Hellgate London Review
I would be lying through my teeth if I said that Diablo didn’t revolutionize the world of action RPGs with its release. Instead of having to worry about turn based battles and the like, you just ran through dungeons and hacked up tons of monsters. The goal? To get loot. Glorious, glorious loot – normal items were fun, but those uniques were often what made the day. Sure, your character may not have looked too different when you equipped armor and weapons, but the spells and abilities you could use often make for different gameplay.
Interestingly enough, Diablo 2 added in a ton more. The biggest thing were the skill trees instead of having to buy books to learn new spells. There were also ‘socketable’ weapons where you could put gems, jewels and runes in to enhance abilities. There were a lot of smaller additions, too, that enhanced the idea of the action RPG. Well, when many key members of the teams that worked on this series left Blizzard, they formed a new company and started work on what is a spiritual successor of sorts to the Diablo series – Hellgate London.
The best one-line description I can give you for Hellgate London is “Diablo 2 in 3D with rocket launchers”. See, here we are in the year 2038, as opposed to whenever the heck Diablo took place. London is under siege by massive armies of demons and you, intrepid adventurer, are tasked with eliminating them all from existence.
The first staple of the isometric action RPG that you'll see in Hellgate is the class system. You have six different classes that you can pick from at the moment, divided into three schools. The first are your melee fighters – Guardians are more defensively based while Blademasters are offensive based. Next up come the casters, with Evokers being the “blow stuff up, ask questions later” type of caster and Summoners calling up tons upon tons of elementals to do their bidding. Finally, my personal favorites are the gun-toting Marksman and Engineer. Marksman focus heavily on the gun side of things, getting abilities that let them snipe enemies and the like while Engineers get mechanical pets and some more party-friendly abilities. The classes are about as balanced as can be expected at this point in the game.
After you've done the whole character customization process (which isn't all too deep), you get to start the fun stuff – killing hordes upon hordes of demons. Well, demons, zombies, beasts and such, sure, but you're killing lots of stuff. Of course, just why are you going around killing all these things? It definitely isn't for the story. You see, this is where one of Hellgate's main flaws comes into play – the story is absolutely, positively not memorable in the least. Instead of taking a Diablo style approach to displaying quest text (having it sort-of float along the middle of the screen) or a WoW style of presenting it in a journal, Hellgate forces you to press the forward button to go through the text. It can't be that bad, right? Wrong – you're pressing the button for every line of text, sometimes pressing it 10 or 15 times to get through the text.
What this leads to is people blowing through the story elements of the quest just to get the part where they can take the reward. Even if they weren't, though, the story isn't too terribly memorable. You don't have any characters or quotes that are particularly memorable – nothing like Deckard Cain and his memorable “Stay awhile, and listen” line. Heck, there isn't even a main, central bad guy to rally around fighting against from the start like in other games of this type! Sure, some of the characters can be funny at times and it can get to be somewhat interesting, but you'll eventually find yourself skipping over the story elements of the game not because of the constant one line text but because it isn't all that great.
So, with no reason to play through the game for story, what is left? Well, I'm glad you asked. There's loot – an absolute ton of it. You've got your swords, shields, rocket launchers, pistols, machine guns and the like, and that's just weapons. There's tons of different kinds of armor, weapon enhancements and pretty much any kind of loot that has become a staple of this genre. There are many different levels of rarity for these items, ranging from normal all the way up to unique, with each level conferring more or better statistic modifications.
The really neat part of the weapon system are the weapon enhancements. Each weapon type will have a varying amount of enhancement slots -- the max that I have found so far is seven. These can accept one specific type of enhancement. These enhancements will typically upgrade damage of a weapon, the ability for a weapon to perform a secondary effect or add to one of your stats. The part I liked most about this was that each of these enhancements showed up on your weapon. Sure, the guns that only had one slot didn't look all that different, but the one sniper rifle I found with seven slots looked like some kind of super frankenweapon or something. It was crazy and, well, fun.
The variety of looks for these weapons you're going to be adding tons of crap to is pretty extensive. They get more and more badass as time goes on. You'll start out firing some pistols that may seem to be pretty weak. As you advance through the game though, you'll start to find some really exotic weapons. One of my personal favorites is the little guy known as an XM313. This is what happens when a pistol, a chaingun and a rocket launcher make oh so beautiful babies together – you can fire 600 rockets a minute – yes, that's 10 rockets a second. There are just a ton of fun weapons to get, and you'll want to experiment with each and every one of them. There's something here to fit each playstyle, be it the spray-and-pray type or the more methodical sniper. Plus, you can keep up to three weapon sets ready at any given time, and switch between them to take advantage of an enemy's weakness. Nice.
Unlike other games of this type, though, these weapons seem to take a front-seat compared to the skills, which get that rear-facing seat of the station wagon. Sure, they're there, and some of them can be useful, but there's not much variety and you'll be focusing on maybe one or two of them. This isn't something that makes the game unplayable or bad, it is just a different style of play than those that go for these types of games expect. It'll take some getting used to, that's for sure.
How about those enemies? Well, you've got various undead beasties, demonic hordes and a wide variety of others. Most of these are pretty fun to beat up, though there are a couple of types of enemy that are ridiculously annoying, dependent on your class. First of these are mostly an annoyance to the melee types – the flyers. While you have a couple of ways to deal with them (such as a sword swing that targets enemies in the air or an offhand gun/grappling hook), they still prove to be an annoyance. The second type, teleporters, are an annoyance to any demon hunter. See, there are some monsters that will appear out of thin air and ambush you. This is a pretty neat idea at first, sure, but you can sometimes run through an area and pick up 20 of these guys. The worst part is, you won't know it until they all materialize around you and grind you into a greasy red stain on the side of the subway walls. The bosses are decently done, too – the early ones are pretty easy but the ones later in the game are absolutely massive.
So, then, you might be asking yourself why this game didn't get a higher score (if you're the type that skips the review to check out the score at the end before reading it). Well, this game has a major, glaring flaw – it isn't finished. Bugs abound here, and they aren't the type you can blow up with a well-placed rocket. There is the memory exhausted bug which has been around for awhile. There is the bevy of crash bugs that people experience (myself included) and there are things like people getting stuck on geometry in game or having major performance issues with high-end hardware. There's even a massive bug that has been around for awhile – engineer drones will eat weapons you give them if you crash out of the game. This is one of those games that needed to be in development for a few more months to be ready for the market. Sure, there are other flaws like a lack of variety in the randomized levels, but they pale in comparison to the massive amount of bugs.
Another flaw can be seen in the multiplayer arena. You have an online setup that is reminiscent of the Diablo realm system – take a character online, it is stored on the server and not on your machine. However, in Diablo, you could make an 'open' character that could be played offline. Hellgate doesn't afford you that option – single player and multiplayer stay separate and never shall the two meet. There's no LAN option whatsoever, so you can't even get together and play with a few of your buddies if your internet is down. Hopefully, this gets fixed soon.
In the end, I still found that I enjoyed Hellgate immensely. You have a ton of items to find, lots of fun monsters to kill in the randomized levels and fun bosses to face off with. If you're looking to scratch that pack-rat itch and can put up with the bugs, I'd highly recommend Hellgate. However, if you're looking for an engaging story or a bug free experience, you're going to either want to look elsewhere or wait a few months to pick this one up. It should be better by then.