Flagship Studios and EA are bringing Hellgate: London to what should be its final E3 trade show, as the long-awaited action role-playing game is finally set to ship later this summer or in the early fall. Hellgate represents the debut game for Flagship, which was founded by key members of the team responsible for the blockbuster Diablo games while they were at Blizzard. And in many ways, Hellgate borrows and builds on many of the gameplay conventions found in Diablo, like killing hundreds of monsters, collecting tons of loot, and becoming more powerful the further you get in the game. Flagship will use E3 to highlight some of the high-level quests to be found in Hellgate, which we got to play through for a full report. Please note that this preview contains slight story spoilers.
Set in the demon-infested ruins of an abandoned London, Hellgate will task you with creating a character based on one of six different classes and shooting, shredding, and blasting everything that gets in your way. During our play session, we got plenty of time to explore the engineer class, which is a subclass of the hunter profession. Hunters are geared toward fans of first-person shooters; you play as an engineer or a marksman (the other hunter class) like you would in any regular FPS, though you can switch to a third-person perspective if that's your preference. Keep in mind that Hellgate is a role-playing game at heart, so when you shoot at something the game calculates the odds of you hitting it based on your character's stats, not on your ability to move the targeting cursor with pinpoint precision. However, for all practical purposes, all of these calculations are transparent to the player, so it really feels like a shooter.
If you want to play the game as a "pure" shooting experience, choose the marksman class, which focuses on guns and skills that make you even more lethal with those guns. However, if you'd like to have some cool toys that can help you out in battle, the engineer class is for you. In fact, Flagship tells us that the engineer is probably the most accessible and easiest class to play in the game. The reason for that is because the engineer can not only run around with a variety of powerful firearms, but can also enlist a number of mechanical allies in the form of his or her droid and various bots.
As an engineer, your droid serves as your primary pet or companion in the game, and you can eventually boost its abilities and customize it in a number of ways. For example, give it a sword and it'll attack foes with a melee attack. Then there are your bots, which aren't as capable as droids but are much more numerous. Inhibitor bots are the most basic bots, and they are incredibly helpful. That's because they can slow down enemies with their beam weapon, which makes them useful if you're being rushed by multiple foes. Even better, inhibitors are laser designators, drawing a bright red beam onto enemies that are hiding behind cover or that are outside of your peripheral vision, so they act as extra pairs of eyes. It's very difficult to be caught unaware if you have inhibitor bots. Then there are other bots, like the missile bot, which gives you a little extra firepower. If a bot or droid is destroyed, don't worry--you can easily summon it back using the appropriate summoning skill (though you may have to wait for a short period of time to allow the skill's cooldown timer to reset). Having a droid, inhibitor bots, and a missile bot on your side can make combat a lot of fun, since you're basically a roving party of destruction.
Much of the time spent in Hellgate: London will be in pursuit of dozens upon dozens of quests. These can range from clearing out a certain number of enemies in a level to recovering a lost artifact or item. Granted, these types of quests are fairly standard for action RPGs, so Flagship has been busy coming up with some imaginative ones that feature some exotic locales. Two will be showcased at E3: The first is based on a quest to delve into another character's mind, while another has you battling towering foes in the remains of the Thames.
The Mind of 314, as you can probably guess, is the mind quest. Basically, you'll need to delve into the mind of Lucius Aldin, a character in the game, to deal with his ego. This involves a bit of magic, but in a game featuring demons and portals to hell, a trip inside someone's brain isn't much of a stretch. Once there, you'll find yourself traveling along the synapses of his brain, which look like an organic tunnel, though one that's full of spectral defenders that you must defeat. As with the rest of Hellgate, you can't go 50 feet without encountering more bad guys to kill, so you have to slowly advance your way into the center of the brain. Once there, you'll see the Mind of 314, a shimmering figure that you must defeat. Do so and it's not over yet, though, as the mind splits into beings--and no, they aren't the id, the ego, and the superego. Instead, you get spectral representations of each of the three primary professions in the game. There is a templar, the melee specialist; a cabalist, which is sort of a witch or warlock; and the aforementioned hunter. You must find and defeat each of them in order to accomplish the quest.
Next there's the Millennium Battle, referring to the area around the Millennium Bridge, or what's left of it. The Thames River has dried up, so the battle is actually in the riverbed, and it's a brutal one. There are towering, tentacle-armed creatures that look like something from the movie War of the Worlds roaming around, and it's up to you to take them down. Unfortunately, that's far easier said than done, because these opponents are huge and powerful; to make things worse, the riverbed is crawling with lesser enemies. The combination of the two can easily overwhelm you. Thankfully, you have help. There are a couple of NPCs in the area that you can enlist as support, but, more importantly, there are various defense turrets that you can activate. Their firepower can help even the odds. What makes the quest distinct is its difficulty, as well as its setting. Most of the game is spent running around the gutted streets of London or the labyrinth of subway tunnels underneath the city. When you first emerge at the Millennium Battle locale, you'll realize it's a departure from much of what you've seen in the game.
Flagship has even more unusual quests in mind, including at least one that blends elements of real-time strategy into it, though we'll have to learn about those later. Still, Hellgate: London is turning out very nicely. Like Diablo, it's the kind of game that makes running around and killing demons seductively easy and compelling. The fact that you can do so in single-player or in cooperative multiplayer makes the game even more tantalizing.