The other day as I was in the kitchen area at work making a coffee, I noticed a postcard pinned up on the notice board. It was instantly recognizable as Piccadilly Circus in London. There was only one thing strange about it. No hordes of Zombies milling around, waiting to chow down on some fresh brains.
Piccadilly Circus is one of the locations that I had visited in the game, Hellgate: London. That Piccadilly Circus was overrun by the minions of hell, who had broken through the Hellgate years earlier. The date now is 2038 and those denizens of darkness have begun the process of terraforming, or should that be hellaforming, the Earth into a demons paradise. The only thing standing in the way of achieving this goal is the human groups fighting for survival in the London Underground.
You see, for centuries the Knights Templar knew of the threat that the Demons posed to Humanity. Even as the average person forgot, the Templars remembered and prepared. Part of this preparation involved the building of the Underground. Each of the stations was warded to make it safe from demonic incursions. These stations are now where the last vestiges of humanity prepare, trade, and receive their instructions in the ongoing fight.
As a member of one of the three factions, sword wielding Templar, magical Cabalist, or tech-savvy Hunter you will engage in combat with the forces of darkness. The motto Remember the dead, Fight for the Living will be on your lips.
Hellgate: London is developed by Flagship Studios and published by Electronic Arts. Flagship Studios was founded by a number of ex-Blizzard employees, notably including Bill Roper, who had been involved in the development of Blizzards Diablo 1 and 2. That pedigree shows up quite strongly in Hellgate: London as it closely emulates much of the gameplay of Diablo 2.
The big difference between Diablo 2 and Hellgate: London is that Hellgate: London is a fully 3D game. It can be played, like most MMOGs, using a first person view or a over the shoulder third person view. The other difference is that Hellgate: London is a Science Fiction themed game as opposed to Diablos medieval fantasy style. It’s set in the future, there are guns and grenade along with the magic, and the Hell of Hellgate: London isn’t the Hell of Christianity.
Other than those differences, the Diablo fan will see lots of similarities. Each time you venture out of a station into a zone, except for the fixed locales like Piccadilly Circus, the map will be different. Inventory management is handled in much the same way, and the items you collect will have different stats and some pieces will make up sets with better bonuses.
The game essentially comes in two versions. There is the single player version of the client, and the multiplayer version. The multiplayer client will allow you to connect online with other players. You can team up with other players and then go into the instanced areas and fight demons, or complete quests. This operates in much the same way as Guild Wars. You will only encounter other players in the stations, and not when in the fight.
You also have two multiplayer subscriber options. The first is the free sub. You get to play with other players. The second option is to pay $10 a month. This gives the ability to create a guild, increased storage space (double) and a few other perks like being involved in subscriber events.
Hellgate: London is a great looking game. The graphics are very well done, and look great on my widescreen monitor. The visual effects are really well done. Explosions and spell effects look good.
The character models look great too, and there are a lot of them, or seem to be at least. While I haven’t done any verification, it feels like there is a much bigger range of monsters than there were in Diablo 2. And some are particularly nasty. I speak of the Grotesque. The Grotesque looks like a giant frozen chicken with chock full of zombie stuffing. Part of its attack is by flapping it’s giant flabby wings. When you kill it, it explodes and belches out a bunch of zombies and giant maggots. Absolutely brilliant.
The Grotesque is only part of the humour present in Hellgate: London. Early on you will do a questline with Techsmith 314. The dialog here is priceless, and at one point you’ll have to catch the poor terrified chap so that he can dunk his head into the fiery cauldron of eternal happiness… or something like that.
As I previously mentioned, Hellgate: London plays much like Diablo 2. I count this as one of the good things about the game. I found the gameplay to be quite addictive. There were a few nights when I finished up only to realise the time. When are game developers going to put clocks on their games ?!?
All is not fire and brimstone in Hellgate: London.
The worst problems I encountered were in the Multiplayer game. Lockups, crashes, and stuck in levels. Oh my!
There seemed to one station, Charing Cross, where every second or third time I attempted to enter, either by going through the portal, or by recalling back, my computer would hang. Completely. Unable to ctrl-alt-delete. The only option was a hard reset. The story in the forums was that this is being caused by a memory leak. I say is, because at the time of writing this, I understand that the problem has not been fixed.
There have also been a few times when I have got to the end of a level and have attempted to go through a portal into a new level and find myself unable to do so. Attempting to recall will also fail. The only way out is to quit the game and start again. I don’t know if this is a server failure, or a fault with the client. But it’s damn frustrating to almost finish a mission and have to start again after I restart the game.
There are also reports of some broken quests, skills not working, and other admittedly more minor annoyances. There’s one quest I won’t take again simply because I can’t get it to work. The last time I tried, I ended up just killing the boss and abandoning the quest.
Inventory management. Arrrggh. There I am killing monsters and happily picking up their loot until I can’t pick up any more. Then when I check the inventory, I find plenty of room, it’s just organized badly. So… I spent the next five minutes reordering my bags to fit the loot. This is one of the things I hated about Diablo too.
The User Interface doesn’t help much here. All the screens for inventory management, skills, and the like open full screen and you don’t get to see what around. So there I am rearranging my inventory and all of a sudden I start getting attacked. Doh! It would be nice to be able to have a window open and still be able to move or fight. Especially since the game doesn’t pause.
Lack of help. There is so much stuff in this game, but no in-game help. Skills are a case in point. Each class has a large number of skills and a very limited number of skill points to put in them. Aside from many of them being useless (or so I’ve heard) there is minimal description when you hover over them. The only way I’ve been able to find out about some of them is by visiting the forums. Not good.
Skills. Personally, I think each character has too many, and not enough points to put in them. There’s also no way to respec and the devs have said that they are not going to implement one. Now while leveling in Hellgate: London is much faster than other MMOGs, this means that if you stuff up your skills, the only option is to reroll. I tend to think that, especially these days, it’s a bit unfriendly.
Hellgate: London is a fun game, if you are playing the single player version. Unfortunately, at this time the multiplayer game is not ready for release. In fact I became so frustrated with it, I have stopped playing it altogether and have gone on to another game. It’s Vanguard deja vu.
When Flagship fix the issues, as Arnie says, I’ll be back. If bugs bother you and you want Hellgate: London for the multiplayer, my advice is to wait. If you can handle the problems, as many other players do, then by all means get into it.
If you just want to play the single player version, and you enjoyed Diablo. I’d say go for it. It is a fun and addictive game and I reckon you’ll get many hours of enjoyment. That’s not to say it’s perfect, but nothing is.
For this review, I’m going to split the score.
Hellgate: London Singleplayer gets 85/100.
Hellgate: London Multiplayer gets 65/100.