Hellgate: London is, as you'd expect from its name, a pretty dark game. Set in a future London that's overrun by twisted demons, you'll play as a hero out to save the world. This will involve a whole lot of demon slaying using a variety of high-tech and magical weapons. And while you can play the game by yourself, you can also play cooperatively alongside other players online without a subscription fee. With Hellgate nearing release at the end of October, Flagship Studios has an ongoing multiplayer beta test to work out the kinks in the gameplay; thus, we dove in to explore more of this promising blend of action and role-playing.
There are six character classes to choose from in Hellgate, ranging from blademasters (futuristic knights armed with high-tech swords) to summoners that summon magical minions to battle the enemy. In an earlier preview, we checked out the engineer class, which is one of the two hunter classes in the game. Hunters are armed with firearms and high-tech gear, and they wouldn't feel too out of place in a normal action shooter. This time around, we played as a marksman, which is the other hunter class. The difference is that while the engineer gets to play with a lot of cool toys, such as robotic droids and bots, it comes at a price in firepower. The marksman, on the other hand, is a pure shooter and has skills that are geared toward making the class more lethal in combat. These include the ability to throw grenades, make ricochet shots, use a beacon to highlight the weaknesses in a target's defense, call down napalm strikes, and much more.
Though you play the marksman class much like you play a first or third-person shooter (the game lets you switch between both perspectives), there are some key differences between Hellgate and action games. While most shooters rely mainly on your reflexes and ability to put the aiming cursor on a target, all the combat in Hellgate is calculated using its role-playing rules. Thus, your ability to hit a target is based on your character's accuracy rating and other criteria. Also, there's no such thing as ammunition in Hellgate because the design is geared toward keeping you moving through the game and killing enemies. To that extent, you can fire your weapon continuously by holding down the left mouse button and it never overheats or jams.
London Underground stations serve as the safe havens in Hellgate, as well as the spokes and nodes of the map. You'll begin outside of Russell Square, the starting point of the game, and you'll have to work your way to Holborn Station to eventually get to Covent Garden Station. (The map in the game isn't accurate to the real London, but the names are.) However, to get from point A to point B means navigating the various streets, underground tunnels, access shafts, and more. Many side quests will send you scurrying through different areas of the city, mainly to kill a certain bad guy or retrieve some object from a bad guy. After you reach a station for the first time, you can fast travel to it from that point on, by the way.
While running around this virtual London can be fun on your own, a big feature of the game will be the ability to battle alongside other players. With the multiplayer beta test underway, it was easy to find others online. The Underground stations are like the community centers in the game, and you'll encounter dozens of other players who are stopping by to find new quests, trade at the nearest merchant, modify weapons, or search for potential party members. To extend an invitation, you simply click and hold on a person. Then you select the invite option on the radial menu that appears and wait for a response.
Party combat in Hellgate: London is a lot more visually spectacular than solo combat because there's just so much more going on. Even with just a single teammate, you can expect a lot of graphical fireworks. Keeping tabs on each other's status is also easy because an icon and health meter appears in a list on the left side of the screen for every member of your team. That way, if you see your teammates are in trouble, you can try to aid them, either by killing any demons that are giving them trouble or by trying to heal them.
One of the neat things about the game involves how you deal with your loot. You'll get a lot of stuff after you kill several dozen demons, much of which you can't use. First, if you can use it, the game provides a helpful comparison to let you gauge whether you want to equip it or not. For instance, if you pick up a nice new rifle, it'll display its stats and damage abilities in comparison to the one that's equipped. If you have inferior items or stuff that your class can't use, you can simply break them down to their component raw materials, which takes up a lot less space in your inventory. You can then use those raw materials at a crafting station to create new items. This is a nice system that cuts down on the need to constantly return to a merchant to sell stuff to make room in the inventory. At the same time, if you do need to get back to an Underground station there are personal relocation devices that will instantly take you back to the previous station that you visited. So if you need to make a quick trip to a merchant or a crafting station, you can. These devices can be recovered from fallen enemies, and it's pretty easy to build up a small collection of them.
Hellgate: London possesses the same types of qualities that Blizzards' classic Diablo games possess, which isn't too surprising considering that Flagship was founded by former key members of the Diablo development teams. It's an easy game to get into and continually offers rewards if you just keep playing it for a few more minutes at a time. That bodes well for Hellgate, but we're interested to see how the game does after it ships, particularly when it comes to its optional paid subscription service that will serve up new content. Still, after years of development, Hellgate's release is in sight, and it ships around Halloween.