Hellgate: London is the first release from developer Flagship Studios, a company formed by key executives from Blizzard North. This is of note only because Flagship's founding members, including CEO Bill Roper, were largely responsible for Blizzard's best-selling Diablo series. Hellgate: London is best described as a spiritual successor to Diablo, one that ditches the isometric perspective for a 3D viewpoint and a more futuristic setting. While there is still magic and swords, the majority of classes in Hellgate carry guns, offering a new twist to the traditional action RPG. Similar elements from Diablo include randomly generated environments, four-player questing, grid-based inventory management, and randomized loot. It is the game that should make players forget about Diablo. It isn't, not even close.
Hellgate: London's world primarily consists of underground sewer tunnels, abandoned warehouses, ravaged streets, and gates leading to a surprisingly sterile hell. Levels are bite-sized chunks with linear paths, no exploration, and silly portals in between the chunks, killing the immersion factor. The "randomly generated" levels roughly translate into a blocked path on the left instead of the right. Nearly all the action happens on a single plane, and the only interaction within the environment is breaking crates or shooting fuel canisters. There are no devious traps to avoid, demonic rituals to interrupt, people to rescue, or any sense of progression. The inane dialogue and repetitive fetch quests are borderline insulting, and the game's needlessly convoluted story is tangential to the action.
Forget being immersed in a coherent narrative, forget about memorable characters (unless you're a fan of babbling idiots), and forget about embarking on heroic quests that have meaning or purpose. The only real objective in Hellgate: London is to simply shoot (or slice) monsters in one area so you can do the same in the next tunnel, building, or city street. Even if the combat were satisfying, this would become tedious after a few hours. Yet the combat is largely unsatisfying, thanks to a poorly designed skill system, unlimited ammo, and aloof enemies that do one of two things: stand in one place or charge full-tilt at you. Even the loot is a bit strange, with class-specific equipment that can only be equipped if you've spent x-amount of points on seemingly incongruent attributes.
Hellgate: London's biggest issues, however, are not its recycled enemies, repetitive combat, stilted atmosphere, or identical-looking environments. It's the painful number of bugs that have made the game as stable as an arthritic poodle. These are not minor annoyances like clipping, shooting through walls, or enemies frozen in the air, which are in Hellgate. These are blue-screen-of-death, memory-leaking, freeze-to-desktop bugs that can paralyze less than state-of-the-art computers. The initial release had party members disappearing from view, items mysteriously removed from inventory, levels with blocked paths, and quests that could not be completed. The user interface is unwieldy and archaic, and you'll spend more time fiddling with your inventory than on killing monsters.
Hellgate: London is a game whose story, stability, and sadly, sustainability is lacking compared to other online RPGs. For a title in development for five years, Hellgate looks and feels like it was thrown together a few months before launch. Flagship's rushed release, unusual number of business partners, and ill-conceived subscription model all point to a developer hurting for revenue. While the game's online component means players can expect updates to address many of the shortcomings, it's difficult to imagine the same team that couldn't finish the game in five years can not only fix what's wrong, but also deliver exciting new content to justify a monthly fee. It's hard to have a leg to stand on when you keep shooting yourself in the foot.
Graphics: The cobblestone streets, dark tunnels, and abandoned warehouses look fine, but the world lacks atmosphere and features the same repetitive areas. The only standouts are the British Museum, Tower of London, and other iconic locales, but these are few and far between. Character animation needs work.
Sound: The voice acting is merely average, with actors feigning British accents. Weapons lack oomph, and the music tends to cut in and out at seemingly random times.
Enjoyment: Hellgate: London will satisfy one's itch for non-stop battles against large packs of enemies, and the random loot system will keep some players hooked. Yet the overall lack of polish, the unstable client, and repetitive enemies and environments diminish one's overall enjoyment.
Replay Value: Recycled enemies and environments overshadow randomly generated loot.
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