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The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing II is the follow-up to last year's The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, where Van Helsing and his ghostly companion Lady Katarina defeated the evil Professor Fulmigati and saved the day in Borgovia -- or at least so it seemed. As the sequel opens up, you learn that Fulmigati's army is still out there, and that a certain General Harker is rallying them together, with potential dire consequences for Van Helsing, Katarina, and the Resistance to which they belong. That means there aren't any glorious sunsets for you yet. You have to re-equip your monster-hunting gear and deal with another would-be boss.
Van Helsing II comes with two campaigns. The "normal" campaign is for new characters, where you start out at level 1 and end up around level 30. But there is also a "veteran" campaign, where the enemies are 30 levels higher and you can reach level 60. That gives you some options for picking a character to play in the game. You can create a new level 1 character, you can create a new level 30 character, you can play a pre-generated level 30 character, or you can import your character from the original Van Helsing. Van Helsing II includes all of the equipment and DLC content from the original game, and the translation process between the two games seems to be smooth, so it's easy to jump right back in and start playing.
Characters in Van Helsing II come in three flavors. Hunters are the most versatile class, and they focus on guns or melee weapons or some combination of the two. Arcane Mechanics are engineers, and they rely on grenade launchers and mechanical companions. Thaumaturges are casters, and they defeat enemies using a variety of elemental spells. Each class gets its own skill tree, and these trees aren't shared. So if you pick a Hunter, for example, you can only learn Hunter skills.
Along with skills, each character also has four attributes: Strength (for melee damage), Dexterity (for ranged damage), Wisdom (for spells), and Luck (for critical hits). Each time a character gains a level, he receives five points for his attributes and three points for his skills. The attributes aren't very interesting because it's clear (more or less) how they should be prioritized. But there are all sorts of options for the skills, because each character has over 60 of them available, and you can't come anywhere close to learning them all. So two ranged hunters, for example, might not be anything alike, and there is plenty of room for discussing the "best" builds for the classes, which is always a good thing.
Characters also earn reputation points while playing (by defeating bosses and champion creatures), and these points can be used to purchase perks. Perks are bonuses that must be unlocked first. For example, the Gunslinger perk (which adds +7% to attack speed) only becomes available if you put 110 points into Dexterity. The original Van Helsing only allowed you to purchase 10 perks, but in Van Helsing II you can purchase 20, and there are over twice as many to choose from. You're also now allowed to reset your perks (although this can be difficult), so choosing poorly early in the game no longer necessarily cripples your character at the end.
Katarina can be developed as well, although she works differently than Van Helsing. Katarina is always a Hunter, but she can be set to use melee attacks or ranged attacks, or just follow along as a "ghost" (which gives Van Helsing an extra 10% damage reduction). Katarina also has a variety of skills, and like Van Helsing, she can't learn them all, which gives you lots of options for how to build her. In the original Van Helsing, Katarina's skills pretty much only made Van Helsing stronger, but now in Van Helsing II there is more of an even split, where half of the skills help Van Helsing and other half help Katarina.
Finally, there are a five difficulty settings for Van Helsing II, from "casual" to "fearless." There is also a "hardcore" option, where your character can only die once. I played the game on "hard," which is the middle setting. This made things reasonably tough at times, as I encountered a few bosses with tracking attacks who could one-shot my character. Some of these bosses (such as the kobold king) seemed buggy, but the others might be working properly, and combined they make the "hardcore" option seem a little pointless at the moment. The good news is, if you have trouble with one of the difficulty settings, you're allowed to change it at any time, so you can keep the game appropriate for your playing ability. You can also toggle an option for extra spawns to appear, and that can change the difficulty as well.
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