Namco Bandai / Electronic ArtsDeveloped by:
1 Release Date:
October 30, 2007 Screenshots: LinkAmazon: Buy Now!Written By:
Four years ago a bunch of guys at Blizzard -- mostly the guys responsible for Diablo and Diablo II -- got together and decided to form their own studio. When Hellgate: London was announced, Diablo fans rejoiced in the assumption that it would basically be Diablo III. After much hype and a long wait; does Hellgate: London live up the ex-pectations? The fact of the matter is -- and here’s where I get all frustratingly ambi-guous on you -- it does and it doesn’t. At its core, Hellgate follows the Diablo formula more-or-less to a T. The problem is: it doesn’t do much else.
Set in post-apocalyptic London in the year 2038, humanity has been hunted to near-extinction by the unending demon hordes. Driven underground, the surviving humans make their homes in the networked, easily-defendable subway stations, where they make their stand against ever-growing demon forces.
The people of London are protected by three separate factions: the Templars, the Hunters, and the Cabalists. The Templars have taken to antiquated notions of honor-through-battle and chivalry, defending London with their durable armor and powered swords. The Hunters are, essentially, the former military of the world. Ex-soldiers who use firearms and military tactics and engineering to fight their enemies. The Cabalists, meanwhile, are the select few individuals who have studied and adopted the infernal magicks of the hellspawn, turning it against them.
The three factions are basically umbrella terms for the games six character classes. The Guardian and Blademaster comprise the the defensive (tank) and offen-sive (damage dealer) roles of the Templar faction, respectively. Making up the Hunters are the damage-dealing, firearms-heavy, Marksmen, and the Engineers, who can build various droids to provide offensive, defensive, or healing support. Rounding out the roster as the Cabalists are the spell-slinging Evokers and the self-explanatory Sum-moners.
Every class has its uses, but most will basically boil down to the same thing: shooting things and slicing things. Most of their unique skill trees are not very interest-ing, and it’s unlikely that you’ll find the one skill that seduces you and makes you work and work until you finally achieve it. The specific strengths and weaknesses of each class won’t begin to show themselves until later in the game. In true Diablo fashion, every class is a viable option for mowing down legion after legion of demons and zom-bies, but their individual roles are really only apparent in group play.
Speaking of mowing down legions of monsters, that is about all you’ll be doing in this game. Again, that’s fine; it’s what is to expect from any kind of Diablo-type game. If that’s what you’re into, then slaughtering demons by the dozen is satisfying and addictive, if shallow. Like Diablo, you never know when you might run into a rare beastie who drops equally-rare loot for you to gather up. Unfortunately, that brings me to three of Hellgate: London’s biggest flaws: the randomization, inventory, and art.
The randomization is a two-way street. It works in some places, but not so much in others. Randomly finding a rare or unique item is satisfying and rewarding, especially when you win it off of a random rare monster. Likewise, seeing that rare monster, and instantly realizing the possibilities that follow its demise is like the stick, while the loot is the carrot. If you’re the type of gamer who can become addicted to that Diablo-style “gotta finish this dungeon,” “gotta get the next cool piece of loot,” “gotta get the next quest reward,” mentality, then you won’t be disappointed, as Hellgate achieves this feeling admirably.
Where the randomization falls apart, however, is in the level design. Rando-mized levels were one thing in Diablo II, when graphics and art weren’t of much con-cern. Honestly, in Diablo, you could have been a big blue dot killing scores of little red dots, and it would have been essentially the same game. This philosophy of game de-sign, however, just does not translate well here. Environments that could be interesting and atmospheric are, instead, bland and all nearly identical. The randomization basically consists of which wrecked vehicle you’ll see, whether this tunnel will turn left or right, etc. At the end of the day, everything is still a brown subway tunnel, a grey city block, or a red bit of hell. Actually, Hell always seems to look identical: just a square platform populated by a bunch of demons. And that’s the big problem: the art of the game just isn’t there. Everything looks more-or-less the same, no matter where you are. The monsters and demons look boring and completely non-threatening, there’s very little variation in weapon and armor models, and even the characters themselves are stumpy and unimpressive. As far as visuals are concerned, Hellgate aims for a post-apocalyptic nightmare, but delivers a bad saturday-morning cartoon. It is worth mentioning, however, that while weapon and armor models may be bland, they are customizable through modifications and armor dyes. This does lend a certain amount of satisfaction in the paper doll effect, and seeing my new legendary rocket launcher decked out with mods puts a pretty big grin on my face.
The whole design of the world is unsatisfying. Voice acting (what little there is) is cheesy and spoken in horrible fake English accents. British humour is attempted and failed, time and again. The way people speak sounds more like a Renaissance faire than any modern, near-future city. It comes off as seeming like all the worst aspects of a generic fantasy world combined with the worst aspects of a generic post-apocalyptic world. The story is told through cutscenes of a floating book and narrated exposition, and the story itself is vague and meandering. The only reason the story manages to work in other such games is through simplicity. Hunt down Diablo in Diablo and Diablo II; hunt down Typhon is Titan Quest. That was really all that was necessary, but Hellgate lacks that simple motivation. In a time when world-building is becoming increasingly more important in game design, Hellgate falls short by about a hundred miles. It just isn’t interesting or the least bit engaging, and the lack of a clear goal makes it hard to even care.
The inventory system presents another massive problem. Hellgate uses the now archaic mosaic inventory screen, and keeping it organized is a chore. I often found myself spending several minutes at a time, futilely laboring to piece together the items in my inventory like a puzzle, just so I could find some way to free up the two squares I need for whatever item it is that I happen to need, but have no space to carry.
But it’s not all bad. One smart move on the part of the developers is the option to dismantle items into parts. This makes making runs to town to sell things so you can free up inventory space a thing of the past. You just right-click, select dismantle, the item is gone and you have a little bit of cash and some materials for crafting. However, there simply isn’t much to craft. And what little there is to craft, has very little--if any--practical use within the game. What this means is more random stuff to clutter your inventory screen, which brings us full-circle. One step forward, two steps back.
I’d like to close this review by discussing Hellgate’s apparent delusions of gran-deur. I’m sorry, Hellgate, but as much as you might try and try to convince yourself oth-erwise; you are not an MMO. Grinding faction reputation has no place here. Cluttering my inventory with gimmicky holiday-themed items has no place here, especially when those items are useless (and most of them are). Finding a recipe to make a pie that doesn’t even do anything isn’t worth my $10 a month. A subscription simply has no place within this type of game. Guild Wars does more--a lot more--than Hellgate will seemingly ever do, and manages to do it without any kind of subscription fee. So what, exactly, makes you so special?
But, as I mentioned, for all of Hellgate: London’s faults and hubris, it is not with-out its merits. The “kill everything in sight to get more cool stuff” mechanic is as addict-ing as ever. The team at Flagship did what they do best: they made another Diablo. Unfortunately, the team at Flagship did what they do best: they made another Diablo. They didn’t try very hard to bring that design philosophy into the current generation, and when they did try, they fumbled. After some patches, some content updates, maybe an adjustment to or at least justification for the subscription plan, Hellgate could shape up to be what it was hyped to be. Until then, however, I might as well just play Diablo II.5.5/
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