I really enjoyed the first couple of Van Helsing games, as their Diablo-esque gameplay was right up my alley. However, I found Deathtrap, to be a bit of a damp squib. I wanted to smash monsters in the face with large weapons, not place traps and hope they tripped up. The tower defence take on Van Helsing’s world just didn’t ring true for me. However, the return to the classic Diablo style gameplay with The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing 3 is just what the doctor ordered. Lady Katerina also makes a welcome return, and is as amusing as ever, but as the story goes on she reveals more of her back story to Van Helsing, and although I’m not going to reveal any spoilers in here, her tale did make me reconsider my opinion of her…
Initially there are some choices to be made with Van Helsing III. Obviously the first is what class to take on. These are from the Protector, a melee based character, Bounty Hunter, a ranged fighter who uses guns and was easily my first choice, the magical Elementalist, the rogue style twin daggered Umbralist, the Phlogistoneer who stomps around in a massive robot suit, and the Constructor, who can build various turrets and drones to use against the bad guys. You also get to choose the difficulty that you want to play on, and being an expert at games like this – if I can tootle my own trumpet for a moment – I chose hard. This was a mistake, but I shall discuss why later.
Each character starts the game with a couple of skills unlocked, and as you level up and earn skill points, it’s possible to unlock new skills from Van Helsing’s skills tree, and to a lesser degree you can also tweak Katerina so she does more damage, attacks faster or heals Van Helsing with every strike. This can come in very handy, especially when fighting the more powerful enemies included. In addition to unlocking new skills, existing ones can be powered up (to a maximum level of 15, oddly), whilst each can also have perks added to it, allowing AoE attacks to linger longer, or extra rockets to be added to a barrage for instance. All in all, the progression system in Van Helsing III is very satisfying, as you can also apply points to four different categories on both Van Helsing and Katerina.
Body allows you to increase your HP, and also powers up the melee damage you do, Dexterity increases ranged damage, Willpower puts in more available Mana and powers up spell attacks, and finally Luck makes you, well, more lucky as regards item drops. Initially as a Bounty Hunter, I spent most of my points in dexterity as the attacks were ranged, and built Katerina up to be a tank, fighting in the front lines while I sniped from a distance. This served well right up until the third chapter, where the boss repeatedly handed me my ass, with the fight taking place in a closed arena. Having based my entire playstyle on running away, this resulted in more deaths than I dare count, and, to my eternal shame, had to lower the difficulty to normal. With a more melee based build, as I used in further playthroughs, this boss was no problem, so crowd control is an important part of any character build in this game. Pro tip right there!
The point of any title like this is the acquisition and equipping and/or selling of loot dropped by enemies, and in this aspect Van Helsing 3 doesn’t disappoint either. Following the familiar pattern of increasing rarity of loot giving more effects and being depicted in different colours, it isn’t long before you have more stuff than you can shake a Spark Rifle at. Luckily, Katerina can be utilised as a pack horse, so offloading gear onto her will allow you to pick up more stuff. I found it helpful to occasionally stop and go through the stuff I’d accumulated, if only so I could see if any of the gear could power up either Van Helsing or Katerina, making sure we were always in top shape for the levels ahead.
With higher difficulties, upping the drop rate and rarity of items, the pair of heroes can soon be decked out. Once you hit level 30, it’s possible to summon a very peculiar shopkeeper to the Lair – Van Helsing’s secret underground base – but as the price of the items start at around 10,000,000 gold, you’ll be grinding for a while before you can buy too much. I finished my first run with about 2 million gold, as each time Van Helsing dies, he has to pay a fine to respawn… and I died a lot in first run.
The aforementioned Tower Defence missions of Deathtrap do raise their ugly heads, but can be skipped this time around by sending your Resistance captains to do the missions for you. However, several of the games achievements are tied to these missions, including one for completing them all, so completionists will have to play these missions whether they like them or not.
To be fair to the game, these missions don’t overstay their welcome, and seem tighter and more focused this time around, with pinch points that can be utilised to trap the oncoming hordes and destroy them. With planning it is apparently possible to set the traps in such a way that you don’t have to fight, but I never managed this and had to wade in to mop up survivors. With traps ranging from lava floor panels to towers firing explosive shells and ice beams, each of which can be powered up, as long as you have the relevant resources, there’s a pleasing array of destruction that can be set out. On the later levels and higher difficulties, it seems like there is a never ending tsunami of bad guys, forcing some desperate rearguard actions to prevent them from swarming your base and causing you to fail the level.
Graphically and The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III is a real treat, with little details and nods to classic films tucked away in corners to find. In the very first section of the first level, the dynamic duo come across a character trussed up on a table called “The Colonist” who, when you interact with her, asks you to kill her, just like in Aliens. This pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the game, with little Easter Eggs tucked away for you to find. The overall art design is also worthy of particular mention, with a very cool steampunk vibe throughout, especially in the design of the Phlogistoneer’s suit, and the various helmets that Van Helsing can find to wear, which completely change the way he looks.
Sound design is up to par as well, with suitable grunts and gurgles from the monsters, interesting conversations between the two protagonists and so on. It’s not however the most polished game in the world, with weird graphical glitches present. This is particularly true when in the Ink levels as they get hit with a weird “wibbly” effect over the top inch of the screen. There are even misspelled names of equipment – the “Wraitclaw” instead of the “Wraithclaws” is a personal fav – but these aren’t enough to spoil the fun or warrant too much of a complaint.
All in all and The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III does enough to claim its place in the pantheon of ARPG games. It’s not as polished as Diablo 3, or even as Path of Exile, but the charm of the environment and the wish to see the next level are both strong. It’s not perfect, but this third entry in the series is the best to date.