by Caitlin Roberts
previewed on PC
Stuck, but not in Borgovia
There was a time, not too long ago, that I was forced into a seated position for several months, left immobile by a broken foot that just refused to heal. Enter Van Helsing and Katarina. I kid you not, this monster hunter and his snarky but witty ghost companion kept me company, kept me challenged, and ultimately kept me sane. So objectivity, which I'm usually pretty good at, was already a lost cause from the moment I sat down to download the game. And the taste I got of the game a scant two hours worth of gameplay wasn't nearly enough to satisfy me. The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III promises to be a worthy final chapter in NeoCore's Van Helsing trilogy.
The story line continues smoothly from the previous games; the setting Borgovia, everincreasingly overrun by monsters, many of whom are creations of mad scientists. Add mythical creatures to the mix, just for variety and so far it seems that these are all new monster classes, so you don't get bored with the old ones. The secret lair remains your central base of operations, and it looks like there are a few additions here, such as the jailkeeper guy with a thing for karaoke torture, and something called 'The Recorder' which remains a mystery for now as it was not yet functional in the preview version. The nemesis this time is the mysterious Prisoner 7 the selfsame shadow figure that Van Helsing forged a tenuous alliance with in the previous installment. Now he's built up a cult and his disciples are intent on his bidding the final destruction of Borgovia and the end of times, and the Ink is creeping closer and closer to the surface of the realm, just to add to the complications.
The humour, evident in the banter between Van Helsing and Lady Katarina, remains intact and continues to be one of the critical success factors to draw the player into the story and the game. The trailers and teasers from NeoCore promise that Lady Katarina and her hidden past will be central to the storyline this time. How this will fit in with the Prisoner 7 storyline I'm not quite sure, but as Katarina is one of my alltime favourite game characters, I am really looking forward to seeing how this will develop.
In the area of characters and character development, the main change are six 'new' classes. Only two were available in the preview, the Protector and the Elementalist, so of course I took the opportunity to play with both. They are polar opposites; the Protector is the brawler of the group, while the Elementalist is pure spellcaster. As I tend to prefer more hybrid classes, this did cause me some consternation at first the Protector doesn't make use of any range weapons that I can find, while the Elementalist has no melee skills (nor defences to survive melee fighting). The other classes include the Phlogistoneer; the Umbralist, the Constructor and finally, the one familiar class the Bounty Hunter. And although it wasn't activated yet in the preview, there will be a possibility to import your builtup characters from the previous games; or at least from Van Helsing II.
The options for developing skills have evolved somewhat. There appears to be an increased complexity in choosing the skills to develop, while being reduced to only two pages Skills and Auras. The preview wasn't long enough for me to be able to play much in this area, but I suspect that this may actually be more intuitive than the multitude of tabs that I always forgot to tab through in Van Helsing II. One very welcome development in Van Helsing III is in the equipment for Lady Katarina, who now gets her own custom 'Wraith' equipment, rather than simply using Van Helsing's castoffs.
It may or may not be purely part of the preview, but the health potions really threw me for a loop. Or should I say the lack of them is what threw me for a loop. I went to every contact, merchant and otherwise, in the Secret Lair and there was not a single Health or Mana Potion to be had, anywhere. The health potion is still available for use but it seems to be a single health potion, only available for use on a timer; once you've used it you'd better be ready to fight and win or turn tail and run, if the enemy is overwhelming. Either way, your mouse buttons will take a beating in your fight to survive some battles.
I've never been an expert in analysis of the graphics, so I won't waste your time with an exhaustive description. For my money, the attention to detail remains high, consistent with previous chapters, both audio and visual. I did find that it sometimes was too detailed, which combined with the dark tones made it difficult to focus on a particular section, and finding crates and barrels in the deep grass or the woods was occasionally frustrating, but for some this may be 'part of the adventure' and not something be concerned about. This was only a preview build so I won't get too critical in the few moments of frustration with treasure chests that wouldn't cooperate and open, nor blind spots where the angle of the 'camera' obscured some action or route, or created weird beams of shadows on the screen; these are the tweaks that I'm sure will be addressed between preview and release.
For those looking for an entertaining RPG where the storyline is engaging, the dialogue clever and the game challenging, whether this is your first time out with Van Helsing, or you're back for a third tour of monsterbashing, the outlook for this final chapter is as bright as Borgovia is dark.