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Hellgate: London Review
publisher: Namco Bandai Games
developer: Flagship Studios
PIV 1800, 1GB RAM, 6GB HDD, 128MB video card
|ESRB rating: M
release date: Oct 31, 07 (released)
|» All About Hellgate: London on ActionTrip|
Play to your strengths is what my High School guidance councilor always told us. So when a bunch of the guys that created the Diablo series left Blizzard North and formed their own development house, it makes sense that their first title would play on the strengths of their previous blockbuster. Hellgate: London from Flagship Studios went on sale on Oct. 31st and allows players to kick some demon butt in single or multiplayer fashion. Using updated technology and a winning game plan from their past work, Flagship hopes to catch lightening in a bottle a second time.
The year is 2038 and the depths of Hell have ripped open portals into our world in jolly old London. Zombies, demons and beasties from the Nine Rings have poured forth and kicked humanity in its yam bag. Humans fled to the refuge of the Underground (that's the British term for their subway system) and began finding ways to fight back. Powerful magic, sword and shield or good old fashioned Grade A bang-bang are the tools employed by the surviving populace in the battle against evil. New skills and attacks will be learned as you gain experience to increase your effectiveness and new weapons and armor can be found as the spoils of war. Equipment can be upgraded and imbued with bonuses by attaching special items to them (aka crafting). For anyone that has played Diablo, some of this should sound familiar.
It's easier for me to list the ways Hellgate: London (HG:L) differs from the Diablo series than to try to list all the similarities. First, HG: L uses a Sci Fi / Fantasy setting rather than a medieval one. Second, it employs a first or third Person perspective (depending on your play style and on the class you play) using full 3D graphics rather than the top down view and sprite based graphics. HG:L also makes use of Vista's Direct X 10 to add extra zest to its already flashy show (thankfully Direct X 10 is not required to play the game but it does make things a bit prettier). Third, even though there is a free online multiplayer component, players have the option of paying an additional $9.95 a month in order to get access to premium content that they say includes better loot, new quests and areas (to become available later) and a few other perks like more characters and storage space for items.
This option of a pay to play for more features has raised the fur on quite a few gamers' backs because HG: L also features in game ads (I have yet to see any). This has generated cries that EA has found yet another way to screw gamers. So far the extra content I have seen from my paid subscription has been special crafting recipes and regents that are part of themed events. The regents themselves seem to be much rarer than the recipes and so I have not yet crafted any of these themed items (like food or grenades). Based on what I have seen to this point, I'm not sure if there is enough extra content currently to warrant paying the monthly fee. Granted, the game has only been out for a week but since the box did not even include the first month of the subscription for free as pay to play MMOGs do, I expected more bang for my buck. Not to mention that $9.95 is the monthly cost for some full-blown MMORPGs.
Players can choose from six different classes from within three different factions and regardless of which one you choose you can tailor your skills with each level increase to make your character truly your own creation. Players should take extra care when speccing their toons because you cannot respec later if you make a mistake (another similarity to the Diablo series). If you like to play a hack and slash role, then the Templar faction is the group for you. They specialize in up close and personal combat with swords and heavy armor. If you think Harry Potter is the coolest thing since sliced bread (and who doesn't, really?) then start a toon from the Cabalist faction and fling spells and summon demons to do your bidding. Finally if you are more comfortable being able to strike from a distance, the Hunter faction has the class for you as they use firearms and craft bots to deal damage.
HG:L features instanced battlefields that are randomly generated each time you start the game. These random maps are linked by hubs that lead to other areas of the Underground. Since though the maps are randomly generated, certain regions look the same and get stale very fast as they make use of the same rooms and textures. There are some very unique and well crafted levels for some specific locales but they are for typically story arc circumstances and are welcome changes following the randomly generated levels you have been slogging through. And you will be slugging through, take my word for it.
The central hubs allow you to interact with merchants, access your storage locker to stash equipment, use crafting stations to upgrade weapons and you will see other players that you can talk to, trade with or recruit into a group . Annoyingly static NPCs also populate these public areas that will give quests that help drive the main story along while providing valuable money and experience. The NPCs have their own stories to provide back stories for the quests they offer you. Some quests are so- so and are of the 'go kill X number of beastie Y' type , but others are clever and some are downright funny. Lots of popular culture references are contained within the banter and the NPCs themselves. Provided your average gamer is somehow compelled to read all of this (given the fact the game doesn't do a very good job of compelling you to do it).
The gameplay itself took me by surprise in a good way. The Hellgate: London can be addicting. It could be the random items that drop from the monsters or crates. It might be the chance of finding a named mob just around the corner. Or it could be the special mini game that involves killing a certain number of creatures in a specific fashion indicated by three special symbols in the bottom right of your screen that rewards you with a burst of cash and special items. The loot whore in me sits up and applauds this system but there is more here to like than just loot.
Good graphics, can be addictive, potential in online multiplayer;
Optional subscription is steep for current lackluster additional content, random levels are too repetitive, launch issues frustrate some players.