I played a good deal of Diablo 2 and the expansion pack. Hearing who was behind Hellgate: London, I got pretty excited by the prospect of an addictive 3D spiritual successor to Diablo 2. After what seemed like an eternity from the initial announcement, the game hit on Halloween of this year. Hellgate: London, while fun at times, can get repetitive and old a little too quickly but the potential is there for a great game to emerge.
So as the title suggests, Hellgate: London takes place in a Hell torn town in Great Britain. The safe areas are old subway stations where they are essentially towns. In these stations you can do trading, gather quests, and upgrade your items. You'll be able to play as six different classes each with their own unique abilities and play styles. For example, the Blademaster is a straight up melee juggernaut but be prepared to spend a lot on health packs to keep him alive as he'll take the brunt of the damage. Guardians are the clerics of the game where you'll be able to heal and offer bonuses to your party members via auras. Evokers are the spell casters and they do their best damage from afar. If you really like weapons from long range, you can opt for the Marksman who takes out enemies from afar. I played through the Blademaster, Evoker, and Guardian and I did play each character a little different taking advantage of their strengths.
A basic character appearance editor lets you change some of the minor details like face, hair color, skin color, and so forth but in reality you probably won't see much of your character's face once you get past Act 2 as you'll be getting helms that cover the entire face for most classes. While the lack of detail in adjusting your character's physical features might turn off hardcore RPG folks, I'm glad that Flagship Studios put little emphasis on this part since the armor you pick up in the game will really define what your character looks like. The one class, Evoker, though doesn't seem to have full helms so you'll see their faces mostly.
The game's a hybrid allowing you the ability to zoom out to an almost angled view of your character to having a first person perspective when you equip guns. Only when your only weapons are ranged weapons do you get the first person option. Most of the time you'll be playing from a third person point of view. If you are dual wielding a melee and a range weapon, you'll only be able to zoom into the closest third person view however. I found I spent most of my time in the closest third person view even when I was using guns as I wanted to see if any monster was coming up behind or to the side of me.
What Hellgate: London suffers though in gameplay is that it's repetitive and can get boring relatively quickly. What was fun many years ago with Diablo 2 just doesn't hold up as well with Hellgate: London being a 3D variant of the Blizzard hit. The enemy AI, for the most part, head straight towards you but they do deviate some in the later levels. Still, the strategy is usually to line them up as they are approaching you and take them down one at a time or a few if you have a splash damage weapon. Most of my time was spent running backwards or in a circle to lure them into my splash damage weapons. I can't say that it was an exciting game after a few hours but the one thing that did bring me back was the lure of new weapons. The more I played the less I cared about the story which is told through quests and cut scenes between Acts. When I came upon a character offering me a quest, it became a quick press of the button of accepting the quest as soon as the dialog window opened up.
Speaking of quests, some are just quite odd in terms of what they ask you to do. Really, having me kill X number of a certain monster in a certain level just didn't seem to fit in. Now the ones where I was asked to retrieve certain parts off of certain monsters seem to be better placed and there are a few that are interesting to go through. Most missions though consist of you taking down a certain monster on a level and returning for your reward. Flagship Studios did try to spice up the missions by having you do something different on a few of them. For example, one mission will have you control four characters in an RTS style mode but the execution of the controls made it more frustrating than fun. Given that these are ex-Blizzard guys and I'm guessing they would have some exposure to the development of Warcraft or Starcraft, I expected a more fluid experience with the RTS mission. Alas, playing the mission was a little more frustrating than fun. Overall, the missions are pretty vanilla with you going to retrieve an item, killing a monster, or using an item on something.
When you do go to an area to fight in, the levels are randomly generated per instance. Each time you load the game and go through a portal to another area it will be a little different. While having a randomly generated level sounds pretty good, the levels designs and textures use do repeat and repeat often. The game's done a better job at having a consistent theme as you progress through the Acts since the beta but you'll still encounter the, oh no not this level design again, many times. Some of the levels involve multiple floors so it's not just going to be one horizontal path. For some of the outdoor levels, a few buildings will be accessible but they are mostly empty except for a chest or two. You can really ignore everything but the main areas on most levels. An annoying problem I ran into while playing multiplayer is that sometimes you won't spawn in the same level instance as your party. I've had a few times where I would go into the level entrance right after my party member and I'd see him but then there were times where my party and I were in separate instances. The same thing also happened in town where I'd be separated from my party. The easiest work around was to just have one party member go into the area and then everyone create a party portal to them which made it so that we were always in the same instance. It's annoying yes but at least there's a work around.
RPG elements for the game consist of the story of course, four stats that you can increase, skills, and items you scrounge up. There's a skill tree just like in Diablo where certain skills are pre-requisites to others. As you increase in level, you'll get one skill point to allocate. The descriptions do a good job telling you what's increased if you decided to add more points to a skill. Items can range from your ordinary weapons, armor, and miscellaneous items to items with magical abilities. The color coding will tell you how special the item is and you can get a more specific view of what it can do by clicking on the item in the inventory. Some items will need to be analyzed before all their abilities are shown harking back to the days of Diablo where you had to identify special items.
Management of the inventory should be familiar to those that played Diablo 2. Your inventory is divided into a grid and each item takes up X amount of squares. It's been a few years now but I just found it a little annoying to have to go into my inventory when it's near full and having to maneuver items around so I can pick up a dropped item. It would've been nice to have it automatically shuffle the items in my inventory so I don't have to wait on clearing my surroundings of enemies so t hey don't whomp on me as I poke around my backpack and make room. Since there's a ton of items you'll come in contact with, there's a locker in every station where it essentially doubles the amount of items you can hold. Even with the spare inventory you'll spend a lot of your time deciding on what to keep, what to break down, and what to sell but really there's probably not an inventory large enough to really be enough as I encountered many items I wanted to save to either upgrade for later or to trade with a friend.
For those that played a lot of Diablo 2 mulitplayer, you probably played with someone that horded all the items that fell from an enemy. It really sucked if you were a range attacker since you were never near the body when the enemies died. Flagship Studios did a great job in installing a system where drops were specific for you. If you're playing with a few people and a monster dies, the drops you see will only be available to you and the same for other party members. There's no more hording now as you can slowly walk up to the fallen items and take them without having to worry someone will come by and gank it from you. The items dropped will have more of a chance to be usable by your class as well but you'll definitely get plenty of unusable items that can be used for trade, break down, or sold for money. I hope other games use this system as it's one of the nicest ways to handle multiple people and items that become available.
If you're adventuring with friends and find items while on a level that others can use, you have to go back to town to trade which is rather annoying. Why can't I just pull up an item and point to one of my party members to give to them? Instead I have to clog my inventory until we can all get back to town so that way we can initiate a trade. You can't drop items for others to pick up though which is something that seems a little backwards.
A nice little feature is that you can now break down items into various components. If you find items that are of lesser value than the one you are using or items that your class can't use, just break it down and you can use the parts to upgrade your other items. The parts can also be used to create brand new items through blueprints or asking a person in town to do it. Whereas in Diablo 2, you had to teleport back to town to sell it or drop the item altogether, Hellgate: London gives you the option of taking it apart and clearing room in your inventory on the spot. I really like this addition and it really helps that I don't have to horde everything and go to town all the time to get rid of it as the spare parts are also as valuable as the money you can get for them.
Just like ole Diablo, you'll be able to increase your weapon's abilities by plugging in different enhancements. The enhancements come in different categories from batteries to relics to ammo and will physically change the look of the weapon. Some of the changes are more dramatic than others but I do like that you're able to see the enhancement on your weapon. What I am curious about is why are weapons the only things that can be enhanced? No armor or shields are upgradable and that's odd considering that some of the enhancements seem to fit this mold such as increasing an attribute or adding a regeneration of power or health. You're left with just weapons which seems to be a little limiting and a step back. Since the game's patched constantly, I hope they add armor that can be enhanced in a later update.
One of the features that I really like about Hellgate: London is the ability to upgrade and downgrade items. By downgrade I mean for items that you augmented with relics, fuel or some augmentation you can use a machine to remove it for a price. Remember in Diablo where you'd put a gem into a sword and wish you had it back later on to use in another item? The de-augmenter lets you do this and it's a great feature of the game so you don't just sit there and hold an augmentation until the right item comes to you. Just use it and know you'll be able to reuse it later on. The two machines to upgrade your items can really add value to items you get early in the game. I like that they don't become worthless and you can increase the value and usefulness of various items with some money or spare parts.
A minor frustration though is the interface to upgrade your items with components. You're presented with two grids with the left grid being the place to put the item you want to upgrade and the right grid lets you put the components required for the upgrade. Four components are needed to upgrade the item and you're given the ones needed and the exact amounts when you place the item on the left grid. So, why doesn't game automatically put the items from your inventory into the right grid and upgrade it? You're forced to drag each component one by one and then press the upgrade button making it a little tedious.
Graphics range from the pretty good to the ok now that was average looking deal. The monsters for the most part are made up really well with some nice models and some good motions. Zombies trudge towards you, maggots squirm at you, and screechers flap their batty wings as their fly towards you. The monsters come in all shapes and sizes with some looming pretty large over you while you'll also find some small enemies on the other end of the spectrum. For the most part, I liked the variety of the monsters available. The effects generated by certain weapons are pretty impressive. I really like how fire is done in the game and how enemies burst into flames from certain weapons. Some of the nova or thorn effects where they radiate out from you or an enemy you hit seem pretty plain. They're just generic beams of light that aren't really that impressive. The customizability of your characters and the amount of different shapes of armor and weapons really add variety to the game though. The cut scenes are first rate though and they are certainly fun to watch. They exhibit the high quality that was also present in Diablo 2. For the most part, the game looks pretty good but it's not a game that's going to blow you away visually.
I played on two systems: one being an Intel Core 2 Duo E6750 with 2 GIGs of ram and a Foxconn GeForce 8800GTX. The other system was my laptop with a Core 2 Duo T7200 with 2 GIGs of ram and an ATI Mobility 1400 video card. The game scaled well and I was able to play on high details with my main machine while lowering the detail for my laptop producing a very playable experience.s
Achievements seem to be all the rage these days and Hellgate: London also has a bunch of achievements you can get. Examples are leveling up to level 10 in four hours, destroying 1000 crates, and craft 10 items. Each achievement consists of X number of points. Achievements offer some level of bragging rights and a sense of accomplishment though giving you something to work towards other than gathering items and finishing quests.
I participated in the beta and I was surprised that Hellgate: London wasn't delayed as there were a great deal of bugs I encountered during the game. The final version has its fair share as well. I've witnessed a texture-less station where all I could see was grey blocks and people walking around. Once in a while I'll walk through a dungeon where I killed some monsters only to see one floating in mid air. And yes, I did experience a few crashes with the game. It didn't help that after the first week of playing I had to download a few patches already. Some of the patches made my machine crash intensely so there seems to be some small issue with quality control in the updates. Just recently, I ran into a few spots in both the stations and in the levels where I would become stuck and can't move at all. My only course of action was to end the game and reload which really sucked when I was close to the entrance to another level I was heading to. This forced me to traverse the level again and take out the monsters to get to the entrance of the next area. I know Hellgate: London's been a long time coming but if the software isn't ready you shouldn't make people pay $50 to be your beta testers for the next few months to try to iron out more bugs. It is sad when there are zero day patches released for a game but Hellgate: London's got multiple patches and it's still really early in the release cycle.
There's some controversy about the monthly free that Flagship Studios has in place for Hellgate: London. Right now, I don't see much value other than being able have a few more character slots, guilds, and more stash space. You don't have to pay to play multiplayer but it will probably be a while before we see any benefit for paying the subscription fee. If Flagship Studios can generate a consistent amount of new content for the subscribers then it might be worth it but I have a feeling they're going to spend the majority of the first few months of the release fixing bugs.
Hellgate: London does have potential though but it's just not there yet. There's a lot of fixing the needs to be done and a lot of bugs to hammer out. There must be something there for me to come back again and again for quick mission or two. It's definitely a game I hope succeeds in the long run but right now it just needs to address many many issues. If I wrote the review a few weeks ago after my first few initial experiences, the score would definitely be lower but the game has grown on me a little the longer I play. It's certainly not up to the expectations I had for it but if Flagship Studios continues to refine the game I think it can become a pretty good product.
The game's a little repetitive and there are many, many bugs that need to be addressed. It's also more fun to play with a few friends than to go at it alone.