*Looks nice enough
*Choice of swordsman, gunslinger, or mage for the original character; choice of mage or engineer with DLC
*Unique helper who can be a melee or ranged fighter, buy and sell items for the player while he's in the field, and be customized to behave as the player wishes
*Adequate number of quests
*Respawning monsters can be turned on or off
*Scenarios and Neverending Story provide some replayability after completing the game
*Co-op with a fair loot system
*Skill and stat reset and unlockable perks
*Little to no need to grind
*Changes in weapons and armor actually affect character appearance, though the character's size makes these changes minor
*Visually unimpressive skills
*Slow response to glitches (newer games seem to take priority)
*Tedious tower defense section
*Little incentive to play the additional modes
*Considerable lag on even the lowest settings in some areas during co-op if one's computer doesn't meet the recommended specifications
*20 GB download with little to show for it
Those who just want to complete the game on normal difficulty at a normal pace should expect to take 12-15 hours. Achievement hunters will take varying amounts of time depending on what difficulty they choose at the start and whether or not they select hardcore mode, but should be aware that several achievements involve a great deal of grinding. I took around 30 hours to get all of the achievements besides those related to hardcore mode and difficulty and those involving the greatest amount of grinding.
5 out of 10
I happened to start playing this after an update that broke a few aspects of the game. It took too long for the developers to address these issues and, even when they did, some remained. For example, the Thaumaturge's blizzard skill is supposed to do a certain amount of damage in a small visible area on the screen, but instead causes massive (fatal) damage to all enemies within 2 screens of the player. This can easily be abused to make every area and boss a joke. I also found myself unable to complete a main quest because of a bug that prevents a quest item spawn, yet the only fix available is to actually type a command into the game. The game has been out since May 2013 and the developers have gone on to make Van Helsing II, Van Helsing III, and a spin-off of the tower defense element of the game. At this point, there is no excuse for persistent bugs and lazy fixes.
Still, if these bugs were my only problem with the game, I would recommend it. The trouble is that it's not particularly fun.
Gameplay consists of running from one mob of enemies to the next, using the same two or three skills again and again. The game does feature a unique mechanic called Fury, which is gained by attacking enemies and spent to give skills unique buffs if
the player has spent skill points on those buffs. For example: if the player uses skill points to unlock the flamethrower skill and additional skill points to unlock one of its 3-5 buffs, flamethrower might do 50% more damage or cause persistent fire damage to enemies if the buff is invoked. However, the buff is also spent upon activation, meaning fury must be used to ready it again for any subsequent attack. I found the system rather awkward to use because of all of the key presses involved, but others might enjoy it, so I list it neither as a pro nor a con. In any case, it didn't change the nature or feel of the gameplay for me.
The three unique bosses (one for the end of each act) offer something different, but only because the player has to first run around activating towers, completing a tower defense section, or destroying spawners first to have a good chance of killing them. The developers apparently thought that the tower defense section of the second act was good enough to turn into a stand-alone game (Death Trap), but to me it seemed to drag on for too long. It is like Orcs Must Die! (one of my favorite games) in the sense that the player places traps on tiles and is free to assist his traps in killing enemies, who can also target him. However, the player must gather materials to place traps and also has a limit on how many can be placed. The trap variety is decent, at least for what amounts to a mini-game, but in the interest of achievement hunting, I followed others' advice and used just one kind of trap: the werewolf cage. Perhaps the experience would have been more enjoyable if I had been more adventurous, but I doubt it. The length of this section and the constant micromanagement with the player character, which I enjoyed in Orcs Must Die! but disliked here, just sapped any fun out of it. And then I had to do it again for another quest.
The story is arguably the biggest disappointment, as it merely amounts to a hunt for a one-dimensional villain who is out to hurt people. There is no depth, minimal world-building, and no incentive to play apart from an interest in getting better weapons and putting points into skills, neither of which conveyed much of a sense of progression. The player only gets enough points to max out a handful of skills, most of which both look and feel unimpressive, and the weapons all handle about the same way, with minimal boosts to damage as the player progresses.
The cooperative aspect of the game was the biggest draw for me since I have a wife who occasionally likes to play. Our first problem was getting the game to work: even though her computer surpasses the minimum requirements and mine surpasses the recommended, we both got stuck on an endless initial loading screen. Eventually I got it working, but it wasn't long before the next problem. When we reached the second large map (Gallowsbog), the game lagged too much even on the lowest settings for her to be able to do anything at all. I was forced to play the rest of the game on my own, without company to distract me from the game's other failures.
After finishing the game, I had little interest in buying the next in the series. After reading some of the reviews and glitch reports for both
sequels, I lost what little interest I had left.
For the tedious gameplay, poor optimization, unimpressive skills, and bugs that remain unfixed to this day, I give this game a 5 out of 10.