E3 06: Hellgate: London Preshow Impressions

We sneak in an exclusive pre-E3 look at this upcoming action RPG from the creators of Diablo.

In observance of this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, we took an up-close look at Hellgate: London, the upcoming first-person action role-playing game from Flagship Studios--a studio founded by the original creators of Diablo and Diablo II. Flagship's founders hope that this next game can be as compelling as those previous games (which were infamously addictive), though the developer is taking a slightly different tack by making the new game fully 3D and played from a first-person perspective.

This E3 marks the momentous unveiling of Hellgate: London's second character class, the cabalist, who joins the previously revealed templar class in fighting through the aftermath of a demonic invasion in a near-future version of London, England. The cabalist class, unlike the noble and combat-focused templar, represents a faction of humanity that experimented with the demonic influence in its surroundings, using demonic body parts and blood to further its power. The class is based on a real-world secret society known simply as "the Cabal," a shamanic, "fringe science" society to which such historical figures as Isaac Newton belonged. The cabalist class doesn't wear the bulky body armor of the templar; instead, it wears leather- and robe-based armor and often also wears armor crafted from the skin of demons (and when unarmored, they wear tattoos on their own skin).

As a result, this profession tends to rely a great deal more on sorcery than the gun-and-sword-wielding templar, though all classes in the game use weapons as spell-delivery systems to convert their powers (or in the case of the cabalist, demonic energies) into weapon fire. Cabalists prefer to wield shimmering metallic orbs, wands, and magic staves as well as other more exotic items to channel their magical energies ("think of the glove from Hellboy," suggests Flagship's Bill Roper). The cabalist's three primary skill sets are three schools of sorcery: summoning (the art of conjuring magical companions), evocation (the art of channeling dark energy to fry enemies to a crisp), and transformation (the art of physically changing the cabalist's own form, such as by growing horns, turning one's arm into a demon's claw, and so on).

Roper went on to explain several other additions that have been made to the game proper. For instance, more randomization has been added to the game's environment generator so that even traveling between known locations like Kensington Station and Paddington Station will yield different results each time for different players--in some cases, the two stations may be linked by an abandoned subway tunnel, while in other cases, they may be linked by an aboveground urban wasteland. In addition, Flagship has added new "task" quests--brief side quests that can be performed for various miscellaneous rewards, such as gaining additional faction standing with key characters in the game (like the order of templars, who give you your first missions). By gaining enough standing with certain factions, you may eventually be able to use weapons and skills reserved for other character classes.

In the meantime, Flagship has also expanded on the game's exploration elements by attempting to add new features that are easy to understand but that will provide depth to the gameplay. For instance, rather than including health packs that drop on the ground and must be manually used, defeated monsters now drop glowing red and blue orbs that restore your character's spent health and magic energies, respectively. You'll also be able to use recall spells, the magical equivalent of Diablo's town-portal spell, to return to the nearest friendly settlement to sell off your loot and buy better gear (and Hellgate will feature matching "sets" of armor that can provide additional bonuses when fully assembled). Yet your characters will also be able to explore demonic pocket dimensions using "hellrifts," which are scattered portals that lead into devastated portions of the world. These new areas will be under the effect of "the burn," a highly toxic atmosphere that will kill any adventurers who stay in these areas for too long. Flagship is still mulling over exactly how these dangerous areas might work. Perhaps there will be some kind of "breath meter" that determines how long you can survive in some hellrift areas; in other cases, you may not be able to use a recall spell to return.

Hellgate: London should have a whole lot of addictive hack-and-slash action to offer, especially if the game has even more varied character classes like the cabalist. The game is scheduled for release...after Flagship completes it. Which will hopefully be soon.

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