Hellgate London is notable because it’s from the same folks who brought us Diablo. Diablo was a Mexican holiday game where you would try and bowl pumpkins down a bowling alley while trying to knock over bottles of Tequila. No it wasn’t. Actually Diablo was a top-down-perspective dungeon crawl that was very popular. Why was it so popular? I’m not sure anyone sent out a survey to find out, but if I were to guess it would be that the game had low system requirements, online multiplayer, and unique items. The later being attractive to players since their characters could be fairly well customized and interesting. Somehow this combination made the game a huge success. I’m sure everyone has their own reasons why they liked the game as well, but I just wanted to hit on those basics to give you an understanding of why Hellgate: London doesn’t work like Diablo did so many years ago.
Like Diablo, Hellgate: London is multiplayer and contains unique items. Except now it’s a first person shooter, takes place in a near future London instead of a dungeon, and has much higher system requirements. It also has unique dungeon areas, and a plethora of extra customization options for your weapons and a form of crafting that lets you augment items.
Most of this is done well, and none of it is in anyway bad. Unfortunately that’s not all there is, Hellgate: London does feel a bit MMORPG like, when the game itself is not an MMORPG. For instance, you receive missions to travel to an area that is a number of levels away. (Imagine moving from area to area and each area has a different theme with different monsters. And you have to go through 3 or 4 of them to reach your end mission. ) Each level contains a number of critters that you fight. Usually in batches of 30 or 40 that are mostly the same. You move slowly from one end to another while holding down the attack button until they die, loot, heal, and repeat. If this sounds like most MMORPG titles you’ve played, you’ll feel right at home here. And just like those titles it’s all a bit dull. Combat involves shooting or swinging a sword in close combat. You do this by holding down either mouse button until the creature is dead. You then move on to the next creature while also holding down a key to retrieve all the items that were dropped by the dead creature. You progress in this way until you face a tougher creature, and then you might only change up your tactics by using some health stims or casting a spell.
And this lack of interesting game play is one of Hellgate’s main sticking points. I believe the majority of the audience that loved to play Diablo have moved on to titles like World of Warcraft that do most of the things Diablo did and more. The years have caused gaming to evolve, and Hellgate: London feels as though it should have come out 5 years ago, or it should have elevated the game play elements to give us something new. That’s not what we have here. Instead, Hellgate feels like it wants to be Diablo’s older brother, but forgot how to be fun along the way.
I want you to know, I’m going on like this because I wanted to like Hellgate: London. I was willing to overlook some of the bugs (Like you can’t progress because the way out is blocked off because the random level generator sometimes doesn’t leave you with an exit) like the ones where the system just crashes out to the desktop, and the patches aren’t even given a proper version number. (As of this review, they are on patch 0.6) Even through all this, I wanted to walk away with a satisfying Diablo like experience. It just didn’t happen though, and I felt as though even with more patches to address the bug issues, nothing can save Hellgate’s boring and repetitious game play.
We should all face another fact, that piracy greatly helped Diablo succeed. Gamers would copy the game and distribute it to friends to allow them to all play together. While no one has any idea what the ratio of bought vs stolen copies were, anyone can guess that the majority of owners probably copied it from a friend or downloaded it from a warez source. This lack of copy protection allowed first adopters to share the game with friends who weren’t likely to drop $50 for it. This community aspect probably helped the game succeed, but now Hellgate London and other games are locked down in such a way to make it impossible to successfully play online and freely copy it. That’s not to say the developers should have opened up the game for rampant piracy, but one can look at this as one more reason for Diablo’s success vs why Hellgate doesn’t work. I really think Hellgate could have used a more open license where one could buy the game and share it with two friends. This would create the community aspect that the game needs. Hellgate: London and Diablo style games are more fun among friends than anonymous strangers (Like regular MMORPG titles). But trying to convince your friends to buy a lackluster single player game like Hellgate is not going to go over well. And that leaves you with playing among strangers and kids. It just doesn’t feel the same and simply doesn’t work out as being a fun gaming experience.
There are a number of things about Hellgate: London that work. It has a competent inventory and customization system. It has good graphics and an interesting world behind it. But the fact that the game remains dull, and there are rampant bugs makes it a title that is best left until the next version is released. Maybe when they release an expansion pack or significant patch that cleans up the game’s weak points and includes some other play mechanic besides simply fighting, moving, fighting, moving, fighting, moving, etc that would be the time to buy this game. For now, considering all the other great titles that have come out this year, I suggest spending your money elsewhere. In my opinion, Hellgate: London was released too early.