People who read previews of games with a ‘3’ in the title (or a ‘III,’ technically) tend to either be pretty familiar with previous entries and fancy knowing what’s changed, or want to know whether they can start with this one and still understand what’s going on.
If you’re in the latter camp, don’t worry too much. You’ve missed out on some plot, but it’s all recapped in the intro cut-scene. There are some mechanics which carry over from the prior titles (and a couple of running gags,) but for the most part Van Helsing 3 explains itself well and seems like it’ll work fine as a stand-alone game.
For you Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing veterans, I won’t waste too much time explaining things you already know. This is the third and final part of NeoCore’s trilogy and, once again, casts you in the role of Van Helsing’s eager son, pairs you up with ghost-buddy Katarina, and sends you through a bunch of Diablo-esque, action-RPG dungeons.
This time, the quite-obviously-evil-ally from Van Helsing 2 (Prisoner 7) has turned out to be quite-obviously-evil and is employing a co-operative of gangs called the Cult of 7 to raid various warehouses and scientific labs across the city. No doubt for some nefarious purpose. He also seems to be dicking around with the Ink; the in-game substance which allows portal travel and holds reality together.
Van Helsing may not have slept much since the civil war in the last game, but he isn’t going to find time to nap when monsters are pouring into the realm and begging to be slain.
The Van Helsing 3 preview build provided to us had three levels to play through (and a bit of activity in Helsing’s ever-bustling secret lair,) which took around two hours to slash and pummel through.
Two of the six classes were available to select (Protector and Elementalist,) so I played around with both. We’ll get on to that shortly, but the expansion of the class system itself raises some interesting questions about Van Helsing 3 which the preview code doesn’t really answer decisively.
The other four classes are Bounty Hunter (the one class the original Van Helsing launched with,) Umbralist (the new stealth class,) Phlogistoneer (a chap in a Power Lifter from Alien, basically) and Constructor (who, I guess, is an Arcane Mechanic equivalent.) That latter musing is important, because the Arcane Mechanic and Thaumaturge classes are no longer here … except they sort of are, in the form of Constructor and Elementalist.
All of this pondering matters, because it has implications for transferring characters from the prior games (something you could do from Van Helsing to the sequel.) Hovering over the post-campaign ‘Scenarios’ tab on the main menu brings up the message “you can only do this with a level 87 character,” which would suggest this will still be an option in Van Helsing 3 – but I’m not sure precisely how that’ll work with the class changes. There’s no obvious Import Character button in this build, and nor (that I can find) have NeoCore said anything about it yet.
What I can discuss a little more conclusively is how the Protector and Elementalist classes play. The preview concludes at level four, however, so this is only the very early stages of character development.
Van Helsing 3’s Protector is a cross between the Platonic ideal of a crusading knight and a Games Workshop Space Marine. With some giant cog-like shoulder pads for good measure. His play-style revolves around getting up in the enemy’s face as quickly as possible (aided by a couple of charging skills like Smite and Viper’s Leap,) and then battering them. He’s the only class to use a shield, which has a tactical purpose beyond simply “hide behind it when you’re swarmed.” Blocking attacks with the shield raises a damage modifier, encouraging a rhythm of blocking and then striking.
Your weakness is area of effect attacks, which the shield won’t help against. For those, I tended to run away and chug a health potion.
While on that subject, it seems as if Van Helsing 3’s answer to endless potion purchasing (unless this is just a preview build thing again) is to give you a bottomless vial on a cooldown. Potion drinking already had a cooldown timer (to avoid cheesy drink-spamming) in the prior games, so this change appears to mostly just save you the bother of ordering another 99 health/mana potions every so often. The new timer does seem a bit lengthier though, so you may find yourself kiting enemies around in a hilarious conga-line chase for a bit.
The Elementalist does that dance quite a bit too. Sometimes to avoid a swipe that would slap through his relatively meagre defenses, sometimes to lead idiotic foes through a deftly placed wall of fire.
As the name suggests, this robed chap is all about magical manipulation of the elements. That means distance attacks, and plenty of them. He’s on the opposite end of the spectrum to the Protector, avoiding close-range combat as much as possible and focusing on preventing Van Helsing 3’s dashing and crawling horrors getting anywhere near him.
This third entry looks to be keeping up the series’ admirable record with weird and disturbing creatures. There are, of course, some repeats from the previous games, but also an encouraging new roster of charging, slashing, belching beasts of nightmare. Things still get a little busy and visually confusing when you’re assaulted by a dozen or more enemies at once (with a combination of different ranged, melee or AoE attacks,) though I imagine this is pretty standard stuff for action-RPG professionals. One eye on the health meter is usually enough to convey whether Van Helsing is in immediate peril.
Attacks sometimes seem to have more physical weight this time around too. The Protector’s ‘Smite’ charge was particularly satisfying to use against hordes of tiny Shadow Imps, which went flying with the impact. Opponents like the hulking, flabby Flesh Golems are able to send Van Helsing sprawling on his rear as well.
Based on the first couple of hours, the established Van Helsing tone is still very much in place. The series doles out jokes with a welcome lack of pretension, lightening up a potentially GrimDark™ setting, but also steering clear of too much winking meta-irony. When Van Helsing makes offhand remarks about MegaSharks lurking beneath laboratory waves, or deadpan comments about triggering obvious traps, it does so with an obvious joy for corny references and in celebration of videogame traditions.
As someone who plays entries in this as one-and-done affairs (and, despite some ‘post game’ efforts by the sequel, this seems to be the intended design,) this banter is what keeps me going, and dulls some of the pain in my perma-clicking mouse finger.
The expanded range of class choices are welcome and (in at least the two cases on offer here,) seem interesting and diverse enough to cater to a few different styles of play. Van Helsing is never likely to dethrone Diablo as the chief putting-thousands-of-hours-of-my-life-towards-ultra-rare-loot sink, but for those who want a less time-intensive, more character focused action-RPG in their life, this concluding entry should once again prove quite satisfying.
Last we heard, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing 3 is to be released later in May.