Forget candy; celebrate Halloween by taking to the post-apocalyptic streets of London and violently plowing through hordes of demons in Flagship’s PC action RPG. Billed as the spiritual successor to the Diablo franchise, Hellgate: London includes randomly generated levels, tons of prefix/suffix-modified items, and six playable classes with unique skill trees. Despite being entirely instanced, Hellgate: London also features a subscription model that has been the source of much criticism. For $9.95 a month subscribers gain access to additional characters slots, a hardcore mode, and all future content updates. Non-subscribers can play the entire game in both online and offline modes and can play alongside subscribers, but are unable to benefit from any post-release content.
Before getting caught up in the subscription controversy, however, be sure to check out the Hellgate: London demo. Consider it a Halloween treat.
Detailed impressions from my time in the beta after the jump.
Judged solely on its own merits, Hellgate: London is a great game. The combat is fun and the itemization is spot on, but Hellgate: London doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The game is the first title from Flagship Studios, a developer comprised of many former Blizzard North employees. As such, the weight of the Diablo series weighs solely on Hellgate: London’s shoulders, and therein lies the problem. While it may be a fine enough game in its own right, Hellgate: London does not meet the lofty expectations heaped upon it by its legacy.
The issue here is that Hellgate: London is largely defined by a pervasive linearity. Yes, the levels themselves are randomly generated, but they’re all narrow paths from one area to another. Building straight lines out of different materials doesn’t make the straight lines any more interesting. Additionally, the gameworld itself is extremely limiting, especially for a game trying very hard to be seen as an MMO. You travel from quest hub to quest hub, completing quests along the way but never really diverging from the path predefined by the developers. Most of the sidequests occur parallel to the main questline and never require you take any extra steps to complete them. Instead, the game’s optional quests serve as additional reward for doing what you would have done anyway.
This rigid linearity also affects the game’s skill trees. While Diablo 2 featured three skill trees per class, each of Hellgate: London’s six character classes has only a single tree. Worst of all, the skill trees, like the level designs themselves, don’t really branch or bend at all. Instead, they’re comprised of parallel rows of skills and abilities. Also, because many of the skills are reliant on weapon damage and suffer from diminishing returns, the game doesn’t promote specialization as much as Diablo 2 did. Unfortunately, this leads to all characters of the same class playing very similarly. All of the evokers play very much like all of the other evokers and all of the guardians play very much like all of the other guardians.
The net effect of these problems is that you never really feel like you’re allowed to make any meaningful decisions. Your path through the game has already been mapped, and the points you invest in your character really doesn’t distinguish it too heavily from other characters. The experience is very confining. It isn’t all bad, of course, and those looking for a new game to satisfy their action RPG craving will probably walk away happy, but if you’ve been waiting for the next Diablo, my advice is to keep waiting a while longer.