Only a short two years ago, Hungarian independent developer Neocore Games released a top-down action RPG called The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing. That game focused on the journey of the young son of Abraham Van Helsing, the famous vampire hunter. With The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III almost upon us, we revisit our young hero, who is now experienced veteran.
While Van Helsing is set in the world of Bram Stoker’s novel, that’s where the similarities end. Akin to a mix of Dungeons & Dragons and Bloodborne’s gothic-noir world full of magic and science, though the game tends to stretch the limits of what can be defined as science. This third game brings us back to the city of Borgova, with Van Helsing hot on the trail of his arch-nemesis who just stole the most powerful artifact in the land. Due to the recent civil war, the city is overrun with criminals, gangs, and other malcontents, including a sinister group called the Cult of Seven, which Helsing believes is the culprit to the absolute chaos ruling Borgova. Van Helsing III starts off in the bowels of an old laboratory where the Cult of Seven was last active. As you make your way through with your faithful companion Katarina, who has aided you in your past adventures and will be familiar to fans of the series.
I got to play a preview build of the final game, and I must say, it’s pretty damn good. The visuals are fantastic, from the level design to the beautiful spells that flash and flare brilliantly, explode with impressive force, burn with flowing and realistic embers, or sometimes all of the above. Characters look pretty good, though you don’t always have the greatest view of them since you can only zoom in so much. The equipment, with its 1800’s and steampunk style, matches well with the magic and science combined theme. Environments also successfully capture the game’s vibe. For example, the laboratory gives the impression of dark desolation and looks as if it was built into an underground sewer or cave system with narrow walkways and water streaming around you. Later on I came upon Van Helsing’s secret base, which is almost a small village in and of itself. There’s also a giant, mysterious forest that was teeming with wildlife, both friendly and hostile. All the while, eerie music plays in the background, giving off a distinct early 1900’s feel. Not that I was alive back then, but you know what I mean.
There are eight classes to choose from in the final game, and I got to test out two: the Protector, and the Elementalist. Like its namesake, the Protector is your typical tank class that provides tons of defense at the expense of damage. The Elementalist however, is the glass cannon. Personally, I preferred the Elementalist, as between my many powerful spells and my powerhouse of a companion Katarina, my enemies stood no chance. The game plays very similarly to Diablo III, with each class having its own talent and ability trees, armor types, weapons, etc. You can even equip Katarina with things you find or buy that fit her class, which is the Wraith. Once you return to Van Helsing’s secret base, you’ll also get access to crafting, shops, and the ability to manage your army. The latter mostly seems to consist of sending out your officers and agents out on timed missions, the success of which depends on their individual skills.
As I pointed out earlier, the game plays similarly to Diablo, though there are some pretty key differences. For example, as well as having a health and mana bar, you also have what is called a Rage bar that fills rapidly as you battle against foes. You can use the built-up rage to power up your abilities in three different ways, or you can use the entire bar at once to activate all three at the same time. These power-ups differ depending on the ability being used, and include increased damage, additional debilitating effects, or increased duration of the spell. You can combine you spells and abilities, and assign these combos to a designated combo button. This button allows you to switch between and activate your combos quickly and easily. You can also drink potions to restore mana or health, even if you don’t have any in your inventory, though this ability does have a fair cool down period.
While I was only able to play two of the eight classes and three of the full game’s levels, this title has impressed me with not only its deep gameplay, rich graphics, and thematic music, but also its story. The atmosphere may be dark, but it also has great charm and wicked humor. Banter between Van Helsing and Katarina is frequent but doesn’t take away from the mystery of the world and its lore. Though I didn’t encounter any cinematic cutscenes while playing this build, the developer has said that there will be some in the final version of the game. How this will affect the storytelling I don’t yet know, but if the theme and adversarial nature of the characters are anything to go by, they’ll be great.
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III hits the PC through Steam later this month, with a Mac version to come sometime after that. Check back for the full review soon.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.