The same creative talent that put together the insanely addictive hack-and-slash game Diablo is now hard at work on a new game that's all about blasting through waves of evil demons who have invaded a near-future version of our world. Unlike other action role-playing games, Hellgate: London plays from a first-person perspective, and the recently revealed hunter class actually plays a lot like a first-person shooter character. We recently got our hands dirty with the hunter class, and the spell-slinging cabalist, in both single- and multiplayer play.
Even though Hellgate: London looks a lot like a first-person shooter, it's actually an in-depth RPG with all the trimmings--your character has ability scores, various skills and powers to unlock, and an inventory that includes various slots for armor items your character can wear, as well as weapons that can be equipped in your character's main or offhand. Both the templar profession, which specializes in hand-to-hand combat, and the cabalist, which uses high-tech weapons enhanced with eldritch magic, mostly need to point their weapons in the general direction of their enemies and attack using mouse clicks (the left mouse button causes your character to attack with the weapon equipped in his or her main hand; the right mouse button attacks with the offhand). However, the hunter doesn't automatically lock onto targets and must manually aim.
The hunter's basic statistics include accuracy, concentration, willpower, and stamina, which can be increased when you gain experience levels to improve your abilities as a marksman and as a scout. The class possesses several basic skills, as well as three primary skill trees: weapons (which include skills like increased critical-hit damage and the ability to make fired shots ricochet and damage nearby enemies), devices (such as automated drones and walking turrets that follow you to provide backup fire), and stealth (including skills that let you temporarily cloak yourself or reduce your chances of being detected on the move). While the templar class is based on the ancient order of the Knights Templar, the hunter is clearly the most technologically advanced profession in the game. Hunter characters start off wearing jointed metal power armor and look for bigger and better conventional armaments, like assault rifles and submachine guns equipped with explosive incendiary rounds.
Though the game is not yet finished, we played with a working version of the hunter, which begins the game wielding a pair of powerful thermal blaster guns in either hand. Pointing and shooting at enemies seems as easy and responsive as in other first-person shooters, but things get interesting once you start experimenting with different weapons. For instance, shortly after we began our play session, we picked up a handheld grenade launcher, which tossed explosives a short distance but damaged all nearby enemies with the explosion. We were able to tag far-off enemies behind cover by lobbing grenades in an upward arc to bring them charging toward us. Unfortunately, while the hunter is Hellgate: London's ranged-weapon specialist, it's not equipped well for close combat, which is why you need a pile of health-injector items mapped to your nearest hotkey--or a good party of friends to come with you.
Hellgate's cooperative multiplayer has apparently been up and running for some time now at Flagship, and we had a chance to run with a small party, playing as a cabalist character. The cabalist, like the game's other characters, can wield a weapon in either hand, though this character class typically uses both ranged weapons and "focus items"--magical artifacts that channel the character's sorcerous powers into bolts of energy. You can tell when a cabalist is in play because of all the crazy projectiles that are flying around--these characters may be firing plasma weapons or hurling arcing bolts of purple lightning, or both at the same time. In addition to several base-level class abilities, the cabalist's specialized skills include focus (which gives cabalist characters power over elemental fire and the life force of those around them), summoning (which lets cabalist characters summon fire elementals, demons, and undead minions to fight alongside them temporarily), and shifting (which lets cabalists change their own shape into a variety of monsters).
Like hunters, cabalists seem to do their best work when fighting their enemies at range. Because they have an auto-aim feature, they seem to be excellent support characters that can continuously pound their foes with weapon fire while hanging back in safety to activate various special abilities, such as summoning magical creatures for support or siphoning off a portion of their own life force to heal their teammates. They don't look like the sturdiest folk, considering all the bizarre, twisted weapons and armor they pick up, which make them look more like modern-day wizards than commandos, but the shifting skill tree does let cabalists take on the form of tougher monsters and, in a pinch, get up close and personal with the game's many hellish inhabitants, such as a zombie form that lets them claw their opponents to death.
Though we played in a pick-up group that we assembled in a neutral train station (the game takes place in a postapocalyptic version of London, England--where the only safe havens are abandoned subway stations), our team members were able to quickly and easily grasp their roles. The templar class is best as a frontline fighter, but it also emits powerful "auras" within a certain range, indicated by shimmering circles around the character. We had no problem staying within range of our teammate's aura while repeatedly blasting away at our foes and occasionally summoning additional help or healing our teammates. Hellgate's bleak, beat-up environments look even cleaner and grittier than the last time we saw them at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo. Several of the game's early quests are now implemented, and we had no problems performing them with our group--at this time, once one group member completes a quest, the quest is considered completed for the entire group, and all characters can collect the rewards individually.
Hellgate: London's development seems to be progressing nicely. Now that the game has all three of its character classes created and a great deal of content built for it, it's looking more than ever like the game's fast pace, open-ended skill system, and piles and piles of different weapons and items will eventually make hopeless addicts out of anyone who gets a kick out of hacking and slashing away at monsters. The game will be released...when it's done.