"The Incredible Adventures Of Van Helsing 2 punches well above its weight and ends up as a markedly superior game. Seriously, even the optional tower defence sections are good enough to be a standalone game in their own right."
I'm not trying to take credit for Deathtrap -- even I'm not that egotistical -- but I certainly called it in our Incredible Adventures Of Van Helsing II review. NeoCore are already masters at creating rock-solid action RPG gameplay with compelling progression and great combat, so having discovered a knack for tower defence too, they decided to build a brand new game mixing all three elements together.
The result is half Diablo-style dungeon crawler, half tower defender and all delightfully OTT gothic horror romp. With multiple classes, tricky mazes, hordes of enemies, addictive levelling, versatile upgrades, co-op, infinite user-generated content and more besides, Deathtrap expertly blends the strategy of tower defence with the insanely hectic combat of Diablo. It's an example of a tower defence RPG hybrid that actually tries to break the mold, and rise above the pack in an otherwise crowded sub-genre.
And because it's built on the dependable Van Helsing foundation, it's also an example of an Early Access game that actually works!
Deathtrap is set in a similar (likely the same) gothic fantasy world to the Van Helsing series, inspired by Hungarian folk tales and chock-full of deliciously overdesigned beasties. Blending fairytales with steampunk elements and Van Helsing's own gothic roots, the game liberally drips with spikes, blood, goatmen, crazed cultists, bats, religious iconography, murderous gentleman magicians, cyclopean demon bosses, blasted castles, evil forests and dark forces from beyond the pale.
Dark forces that would very much like to destroy the world... if only you and your towers weren't standing in their way and loaded for mass destruction.
Deathtrap handles exactly like The Incredible Adventures Of Van Helsing, which is to say Diablo, relying on streamlined mouse clicks and keyboard commands to both move your hero and target spells. You'll scamper around some detailed and increasingly convoluted maps containing various defensive objectives, monster spawners and attack routes, allowing you to dash about like a mad thing once a wave begins. However, before it does, you'll need to decide how best to deploy a selection of deadly traps and towers.
A tower defence game is only as good as its towers, and Deathtrap already contains a great collection, both new and taken from Van Helsing II. Traditional gun turrets rub shoulders with acid-spewing floor pits, werewolf cages that spring forth deadly reinforcements, augment damage-buffing towers and lightning projectors, all of which are just examples of the first unlockable tier. Maximising your limited resources by setting up overlapping fields of fire and kill zones becomes a top priority, but as you complete stages, you'll unlock persistent upgrade points to invest in a wealth of situational boosts.
From defbuffs to crowd control, status effects and extra damage, you've got a huge number of potential builds and defensive options to develop over the course of the campaign.
The Tower Defence side of things is present and correct, but the RPG half is no slouch either. You'll earn experience and customise your character, building them into the role you need and experimenting with a host of spells, action skills and passive abilities. Gear can be looted, bought and sold. Better yet, most levels feature some form of exploration, including hidden chests and the promise of neutral beasts to fight, subquests to take on and plenty of secrets in future updates.
The foundation is already there, including ghost outlines of dangerous optional foes to take on off the beaten track, and we're looking forward to seeing what comes of it.
To flip the coin, an action RPG is only as good as its classes, so it's high time we look at the two currently-available heroes. First up is the Sorceress, who acts as a good introduction to the game with her 'glass cannon' skillset. She's devastating at range, blasting out ice and lightning with abandon, and accruing resources faster thanks to a handy turret buff. However, she's fragile and unable to withstand much in the way of punishment, meaning that she has to keep moving... but an innate character quirk means that she deals half damage and can't regenerate mana unless standing still. She's effectively a mobile turret requiring a whole new mindset to most action RPGs, as you constantly flit between flashpoints and think carefully about where she can do the most good.
We're not entirely sold on the her leggy design, though. Leaving some of the body's biggest arteries exposed in a combat situation makes no sense whatsoever! Still, she fits perfectly with the Gothic art style, I suppose.
The new Mercenary class handles totally differently, wielding a vicious axe and clad in heavy plate. The tempation is to just charge in and start hacking away, but doing so is tantamount to suicide, especially at early levels. You'll get torn to shreds by the enemy hordes in short order. Instead, the Mercenary excels at tying up priority targets in range of traps, such as damage-enhancing acid spewers and lava pits, keeping foes in the blast zone for extended periods of time. A dash skill sets up hit and run attacks, while a temporary trap damage buff comes in seriously handy when the chips are down.
As such, the Mercenary feels more nuanced than most straightforward RPG tanks, and more of an advanced class. As you'd expect, the Sorceress and Mercenary are best deployed side- by-side in the cooperative campaign, allowing them to split up to avoid key threats or hold potential choke points; the Mercenary slowing down priority targets while the spellslinger whittles down their health from afar.
As an early access game, there's naturally more to come. Deathtrap promises a third class (the marksman), many more levels, a fully-fledged crafting system, competitive multiplayer, fleshed-out RPG elements and a whole lot more. You can read the development roadmap here, which has been followed to the letter so far. As always we'd urge caution when approaching any early access game, since most people will be better off waiting for the finished product, but I'm delighted to report that building it around the dependable Van Helsing framework means that Deathtrap already feels like an enjoyable and well-featured experience, especially since the level editor is already up and running.
Indeed,Deathtrap might be the gothic Tower Defence RPG I never knew I always wanted. Here's hoping that development continues apace, and the finished product lives up to its obvious potential. Now, if you'll excuse me, I must get back to playing it. Those dark forces won't murder themselves.