friends working together. 

Classes you have to choose from:

Paladin2 The Paladin

This guy is your basic melee class.  Special attack includes a really handy charge and if you time it just right you can deflect projectiles with the basic attack.  Upgrades later increase the frontal cone of the attack, which makes kiting mobs and killing them from the protection of a corner doable.

Ranger The Ranger

This is your standard archer ranged attack class.  We noticed that there was a significant damage drop off the further the arrows travelled.  Seemed to have the longest range of all of the classes but dealt the least damage.  Special attack is a bomb which comes in super handy when clearing large numbers of mobs.

The_Wizard The Wizard

This one threw me for a loop a bit.  I expected a long ranged fireball when in reality it only actually travels about 5 character lengths.  The special however is a really powerful dragons breath like attack that does massive damage to anything in a short arc in front of the wizard.

Warlock The Warlock

The Warlock is the oddest class.  It has the highest starting health, and really fast mana regen.  However it’s base attack is a relatively weak dagger melee attack.  The special however is a really powerful bolt attack with a range similar to that of the ranger but it seems to consume about half of the starting mana pool.  This is going to lead to some really different game play as I figure there will be a lot of the time you hang back waiting on your mana to recharge.

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Anyone who has ever played the original Gauntlet will recognize the game play immediately.  This is one of those games that I highly suggest you hook up a controller for.  Even moreso I found it far easier to control using a dpad as opposed to an analog stick.  By default player one will be set up to use keyboard controls, so make sure you switch things up before getting into game if you choose to play it with a controller.  The first thing to know about Hammerwatch is that the levels are custom designed and this is not a Rogue-like.  That means traversing each level happens in a non-linear fashion.  There were several times we had to go back to a lower level because a switch triggered something we could do down there. 

We started playing the game on normal mode, but to be honest we did not even last the first level.  On normal, heal options are very few and far between, so this lead myself and Ashgar to be moving around perpetually looking for the next apple or orange.  The positive however is that unlike its predecessor you cannot shoot the food.  You can however accidentally charge through two food items screwing your friend out of getting any.  Yeah I did this a few times when there were apples placed between dart traps.  Of note… the Paladin charge is totally a great way to cheese these.  Everyone else has to time the traps… something I learned when I was playing the ranger later on.

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Unlike Gauntlet, gold is not simply a scoring mechanism.  As you go throughout the level destroying barrels in the proud Diablo tradition, the coins you pick up get added to the purse of both players… which is a really nice mechanic.  I know I started out trying to ration my pickups to make sure I was not absolutely looting Ash into the poor house.  Additionally there are big coins that you can pick up called Vendor Coins.  If you look up in the lower right hand corner of the above screen you will see at this point we had picked up 4 of them, and each one gives you a permanent .5% discount.  The gold you collect is spent on vendors, and the above vendor is one that changes what your weapons do.  For example Sword Damage 1 increased the total amount of damage I dealt, and Sword Arc 1 as I mentioned above changed my sword swing from a 90* arc to a 120* arc making it far more useful.

During the course of the hour we spent playing we found weapon vendors, combo vendors and stat pool vendors.  The combo vendors introduced a new mechanic that if you kill 10 creatures within 1 second of each other you triggered your combo effect.  For example I ended up buying an ability that procced a heal whenever this happened.  Ash on the other hand decided to spend his gold on increasing the amount of time between kills, allowing him to get combos easier. 

Obviously both are useful and needed abilities, but unfortunately at the time we were near the vendor we only had enough money to purchase one.  Combo Nova was one I think we were both eyeing, as it did a huge AOE damage nova whenever you managed to get a combo.  The stat pool vendors were pretty self explanatory, allowing you to either increase your total health pool or your total mana pool.  I ended up purchasing a health pool bump which nearly doubled my total available health.  We were not nearly as good as we could have been about breaking barrels and picking up gold, so I imagine we could have likely afforded a lot more if we were more carefully clearing the rooms.

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My biggest suggestion while playing this game, is to trust your Gauntlet inspired instincts.  There was a mechanic that we just instinctively dealt with that did turn out to be exactly what we thought it was.  The game has mob spawners, that work just like they did in Gauntlet.  If you look above you can notice there are two brown spots on the ground.  I wish I had taken a picture of these before we destroyed them, but these were previously Beetle spawners.  Just like in Gauntlet they appear in a room full of the same kind of mob, and slowly over time spit out more of them.  They seem to be only triggered when you actually aggro the mobs surrounding them. 

The strategy that seemed to work is that Ashgar would gather up the attention of the mobs that were already spawned kiting them around… and I would make a beeline directly for the spawners taking them out.  One of the worst rooms we encountered had 5 worm spawners in them, and Ash through some streak of insanity managed to solo the encounter because I went off in a different direction.  That is another thing of note… this game is not limited to having both characters on screen at the same time, so as a result you can wander off in completely different directions and get lost.  I am thankful that we were both on mumble at the time as we went through the levels.  Ash and I play together enough, and have a similar enough viewpoint that our crude directions were usually successful in allowing us to meet back up.

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As you wander through the levels there will be various objectives.  If you look at the top of the screen you can see four indicators with numbers beside them.  These are in order…  Bronze Key, Silver Key, Gold Key and Extra Lives.  The keys work exactly like you would expect them to work based on the Gauntlet lineage.  You pick up a key and then walk into a wall of the same color.  There are many objectives that are hidden behind walls.  One sequence involved us stepping on four different runes, which then spawned a vendor coin and a treasure chest when the sequence finished.  The above image shows a sequence of four switches that apparently need to be activated to unlock the boss of the level.  We however did not survive long enough to actually see what a boss looks like.

The bane of our existence seemed to be spike traps…which I did not unfortunately get a screenshot for.  There were multiple varieties of these, some were switch puzzles that involved opening up a clear path through the spikes.  Other instances were simply timed puzzles that involved moving through them in a pattern as they cycled on and off.  In all cases however they were essentially a oneshot kill.  Figuring these out pretty much accounted for most of our lost lives.  I figure going in again we would fare far better.  The nastiest surprise is while moving across a large field of synchronized spike traps… that mobs would in fact follow you across.

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Like I said we started the game on Normal and found it to be extremely challenging.  Briefly before I needed to log for a bit we tried playing different classes on Easy mode.  Primarily the only real difference that I could tell is that they were a lot more healing options.  Where on normal there would be a single apple spawn, there might be three on easy.  The mobs dealt the same amount of damage and seemed to spawn in the same numbers.  We did extremely poorly because really… we chose classes that were not well suited for our play styles.  I tried the Ranger and Ash tried the Wizard.  In truth the Paladin/Ranger combo was just about perfect for the two of us, so I think switching to playing the game on easy we would have made it through to the boss without any issues.  I think we did fine for two complete noobs to the game.

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One of the cool things about dying however is that you get a nifty graphical breakout of all of the statistics of the last play session.  As you can see, Ash totally kicked my ass in total damage dealt.  While not worth taking a death for, it does seem to a little bit of a consolation prize that you get to see the cool info about what just happened.  To wrap things up, if you were like me and you spent large chunks of your childhood feeding your allowance a quarter at a time to Gauntlet…  this is a game you will really appreciate on so many levels.  If you are like Ash and way the hell too young to have experience Gauntlet when it was an actual thing…  but tend to have an appreciation for the classics.  This also will likely be a really fun experience for you.

However if you are someone who needs cutting edge graphics and deep story interaction.  This is not your game.  It is old school quarter munching dungeon crawling at its finest.  However in this case you cannot simply feed the beast more money to save your sorry ass.  You have a limited number of lives and cannot pay to make up for your lack of skill.  I figure given time I will cease sucking quite as bad as I did during this little play session.  I would definitely buy the game again given the chance, and I might gift it to someone in the future to spread the madness if playing this becomes a regular occurrences.

How Are You Liking This?

So I am curious… how are you enjoying Steampowered Sundays?  This is only the second one but I am curious about what you like and don’t like about this approach.  I am also interested in any suggestions for types of games you would like to see me play.  Generally I am looking for a game I can get in for a few hours Sunday morning and get enough of a feel for it that I can do a write-up.  Additionally I am limiting it to games that I have either not played at all, or have only played for less than an hour… preferably less than 30 minutes.  I have a large backlog of games so I am sure I can keep finding something that sounds interesting each week.