Arguably, Neocore Games have been onto a great thing with their Van Helsing series. The first title in the trilogy was a solid, yet workmanlike take on the ARPG genre, while the second was a truly excellent sequel that in many ways could be favourably compared to the best of Blizzard‘s Diablo games. It’s with a sort of sinking feeling then, that we come to the Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III, a decent but not great finale to the Van Helsing trilogy that in many ways feels like a step back compared to what has come before it.
As before, Van Helsing III follows in the murder ‘n’ loot footsteps that have defined earlier installments with the player choosing a class, smacking up some evil-looking foes and scooping up the equipment and trinkets that they leave behind. Like before, players can choose from a number of different classes (doubling Van Helsing II‘s trio to six), with a wide number of different play-styles accommodated for. From the melee, defense-focused Protector to the magically inclined Elementalist, through to the stealthy stabbery of the Umbralist, there’s something for everyone to get their teeth into and yet, the additional class count over Van Helsing II feels a touch misleading, since the three classes that you had in the previous game could be pretty much tweaked to adopt the roles that the additional classes bring in the threequel.
The actual act of killing stuff and hoovering up all that lovely loot which is left behind remains a compelling proposition, regardless. As before, it’s a massively layered system of obtaining better gear, increasing your character’s level and earning new abilities that provides an evergreen motivation to plough through the game and in Van Helsing III, that strong compulsion remains present, if a little dulled when compared to previous outings.
Disappointingly you see, there is no way to import your previous hunter across (presumably the new class selection is what prevents this) so rather than continuing on from say, level 60, the game mandates that everyone begins at square one. If the lack of character import didn’t chafe enough, than the level cap most certainly will as Van Helsing III only allows our trusty hunter to hit a maximum of level 30 (versus level 60 in the previous game) while the ghostly Katrina can only get as high as level 25. The upshot of this is that on a single playthrough on the default difficulty setting, players will reach the level cap long before the end of the game, thus robbing Van Helsing III of some of the motivation to keep players hunting around every nook and cranny of the game’s Borgovia setting.
Elsewhere, tricks (which were a massive feature of Van Helsing II‘s customisation suite) have been removed completely and to make matters worse the game seems to just love throwing tons of gear at the player without any thought of trying to pace the accrual of new equipment, basically cannibalizing the loot collection system in the process. The real problem here, is that gear becomes obsolete so fast that the notion of building up a set of synergistic equipment or upgrading existing gear, effectively becomes basically moot as you’re literally swapping out armour, weapons and trinkets far more frequently than you should be required to.
Another tweak that has been made to the series is how potions are handled. This time, rather than collecting mana and health potions to top your hero off, you are bestowed with an infinite amount from the get-go that once used, enter a cooldown state before they can imbibed again. This actually affects proceedings in quite a direct way, since rather than just building up a stack of potions and chugging them all down to stay alive against seemingly insurmountable odds, the cooldown timer requires that players hop in and out of combat to replenish their health and mana when it becomes essential to do so. Aside from introducing a much welcomed tactical element to the proceedings, the removal of potions as a physical resource also does away with the tedious micromanagement that was intrinsic with them and thus, helps to save inventory space for more worthy loot as a result.
Narrative-wise, Van Helsing III picks up right off from where Van Helsing II finished up, with our trusty hunter and their humorous spectre companion Katrina setting off in pursuit of former ally-turned-megajerk, Subject Seven and the newly risen cult that surrounds him. Here, things take a turn for the better as the series trademark easter-egg humour kicks in early on and succeeds in elicting the requisite chuckles and raised brows as you hack through legion upon legion of bad folks. Interestingly, Van Helsing III also takes the time to delve a little more deeply into the backstory of Katrina as well and while the revelations concerning her past are certainly intriguing, the real richness of the narrative remains firmly entrenched in the often darkly comic dialogue which is spouted by many of the characters in the game.
Away from Van Helsing III‘s single-player exploits, the core experience, like its predecessors before it, shines most brightly when tackled with friends. Like before, PvP modes exist but they take a back seat to the four-player co-operative experience that the game allows for. While Van Helsing III‘s flaws are no less pronounced when its campaign is tackled cooperatively, the addition of friends and the inevitable laughs that occur as a result certainly go a long way to dulling the frustrations that they normally incite. Also, whatever else might be flawed with the Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III, it can’t be denied that Neocore Games have offered up a muscular and substantial package here at a more than reasonable price. With the aforementioned single-player campaign, multiple classes, PvP and co-operative game modes, it comes as a relief to realise that notions of value and longevity still remain a maxim of the eastern european developer.
Ultimately then, Van Helsing III stands a decent Diablo-style romp that provides a generous amount of content and as before, channels Neocore‘s considerable knack for integrating dark humour and engaging co-op play with aplomb. It’s just a shame that the the Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing trilogy has concluded with an entry that, when compared to its immediate prequel, invites comparisons that it can’t possibly survive.
A digital copy of The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III was provided by the developer for the purposes of this review.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III can be purchased from Steam on both PC and Mac.