The final chapter of a trilogy needs to go out with a bang, so when all else fails, letting us create enormous elemental explosions bristling with lava death snakes is a good bet.
We're big fans of The Incredible Adventures Of Van Helsing here at Dealspwn. NeoCore's underdog action RPG series has delivered sensational quality and great replayable gameplay at a bargain price, working towards a trilogy that adds up to a fraction of Diablo III's RRP. Satisfying and occasionally hilarious, we heaped praise on both The Incredible Adventures Of Van Helsing and The Incredible Adventures Of Van Helsing II.
There's a lot riding on part three, then, and based on the latest preview build I'm confident that it's on course to deliver. However, we'll face a surprisingly tough decision: should we import our character from the previous games or jump into the two new classes? One of which is capable of summoning the aforementioned superheated death snakes on a whim.
Van Helsing III takes place shortly after the events of its predecessor, following Van Helsing's triumph over the nefarious General Harker and betrayal at the hands of an erstwhile ally. Your nemesis is now preparing for war of their own, raiding the supplies of your defeated enemies while conducting twisted experiments of their own. Returning to Borgovia and the secret lair, it's time to face down the monster hunter's true enemy once and for all once and for all.
Having refined the gameplay formula throughout the preceding two games, Van Helsing III is reassuringly solid, streamlined and satisfying to play. Hordes of creatures from Hungarian folklore and bad Steampunk science await Van Helsing's enthusiastic floppy-hatted brand of justice, packing a stern mix of melee and ranged abilities. Like any top-down action RPG worth its salt, it's a click-heavy affair, but with a simple skill bar and some optional skill modifiers mapped within intuitive reach.
As always, smashing through the enemy hordes was satisfying but reassuringly tough as I made my way through a subterranean laboratory, hidden forests and the otherworldly Ink dimension in pursuit of my quarry, especially when it came to minibosses that marshalled a range of AoE and teleportation abilities. Thankfully the payoff was a pile of loot and an even bigger pile of gore. Or charred remains when using the Elementalist.
There will be plenty of sidequests to indulge in throughout each map and even the hidden lair itself, of which I was able to sample a good half-dozen. Some objectives are hilarious and irreverent as you'd expect from the rollicking tongue-in-cheek franchise, such as completing a body-swap exercise between a cat, human and werefolf or helping a hapless bandit complete a stagecoach robbery against willing participants. Others are much more far-reaching, such as destroying Ink-spewing orbs in a mist-shrouded wood to lift the fog and completely change the local weather conditions.
There were even a few clues to hidden mysteries dotted around the levels, strange inscriptions and statues, which bears further investigation.
Your hidden lair, meanwhile, acts as a hub that grants persistent access to real-time dispatch quests for your resistance army (a surprisingly addictive distraction), some tower defence missions, your hulking Chimera pet and plenty of vendors.
So far, so good. Van Helsing III is as solid and capable of raising a smile as ever, while the new monsters such as hulking hybrid centaurs and other biological aberrations fit in with the existing bestiary. Sadly it also shares a familiar input quirk, wherein it will refuse all mouse or keyboard controls if you've plugged in an Xbox controller. Fix this, Neocore! Still, not exactly the most onerous of issues.
What feels very different, however, are the new classes. There'll be four in all -- the Phlogistoneer, Umbralist, Elementalist and Protector -- the latter two of which were available in the preview build. Though I'll probably import my existing character for my first run, I'll be itching to try both of the newcomers as they're both sides of the same coin.
The Protector brings a heavy melee and tanking expertise to the experience, a first for the series, which typically encourages hit and run attacks for all but the best-optimised melee builds. Capable of donning heavy armour and wielding a massive shield (another first), you'll be able to stride straight into the middle of a heavy engagement and hold your own, using a variety of crowd control skills, bashes and stuns to keep the hordes at bay.
His most unique skill doesn't involve attacking at all, however. Unlike practically all other top-down action RPGs of recent memory, Protectors can actually use their shield to actively block incoming attacks, holding the mouse button to mitigate incoming damage while regenerating health and damaging foes. All while your ghostly companion Katarina is free to engage. It's a unique change of pace and one that works surprisingly well in the Van Helsing experience.
The Elementalist acts as polar opposite: a 'glass cannon' ranged DPS capable of throwing out insanely powerful magical attacks. They can effectively paint enduring walls of fire and ice onto the levels by holding and dragging the right mouse button to persistently damage foes, summon flame hydras to throw incendiary balls at foes, rain down lightning blasts, trigger homing pillars of ice and lob out energy beams with merry abandon.
Elementalists can bathe entire screens in death, even automatically spawning extra hydras from the corpses of slain foes within AoE effects, but the catch is that they're spectacularly fragile. As such, evasion and situational awareness is key, darting in and out of combat while keeping the biggest foes safely within your damaging persistent effects.
On second thought, yes, I think I'll start with the Elementalist.
The Incredible Adventures Of Van Helsing III releases on May 22nd. Stay tuned for our full review.