In a distant land, those seeking glory came from far and wide to bring their own personal brand of justice to a seemingly endless hoard of monsters. Compelled forward by the promise of riches or desire to be revered these hunters came and fell. The task of cleansing evil-doers from this kingdom now falls to Victor Vran, a demon hunter whose curiosity is matched only by his almost ethereal ability to strike down any who stand before him. Sounds about as unique as a banana, right? Well on paper it does, but actually taking on the role of Victor Vran is an experience that’ll forever be held alongside its contemporaries even though the game warrants the merit to stand apart from any others.
That being said, the similarities between Victor Vran and Torchlight, Diablo, Path of Exile, or indeed countless others are all but impossible to avoid. Running around a dark land filled with evil creatures, you batter them to death using swords and sorcery until the opportunity to take on the next challenging location arises. Your capability improves thanks to the hallowed if achingly familiar trifecta of new weapons, improved skills, and shinier armour sets. Yeah it really does sound like it’s been done a million times before I’ll grant you that. How Victor Vran implements this tried and tested formula though is where the genius of this game lies.
Before you’ve even been given the chance to cleave some mewling ne’er-do-well from forehead to spleen, the recognisable gravelled vocal talent of Doug Cockle rings in your ear. If that name doesn’t remind you of anyone then you should really give The Witcher 3 a shot because Doug’s more commonly known to many as Geralt of Rivia’s voice. His growling rasp adds a certain special feel to Victor Vran and its world, a world which frankly lacks anything especially noteworthy in its narrative. There’s nothing wrong with it in any way, just as there’s nothing that elevates the tale above any other in the genre.
That is apart from one shining light. Bouncing around Victor Vran’s head is a disembodied Voice that shatters the fourth wall like a disgruntled Tupperware salesman taking out his rage on a local pottery store with mallets. This ethereal voice frequently talks directly to you, Victor, as a loot-hoarding fool who cares nought for anyone but his clothing. It then experiments with you in some smirk-raising ways. One such experiment involves dropping a trail of gold coins and expecting you to follow them, during which the Voice mocks the golden trail of modern ARPGs which just throw stuff at you before rewarding your time, rather than skill. It even delights in counting the spider eggs in a hatchery while you face off in a life or death battle with the monstrous Broodmother, only to express unbridled annoyance at you when it loses count.
Right that’s enough about the flotsam and jetsam surrounding Victor Vran. It’s cool and all, but you’re not going to spend 20 hours just listening to a voice mock you for the entry fee. What you’ve come to Victor Vran for is an action RPG, something which I’m happy to say the game provides in spades.
Those already well versed in the action RPG ecology aren’t exactly going to be flummoxed by Victor Vran. Clicking across the ground to move before hovering your cursor above the chosen target of your murderous intent makes up the majority of gameplay as expected. As your presumptuous backside settles into the mundane reality of left-clicking your way to the credits screen, a tremendous pincer attack swings in across either flank and eviscerates through the assumed future.
The first and most obtuse modification to the action RPG blueprint dances around in the combat system. Victor can carry two weapons at a time, allowing you a plethora of options in the act of war. I, for example, have found a love for using a combination of Scythe and Hammer like some sort of living embodiment of the Communist flag to slaughter swathes of weaker foes before slamming down on larger opponents with a mass of stone from the sky. Other weapons like the Lightning Gun or Rapier allow for a more calculated deconstruction of the opposition’s skeleton or more simple swords that employ a sort of combo mechanic where an enemy’s weakness is exposed, opening the gates for a devastating slice.
(By the way, I now it’s a Sickle and Hammer not a Scythe but I could legitimately not care less.)
It’s much more active than many others. You as a player are forced to consider the most efficient way of slaughtering foes using the weapons in your possession. Add to that the constant management of each’s two special attack cooldowns and Victor Vran pulls together to have some of the most engaging combat of any Action RPG to date; something that’s especially true when you consider how important movement is in the game.
Victor is able to roll away from attacks or dodge across the ground to ensure his own safety. In a third-person shooter that’s just something we’ve all come to expect, along with a cover system of some description. The action RPG world though lacks this feature for the most part. Victor Vran doesn’t just stick in the ability to quickly avoid attacks for the sake of it either, instead tying it into the foundation of battle to a point where you legitimately start to wonder why more don’t do it. We’re used to seeing an angry looking red colour and simply wandering out of it unless we’ve attributed one of our few abilities to some sort of dodge or movement enhancing skill. The completely obvious addition of a good old-fashioned dodge hardwired into the game truly changes up Victor Vran, taking it from just another loot-hoarding RPG to a heart-pounding experiences that only stops when you die or complete the task.
Most games get around this whole idea of taking care of yourself with tonnes of equipment to bolster your abilities. Victor Vran differs massively here. You cannot avoid all damage by wearing the Jockstrap of Justice or gain unlimited resources by jamming the Buttplug of Eternal Wisdom betwixt your cheeks in this game, having to rely instead upon your wits and knowledge of abilities. That’s not to say equipment isn’t important. Heck, it’s just as worthwhile here as it is anywhere else, only not for the same reasons as you may expect.
Rather than levelling your way up a skill tree in Victor Vran, you simply open up the ability to use new item types or improve the amount of slots available to you with every completed experience bar. Destiny Cards are limited by points, bestowing passive skills upon Victor such as a small heal when defeating opponents or improved damage capabilities in lieu of some health points. These fill the roll of your standard talent tree in most titles, making the desire to acquire more of them almost palpable. Demon Powers, special skills fuelled by an Overdrive meter, are also dropped from kills rather than learnt and come in all shapes and sizes from meteor storms to healing auras. The only downside to these is that the actual clothes your wearing only make up a singular slot. Many loot loving players might grown at that idea but trust me, the wealth of other ways to customize your gameplay in Victor Vran through gear drops more than makes up for it.
In the world itself is where the absolute focus of Victor Vran lies however. Not in its narrative or presentation (which by the way is neither offensively poor or jaw-dropping), rather it is by virtue of how you cut a crimson path across it via challenges. Upon wandering into a cave or outdoor location, you’ll be presented with a handful of challenges. These can be anything from slaying The Lord of Exploding Pumpkins (no joke) to defeating 100 enemies in 5 minutes without using health potions or Demon Powers. These are what keeps Victor Vran fresh as it’s unlikely you’ll complete more than two at any given time, especially when more often than not some require Hexes. These Hexes work much like Halo’s Skull system and make the game more difficult in ways that are in your control, bringing along with them the benefits that one would expect from an increased difficulty level.
Whether Victor Vran has the legs to stay relevant and playable for a long period of time is another matter entirely. As the days and weeks pass, the act of going through challenge after challenge may begin to grate. However right now, I’d be happy to say that Victor Vranhas perhaps one of the most interesting foundations for an action RPG that’s been seen in the wild for many years.
So go ahead, buy the damn thing in my personal opinion. Any day can be made infinitely better by virtue of a few thousand skeletons crushed under a massive mace or blown apart by lightning. Action RPG tropes might hover over everything like that weird neighbour who doesn’t understand that it’s impolite to attempt beginning a shouting conversation about the bins while you’re dropping a morning deuce, but that doesn’t hold back Victor Vranfrom being a special gem in its own right. I’d even go out on a limb to say that Victor Vran is perhaps the beginning of a whole new era in action RPG gameplay. Yes, it’s story falls flatter than a souffle made of concrete and even with the game open in the background I cannot remember any of the character’s names besides Victor and the Bishop of Exploding Gourds or whatever.