Is it time to hang up the old coat?

Ever since 2013’s original Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, Hungarian developer NeocoreGames has stated it plans an entire trilogy for the famous monster hunter. After exactly one year, a sequel was already out. Fast forward to 2015, and here we are, testing a preview build for Van and his ghostly companion Katarina’s last exploits. Even though this is the last entry in the series, I can’t really say that we’ve come a long way, simply because it still feels like we’re playing the original game, only with various enhancements and additions, here and there. Of course, this is only the aforementioned preview build, so the final product might still surprise me.

NOTE: Spoilers related to the second game’s ending can be found in the third paragraph, going forward. Skip it, and you’re gold.

The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III features six classes, although I was only able to play two of them: the Protector and the Elementalist. As you can imagine, the Protector – a heavy-armoured, melee fighter – is slow, but deals a lot of damage while also sustaining quite a bit, while the Elementalist is definitely more interesting, possessing the ability of summoning hydras to his aid, raining showers of meteors, in addition to blasting fire pits. Naturally, his vulnerability means you’ll have to constantly be on the move, as most creatures are melee-based.

The game includes five difficulty settings, ranging from Casual to Fearless, in addition to a permanent-death option. For the purpose of this preview, I simply chose the Normal option.

Because The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III is a direct sequel to its predecessors, it continues the story of the mysterious Prisoner Seven from the second entry, who has betrayed our titular hero, right at the end. Naturally, Van Helsing, aided by Lady Katarina, is seeking revenge for the misdeeds of their former ally, in addition to further trying to restore order to the city that houses their lair (more on that, later). In this preview build, at first, I had to rescue Count Vlados, a vampire, from an underground laboratory. It’s not the most inspiring of environments, although I am known for liking the outdoors way more than industrial ones. Thankfully, after about an hour, I was traversing a run-down, haunted forest, so there is some variety in the game’s environments, as also evidenced by a nearby village. Still, besides a few, fetch-type (side) quests, there wasn’t anything related to the game’s story to experience.

The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III is a dungeon-crawler, role-playing game through and through, expertly evidenced by the abundance of skills our hero possesses. Not only that, but each of these skills can be further augmented by several passive enhancements and three other power-ups. For example, my basic melee attack can be upgraded to stun enemies, deal more damage, and even make my targets more vulnerable to other skills for ten seconds. These power-ups can be activated using Rage, which, as the name implies, can be gathered by killing other monsters. It’s a natural process: kill monsters, get rage to enhance your abilities, kill more monsters.

The aforementioned skills are all active, although Van Helsing features a second set – called Auras – which offers passive bonuses, ranging from increasing your chances of finding more gold to increasing your defence, damage dealt, and so on. Only three such Auras can be active at all times, so you’ll have to choose what best suits your play-style.

Finally, Perks are permanent bonuses to Van Helsing, although these can’t be obtained through experience, but through reputation (i.e. through completing main objectives). These Perks are more prominent, ranging from transforming you into a ghost in case you die (with a cool-down of three minutes to balance the gameplay, of course) to even enhancing Katarina by granting her a 33 percent cool-down to her re-spawning.

Speaking of which, you companion Katarina is useful in a number of ways. Most importantly, she can be sent back into town/lair to sell unwanted gear, which considerably reduces the grinding process of going back and forth, every time your backpack gets full. Additionally, you can customize her behaviour during battles. For example, she can be ordered to attack enemies using only melee or ranged attacks, to focus her blows solely on your target, the weakest one in the group, the most vulnerable, or to simply defend you. In case you’re tired of clicking on every item (if so, why are you still playing heavy-looting titles, right?), Katarina can also automatically pick up whatever you tell her, ranging from gold to rare, epic, or normal items, or even items below a certain value. You can even order her when to drink health potions, depending on her current hit points. Since you can’t directly control her, all of Katarina’s upgradable skills are passive. Our ghost features three stances – Sentinel (melee), Corpus (support) and Spectre (ranged) – each featuring its own skills. Naturally, whatever you pick up, you can also equip it on Katarina, for extra damage or defence.

Neocore tries to shake things up a bit by introducing a mini-game comparable to that of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood’s, namely one in which you send your captains (four, in total, each featuring their own strengths, weaknesses, and skills) to accomplish different tasks for several minutes. After one such captain’s return, it seems like the only one benefitting from his incursion was him, as I was able to assign him a new skill. Naturally, if you’ve got the cash, you can improve their rate of success by upgrading their gear and assigning relics, in addition to training more troops, although the result of that particular investing has yet to be revealed. Besides these captains, Van Helsing also owns a Chimera, which can be sent in the filed for further bonuses, such as gold or different types of items. It seems like it’s also possible to customize said beast, although the preview version doesn’t allow it. What’s interesting here is the fact that a “Danger” level is presented in every location players can send the beast, although neither is clickable, so there’s no way to know if the Chimera can actually die.

For most action-role-playing games, gold is solely used to buy items. In The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III, just like in its predecessors, gold can also be used to revive you, if case you’ve been killed. If you have nothing to offer, you will be taken back to your lair. It’s an interesting design choice, although it can also lessen any tension of “kicking the bucket.” On the other hand, it encourages a more reckless style of play, since you can pay a certain amount of money and immediately get back to slaughtering.

Enemies found in this preview build include all manner of genetic abominations created in the aforementioned laboratory, some ranged, most melee-focused. Moving forward, these enemies are accompanied by more standard creatures, like centaurs, birds, bats, gnomes, wild boars, and several others. Again, nothing remarkable.

As mentioned above, Van Helsing’s lair makes a return. Here, you can purchase new gear, enhance your current one, reset skills and perks, both for you and Katarina, get new side-quests, and manage the aforementioned army and Chimera. I’m curious to know if the other mini-game, the tower-defence one, makes a return. In this preview build, there was nowhere to be found.

Although not available in the current build, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III also includes a multiplayer mode, and one filled with mini campaigns set across separate maps, each featuring its own rules and monsters.

Because the developer has released a Van Helsing game every year since 2013, it doesn’t come as a surprise this third iteration runs on the same engine as its predecessors, so things haven’t really changed on this end; neither on the soundtrack part. Overall, the presentation has remained the same: good, but completely unremarkable.

The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III can easily be compared to the Call of Duty franchise, in the sense that it heavily borrows from its predecessors, while constantly introducing a few new additions. Now, you might ask me, “Hey, if this is like its predecessors, and the first two games were great (they indeed were), shouldn’t Van Helsing III also be great?” It could be so, yes, only it’s up to you if you’d like to spend money on a supposedly improved version of Van Helsing II. But, hey, I’m getting ahead of myself. As I said, it’s only a preview build; many things can/will change/be added by the release of the final product.

Original Author: Vlad Pintea