I played a good deal of Diablo 2 and the expansion pack. Hearing who was behind Hellgate: London, I got pretty excited by the prospect of an addictive 3D spiritual successor to Diablo 2. After what seemed like an eternity from the initial announcement, the game hit on Halloween of this year. Hellgate: London, while fun at times, can get repetitive and old a little too quickly but the potential is there for a great game to emerge.
So as the title suggests, Hellgate: London takes place in a Hell torn town in Great Britain. The safe areas are old subway stations where they are essentially towns. In these stations you can do trading, gather quests, and upgrade your items. You'll be able to play as six different classes each with their own unique abilities and play styles. For example, the Blademaster is a straight up melee juggernaut but be prepared to spend a lot on health packs to keep him alive as he'll take the brunt of the damage. Guardians are the clerics of the game where you'll be able to heal and offer bonuses to your party members via auras. Evokers are the spell casters and they do their best damage from afar. If you really like weapons from long range, you can opt for the Marksman who takes out enemies from afar. I played through the Blademaster, Evoker, and Guardian and I did play each character a little different taking advantage of their strengths.
A basic character appearance editor lets you change some of the minor details like face, hair color, skin color, and so forth but in reality you probably won't see much of your character's face once you get past Act 2 as you'll be getting helms that cover the entire face for most classes. While the lack of detail in adjusting your character's physical features might turn off hardcore RPG folks, I'm glad that Flagship Studios put little emphasis on this part since the armor you pick up in the game will really define what your character looks like. The one class, Evoker, though doesn't seem to have full helms so you'll see their faces mostly.
The game's a hybrid allowing you the ability to zoom out to an almost angled view of your character to having a first person perspective when you equip guns. Only when your only weapons are ranged weapons do you get the first person option. Most of the time you'll be playing from a third person point of view. If you are dual wielding a melee and a range weapon, you'll only be able to zoom into the closest third person view however. I found I spent most of my time in the closest third person view even when I was using guns as I wanted to see if any monster was coming up behind or to the side of me.
What Hellgate: London suffers though in gameplay is that it's repetitive and can get boring relatively quickly. What was fun many years ago with Diablo 2 just doesn't hold up as well with Hellgate: London being a 3D variant of the Blizzard hit. The enemy AI, for the most part, head straight towards you but they do deviate some in the later levels. Still, the strategy is usually to line them up as they are approaching you and take them down one at a time or a few if you have a splash damage weapon. Most of my time was spent running backwards or in a circle to lure them into my splash damage weapons. I can't say that it was an exciting game after a few hours but the one thing that did bring me back was the lure of new weapons. The more I played the less I cared about the story which is told through quests and cut scenes between Acts. When I came upon a character offering me a quest, it became a quick press of the button of accepting the quest as soon as the dialog window opened up.
Speaking of quests, some are just quite odd in terms of what they ask you to do. Really, having me kill X number of a certain monster in a certain level just didn't seem to fit in. Now the ones where I was asked to retrieve certain parts off of certain monsters seem to be better placed and there are a few that are interesting to go through. Most missions though consist of you taking down a certain monster on a level and returning for your reward. Flagship Studios did try to spice up the missions by having you do something different on a few of them. For example, one mission will have you control four characters in an RTS style mode but the execution of the controls made it more frustrating than fun. Given that these are ex-Blizzard guys and I'm guessing they would have some exposure to the development of Warcraft or Starcraft, I expected a more fluid experience with the RTS mission. Alas, playing the mission was a little more frustrating than fun. Overall, the missions are pretty vanilla with you going to retrieve an item, killing a monster, or using an item on something.
When you do go to an area to fight in, the levels are randomly generated per instance. Each time you load the game and go through a portal to another area it will be a little different. While having a randomly generated level sounds pretty good, the levels designs and textures use do repeat and repeat often. The game's done a better job at having a consistent theme as you progress through the Acts since the beta but you'll still encounter the, oh no not this level design again, many times. Some of the levels involve multiple floors so it's not just going to be one horizontal path. For some of the outdoor levels, a few buildings will be accessible but they are mostly empty except for a chest or two. You can really ignore everything but the main areas on most levels. An annoying problem I ran into while playing multiplayer is that sometimes you won't spawn in the same level instance as your party. I've had a few times where I would go into the level entrance right after my party member and I'd see him but then there were times where my party and I were in separate instances. The same thing also happened in town where I'd be separated from my party. The easiest work around was to just have one party member go into the area and then everyone create a party portal to them which made it so that we were always in the same instance. It's annoying yes but at least there's a work around.
RPG elements for the game consist of the story of course, four stats that you can increase, skills, and items you scrounge up. There's a skill tree just like in Diablo where certain skills are pre-requisites to others. As you increase in level, you'll get one skill point to allocate. The descriptions do a good job telling you what's increased if you decided to add more points to a skill. Items can range from your ordinary weapons, armor, and miscellaneous items to items with magical abilities. The color coding will tell you how special the item is and you can get a more specific view of what it can do by clicking on the item in the inventory. Some items will need to be analyzed before all their abilities are shown harking back to the days of Diablo where you had to identify special items.
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