The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III bears the weight not only of its predecessors but of “loot grind” Action RPGs as a whole. While there are some great moments and interesting mechanics, the title as a whole never quite reaches that velocity to escape from the mire of mediocrity.
Picking up where the previous entry left off, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III once again places you in the shoes of the eponymous hero as he now faces off against his former ally, the mysterious Prisoner Seven. Seven has gotten it into his head that Borgovia’s feng shui is a bit off so it’s time to redecorate it by entirely reshaping the place using the Ink. Van Helsing liked the couch where it was so Seven is now his nemesis and must be stopped. You’ll venture through the shattered realm attempting to undo some of the damage and track down Seven so you can put an end to his plans.
The three character classes from the previous title have been expanded to six, a move that makes sense when you looked at the way those three classes could specialize. The “Hunter” class was split into the Protector (defensive melee) and Bounty Hunter (ranged guns) classes, the “Thaumaturge” became the Elementalist (spellcaster) and Umbralist (melee assassin/stealth), and the “Arcane Mechanic” split into the Phlogistoneer (ranged heavy) and Constructor (minion guy/ghostbuster).
The massive skill tree from the previous entry has been whittled down to just a handful of abilities and auras for each class, but the maximum level has been decreased from 60 to 30 so you have fewer skill points to spend on them. Fortunately you can reset your skills using one of the vendors in town for a nominal fee so you’re fairly free to try out different abilities and see how they do. This is beneficial when playing the game cooperatively for while the classes don’t exactly compliment me each other perfectly, there are some abilities (such as a passive aura that decreases ranged damage) that provide greater benefits when playing with friends.
Outside of the level cap and class change, Van Helsing III plays much like the previous entries. Your ghostly companion, Lady Katarina, returns to help out and provide some occasionally amusing banter. Katarina levels up separately from Van Helsing with her own set of abilities, many of which are designed to passively boost your attack and defense. She can also attack enemies up close or from a distance, in order to compliment your particular class, or you can just have her provide an overall defense boost to your character. Interestingly, she also carries over in a co-op game so each player has their own Katarina hanging around.
The campaign is split out across four chapters with each one playing out more or less the same: run around, complete side quests, kill evil foes, beat the main boss, and move on to the next chapter. Unfortunately, the main story quest (and areas) are a “one and done” type deal. Once you’ve beaten it, there’s no going back; so be sure you hunt down all the hidden easter eggs and complete all those side quests before you beat the chapter boss.
If you’re looking for things to do after you’ve wrapped up the main story, you have but one choice: Scenarios. These can be thought of as a combo between Diablo 3 bounties and Halo skulls. At the start of the Scenario session, you determine the overall difficulty, which in turn determines how many modifiers are applied to each location you’ll visit. For example, there may be a modifier that prevents Katarina from being able to attack, or you can’t use potions to heal or restore mana. The more modifiers that get applied, the tougher the scenarios but the greater the rewards both in the set levels themselves and at the end of it all. When you successfully complete a scenario you earn “victory points,” which are accumulated as you complete each one and are then redeemed for better loot.
That is the extent of what The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III has to offer, and while the campaign may take you six to 8 hours to complete, everything feels a bit sparse and unusually difficult. Do not be surprised if you die a lot when a large group of enemies appear, it almost seems to be the way the game was designed. Take a few of them out, die, pay the fine to respawn, and then whittle away at a few more. You do have armor which provides defense, as well as resistance to various elements, but it feels like the amount of defense and resistance you need is way beyond what you’re ever provided at the time. For instance, towards the end of the game, I would come across packs of enemies that would have a poison aura on them. Despite having all the best armor I could from what had dropped and what I gambled or purchased in town, if one of these monsters stood next to me for just a few seconds, I would be dead (or close to it).
Now I could easily run back some so the monster didn’t ever get near me, but that causes two problems. One, I could easily run into another pack of enemies; and two, the very systems that are in place (the powerup system) to help you kill these enemies don’t reward running away. For those unfamiliar with Van Helsing’s powerup system, it’s essentially a way to make your abilities (be they summoning minions or just attacking) better by spending some of your “Rage” - which is built up by killing enemies and using abilities - to grant them additional effects. The Constructor, for example, can power up his battle bot minions so that they stun foes and additional bots spawn. He can also make his primary attack, a laser beam, do more damage and even make enemies vulnerable. The catch to all of this is that once you use the ability, the Rage and power ups are spent for just that one use. Meaning, if you use it on an attack and have to run a couple seconds later, you’re not getting a lot out of that powerup; and unless you’re killing stuff, you won’t be filling your Rage meter up again anytime soon.
Co-op can help some by providing enemies with another target to focus upon, but again, chances are your friends are just as squishy as you. The only time where additional players felt beneficial was in Scenarios, which means you and your buddies will all need to clear the campaign (or at least hit level 27) first. The modifiers that get applied in Scenarios help to engender more of a need for other players in order to succeed as you’ll want to make things more difficult in order to get better loot. Of course, all of that assumes you have the interest in pursuing such things once you wrap up with the campaign.
Despite its problems and rough edges, I can’t help but feel that The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III is the version of the game that Neocore Games has wanted to make for some time. The catch is, now that they finally can, there is also a sense that perhaps they are ready to move on to something else now. Fans of the series will likely enjoy this final offering into the realm of “weird science.” For others, Van Helsing III is an alright action RPG/loot grind with some amusing moments, but don’t expect to find any real co-op until you’ve beaten the game.