It’s been a long time since I’ve really enjoyed an ARPG. The loot grind lost its appeal after many long nights of Diablo II, and eventually I moved on. I seem to always find myself returning to the genre however, and games like Van Helsing III make sure it’s usually not a waste of my time. While I won’t have enduring memories of this particular title, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III, the third and final entry in Neocore’s trilogy, was fun enough to keep me entertained.
This is not because it does anything particularly new as far as ARPGs are concerned. The age-old formula has not been disturbed here, and if you’ve been involved in this genre a long time you’ll recognize all of those familiar elements. There are monsters to kill, loot to collect, and a variety of ways to accomplish those goals. The reason Van Helsing III proves to be an entertaining game is because it executes on those elements well, making for a familiar but still fun gameplay experience.
There’s plenty of content on hand here, especially for a game that’s only fifteen dollars. You can collect plenty of loot, experiment with different classes, and triumph on different difficulty levels.
The classes are all fairly interesting to play, offering sometimes completely different styles around their differing types of abilities. I played mostly the Bounty Hunter, who focuses on ranged damage, but from the Constructor to the Elementalist, each class feels like a different way to approach the game and combat. Van Helsing III has a ton of replay value with it’s diverse classes, and that’s not even considering the multitude of fun distractions on offer.
You have a lair which you generally return to after adventuring, and it has a few entertaining quirks to it. There’s an army for you to send out on missions, allowing you to select a leader and sink gold into improving their effectiveness. There’s also your pet chimera, which you can send out hunting, leveling it up as it returns with valuable loot. You can sell that loot to vendors decorating the lair, or enhance it using enchantments and essence at craftsman. There’s also plenty of other side-content, including a fun tower defense mini-game.
The level cap feels pretty low, but it’s a small flaw in the grand scheme of things, and I didn’t find it affecting my enjoyment. Despite that, Van Helsing’s progression actually feels quite good. You’re always collecting new equipment, increasing your stats, and selecting from a variety of skills and abilities for each class. You can upgrade and use power-ups on your abilities in a multitude of ways, enhancing particular aspects of each in order to grant new or improved effects. This allows even characters of the same class to feel slightly different from each other, though the variety of equipment you can pick up doesn’t offer much visual diversity to your character.
The menus for managing all of this can be somewhat of a pain too. They are generally confusing until you figure them out, and I fumbled around for nearly ten minutes before I figured out how to add points to my stats. Figuring out how to manage the points you can pour into abilities, and understanding how power-ups even work, is also frustrating. They aren’t the complete opposite of functional, but some better design would’ve been appreciated. Better tutorials and larger buttons in particular would’ve helped a lot.
Moving on to the visuals, they are pretty at times. Some environments have drab design, but others can look quite appealing. It never looks particularly gorgeous, but the locations you explore do look quite different from each other. Each new location gives a different exploration experience, and there are plenty of optional quests to tackle in these areas for fun or extra experience. Killing enemies also leaves a satisfying smather of blood on the ground. At the very least, the generally dark aesthetic fits well with the subject matter, though I think that it conflicts with the tone the game actually ends up with.
Despite being based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the atmosphere of the characters and story aren’t actually that dark. In fact, I found myself laughing more then not. There’s plenty of humor to keep the dialogue interesting, and Van Helsing along with his ghost companion Katarina both drop their share of hilarious lines. Side-characters also get their moments, especially when the voice acting hits on the “so bad it’s good” category with some lines seeming intentionally ridiculous in their delivery.
I found myself greatly enjoying the comedic tone. A lot of other ARPGs go for dark storytelling and fail at it, but the humor in Van Helsing lets the player know that the events are usually not meant to be taken too seriously. The jokes kept me going even when the loot grind didn’t, making sure to give me a laugh that drew me back in right when I felt like dropping out. That’s not to say there are no serious moments in Van Helsing, just that it uses them more sparingly to develop the characters and plot. It ends up working quite well, and I found myself wearing a smile more then not while playing.
As I mentioned, the voice acting really helps nail that tone. There’s a wide variety in the quality, but generally the performances are good if nothing amazing. I never felt myself pulled out of the experience by bad voice acting, and in fact, I often found myself laughing at a joke delivered using it. Katarina and Van Helsing themselves are also fairly well acted, so the audio quality never became a problem. In fact, generally Van Helsing III’s audio is quite good, if again nothing spectacular. The music sits in the background well, and the sound effects give consistent satisfaction when you use abilities.
One final thing I need to mention is that I encountered a few technical issues during my time with Van Helsing III. Online play was usually stable, but I crashed once or twice just for using the teleporter while other people were in my game. I also encountered a few bugs that proved an annoyance, like being stuck in one spot during a boss fight until I died, or being unable to attack when a huge mob was chasing after me. These amounted to merely minor nuisances however, and I’m sure they’ll be patched out.
I don’t know if Van Helsing III is a satisfying finale to the story from the past two games, after all I haven’t played them. What I do know is that it’s an entertaining ARPG that executes well on familiar concepts while introducing a few small but fun quirks of its own. The wit and sarcasm of a lot of the dialogue keeps things interesting throughout, and even without knowledge of the ongoing story, I enjoyed the plot well enough. While this game isn’t a revolution in the genre by any means, it’s executed well enough, and offers a quite entertaining experience at a low price tag. Whether you’re a fan of this series or not, I’m certain that if you like ARPGs, you’ll find plenty of enjoyment here.