The Series Ends on a Flat Note
It’s not every developer and / or publisher that chooses to intentionally end a series when it is basically at the top of its game. However, Neocore Games chose to do precisely that when it began development of The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, a series that debuted on Steam three years ago and came to its conclusion with this year’s release of VHIII. While not an outrageously innovative series, the Van Helsing games brought a lot to the table for both fans of monster hunting games and for those who love a good old fashioned action RPG.
Van Helsing III takes up in the immediate moments where Van Helsing II ended with VH and Katarina, his ghostly sidekick, chasing down their former ally. The interplay between Van Helsing and Katarina is arguably the best part of the game. It brings to a conclusion the story that has been ongoing between them since the start, most notably finding out more about Katrarina’s past and how she came to be in the state she is now. Sadly, many of the best nuggets of information happened in the midst of pitched battles and got lost in the chaos.
The bottom line for Van Helsing III becomes this: If someone has played the first two parts of the series, this one will seem familiar in more ways than can be imagined. Players new to the series will probably not be overly impressed.
The game itself plays the same as all the others in the series, and in fact, the same as any action RPG with a belt of skills. It is the application of these skills, however, that is one of VHIII’s more defining features. On leveling in any one of the six playable classes (Protector, Bounty Hunter, Phlogistoneer, Constructor, Elementalist, and the Umbralist), players can spend Rage to increase skills with damage or duration modifiers, for instance. Additionally, each skill has elements that can also be increased with three extra Rage points to spend at will. These can be spread out into each of the three elements or all toppled into one to exponentially increase its effect. Players will also note that there are no “uber” skills to be unlocked after putting a certain number of Rage points in a skill. Rather, Neocore decided to let players have free rein over where they put skills which, in my opinion, left a rather hollow feeling of not achieving anything by finally accessing a bad ass skill. It’s not a complaint, really, more an observation.
Weirdly, players cannot import their characters from the earlier games, something that was a great feature for VHII.
The level cap has been reduced to thirty from sixty (twenty five from fifty for Katarina) and there are a couple of systems that shipped with the game (Glory for past characters and never-ending story mode) that were utterly broken from the start, though later fixed. Still, it bodes poorly for any game to have such a lack of attention to vital game components from the onset.
The Lair, a centerpiece of Van Helsing II and the location of most of the mini-games (tower defense, etc.), is still present in Van Helsing III, though arguably not necessary to complete the game. In fact, it can almost be surmised that the entirety of the lair was lifted right out of VHII and pasted into VHIII.
The tower defense game, for lack of a better description, involves sending NPCs to build defenses against hordes of invaders. NPC missions are also included with players choosing the most suited of the four provided leaders to head out and bring bad phat lewt. While interesting on paper, in reality, these games fall rather flat. When out in the field, I would get messages to “RETURN RIGHT NOW TO THE LAIR OR WE WILL ALL DIE AAAAAAAUUUUUGHHHHHHHH!” If I did not immediately go back, but returned later, guess what? Nothing. Everything and everyone was fine. With a sense of urgency, real urgency, perhaps it would have made even bothering to go to the lair worthwhile. As such, I largely skipped it.
Of course, the centerpiece of any ARPG is combat. While the new classes offer different ways to play Van Helsing III, nothing else has really changed. It feels as if monsters, locations, missions, and gear were lifted right out of the first two games and slapped into VHIII. Again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s indicative of the notion that Neocore promised three games but ran out of ideas after two and just changed a few names and monster colors for VHIII.
If you like action RPGs, you will like Van Helsing III. It’s a great game “straight out of the box” for players who love to organically find equipment along the journey without multitasking crafting and the minutiae of skill development. Similarly, those who like to micromanage every little detail can also find things to love. It’s relatively bug-free and is one of those games that can be picked up for short game sessions and then left on its own until the next time the mood strikes.
All in all, Van Helsing III isn’t a bad game exactly, but it’s not a great game either and in some ways, it’s a disappointing end to what has otherwise been a good series in the ARPG genre. For my money, the series reached its zenith at the second and should have closed the door then.
GAMEPLAY – 7 Enough variety in terms of the number of skill based characters but the mind numbing repetitive combat and monsters make it a tedious task at times
VISUALS & SOUND – 6 If you liked the series and its dark visuals and sounds, you’ll love VH III, though it brings nothing new to the table since many locations and monsters seem to have been copied / pasted from earlier games in the series, a serious down-tick on the score
POLISH – 6 Annoyingly, things like the now useless potion slot on the UI toolbar were not removed and other features are missing or non-functional
LONGEVITY – 6 For those who love to micromanage skills and to play a variety of classes, perhaps there is life after the first play through. Without the neverending story mode, it remains to be seen how often players will want to replay the same old content.
VALUE – 7 Van Helsing III is the shortest of the three games and can be finished in quick order even by completionists. Still, for $15, it’s a decent bargain, particularly for fans of the series.