On Pet Classes

Pet classes in RPGs tend to provoke strong reactions. Most people either love pet classes and play them at every opportunity, or hate pet classes and avoid them like the plague.

Fighting the undead in The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing IIII’m a strange case in that both of those are true of me. Depending on the game, I either love or hate pet classes.

For example, you’ve probably heard me complain bitterly about pet classes in World of Warcraft. Yes, one of my most played characters is a warlock, but I started her as a leveling challenge to see if I could play a lock without pets, and once Grimoire of Sacrifice became a thing, I’ve used it as much as possible. The pets have always been my least favourite part of being a warlock.

Similarly, pets are one of the bigger reasons I haven’t spent much time playing a hunter, and it’s not entirely a coincidence I started losing interest in my mage around the time they made frost a pet spec.

On the other hand, when it comes to single-player games, I tend to embrace pet classes with open arms. When the Van Helsing games revamped their classes, I went straight for the Constructor and terrorized Borgovia with my army of dismemberbots.

I don’t have a lot of fond memories of the gameplay of Diablo II, but one of them is definitely having a posse of skeletons following my necromancer around. In D3, I never quite managed to click with the witch doctor, but I have done my level best to rekajigger my crusader into a pet class (a “zoosader”). At a maximum, he can be accompanied by three swordsmen, four archers, Kormac, and a demon minion summoned by his sword.

And let us not forget my zombie goons in Lichdom: Battlemage.

My zombie posse in Lichdom: Battlemage“…Zombie goons?”

Then there’s party-based RPGs to consider. We generally seem to separate companion characters from pets, but practically speaking, they’re pretty similar. AI minions who assist you in combat. And I definitely enjoy party-based RPGs — I prefer them to games where you only control a single character. In fact, my most common complaint about them is that the parties aren’t nearly big enough. Dungeon Siege spoiled me with its nine party slots.

So what accounts for this split?

Honestly I’m not entirely sure. I don’t think it’s necessarily one factor as much as a combination of them.

Broadly, it seems to be a difference between single-player games and MMOs.

For one thing, MMOs never really seem to take pets into account when balancing the difficulty in the open world, so while pet classes are at no particular advantage at endgame, they’re brokenly OP when soloing, and since most MMOs tend to make their solo content rather insultingly easy to begin with, it just makes the whole experience a snorefest.

On a related note, most tab target MMOs have incredibly stilted combat with little meaningful interaction between the player and their opponent. You kind of just ignore whatever the enemy is doing and mindlessly drill through your rotation. Having a pet tank hits for you exasperates the issue.

My party in Dragon Age: InquisitionMMOs also usually use an over-the-shoulder camera, which causes pets to take up an obnoxious amount of screen real estate. They mess up screenshots and cause all sorts of problems.

Meanwhile, a lot of the single-player RPGs I favour use an isometric camera, which makes pets far less of an encumbrance.

Perhaps due to less concerns about lag, single-player games also tend to allow you to control much larger numbers of pets, and I definitely prefer a swarm of minions to just one.

It could also have to do with the rigid threat mechanics that tend to exist in a lot of MMOs, but not in single-player games. Most MMO pets have taunt abilities that ensure enemies will focus on them almost 100% of the time. This, again, robs you of any meaningful interaction with your opponent.

In single-player games, pets usually don’t have taunts or threat modifiers. At best they’re a physical barrier between you and the enemy. Even in Dragon Age, where the warrior in your party will likely have taunts, it’s rare for them to hold aggro on every enemy. This means that you still have to look to your own defenses and survival at least a little.

Another divide is that MMO pets tend to require a lot of micro-management, at least in group content, whereas single-player pets and companions are almost always fire and forget. I definitely do not want to have to spend a lot of time baby-sitting my pets — that defeats the purpose as far as I’m concerned.

My Imperial agent and Lana Beniko in Star Wars: The Old Republic's Knights of the Fallen Empire expansionAll that said, I can still find exceptions that muddy the issue even further. I quite like the companion characters in SW:TOR, for instance, and they’re essentially pets. In that case I suspect it’s a combination of the fact they’re meaningful characters within the story and the fact I already dislike the combat in that game, so how much worse can the companions make it?

In ESO, also, I’ve leaned heavily on my Clannfear pet, perhaps because unlike most MMO pets it doesn’t require much management. Then again it’s also worth noting that I have been moving away from using it recently — it doesn’t fit my character’s RP very well, and it bugs out a lot.

It’s definitely a very muddled alchemy that determines whether or not I will appreciate pets. The one thing you can be certain of is that I will always have strong opinions on pet classes one way or another.

Review: The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III

I’m a big fan of the band Chvrches. Their second album is coming out in September, and from what I’ve seen so far, it sounds like it’ll be very much like the first album.

A loading screen in The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing IIINormally I like it when bands evolve their sound, but I liked the first album so much that I’d be perfectly happy if Every Open Eye turns out to be The Bones of What You Believe II: Bone Harder.

Why am I rambling about my terrible taste in music in a video game review?

Because sometimes more of the same isn’t a bad thing.

And that brings us to the conclusion of the Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing trilogy. It’s pretty much like the past games. It’s funny, it’s overflowing with Easter eggs, and it offers endless slaughter of a dizzying variety of bizarre monsters.

In fact, you could probably go back and read my reviews of the first two and it would tell you nearly everything you need to know about this game. It’s mostly just a continuation — more content based around a new story, but the same mechanics.

Events have come full circle in the grim land of Borgovia. With Professor Fulmigati and General Harker dead, the grip of mad science has been broken. But now the treacherous being known as Prisoner Seven has retreated into the depths of the Ink with plans of rewriting the world to restore old Borgovia, a land ruled by vampire kings and the creatures of the night.

Islands in the Ink in The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing IIIOf course, it falls to Van Helsing, Katarina, and the Borgovian Resistance to stop him. This time, Count Vlados is back to assist, which gives me a surprising amount of joy. There’s also a pretty meaty side-plot that at last unearths the dark history of Lady Katarina, including her death and the “Pony Incident.”

But there are a few things different in Van Helsing III other than a new story, and unfortunately, most of them are bad.

The most obvious change is that you can no longer import old characters. This is because Van Helsing III introduces a totally new class system. The original classes have been replaced with six new ones, vaguely corresponding to more specialized versions of the old classes.

It’s an odd choice for the end of a trilogy. After being able to seamlessly transition from the first game to Van Helsing II with the same character, same skills, same gear, and everything, I’m now asked to start over. Sort of breaks the continuity, and I didn’t like being a penniless lowbie for the final lap.

The new classes are also massively simplified compared to the old ones. Instead of having multiple possible builds, you pretty much get enough skills to fill your action bar, and that’s it.

Fighting the undead in The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing IIIIronically, since Lady Katarina keeps her original skill tree, she now has vastly more customization potential than the player character.

On the plus side, the classes do seem pretty fun. Admittedly, I only tried constructor, but I enjoyed it a lot. Took the best parts of the arcane mechanic class and got rid of all the fiddly, annoying parts.

Plus there’s just a simple joy to wading into hordes of vampires with a minigun and a squad of dismemberbots.

Van Helsing III is also a very short game — about eight to twelve hours, depending on how thorough you want to be. This is roughly analogous to the first game but significantly shorter than the meatier second game.

All of the new systems from the second game, like resistance management, return, though Fluffy the Chimera can no longer assist you in combat, making it little more than another variation of the resistance missions.

The Clockwork Keep in The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing IIII was also a bit underwhelmed by how few tower defense quests there were this time, and their rewards seemed virtually nonexistent. Maybe they want to steer people to their new Deathtrap spinoff? I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem to make sense to shove one of the franchise’s most unique features off to the side like this.

Still, all the things that made me initially love the Van Helsing games are intact. The banter between Van Helsing and Katarina is still endlessly amusing. There are still enough secrets to make a completionist lose their minds. The graphics are still pretty, the music is still amazing, and the action is still satisfying.

And Count Vlados is back!

Overall rating: 7.5/10 Despite some stumbles, it’s a worthy end to the trilogy.