E3 06: Hellgate: London Updated Hands-on

We get our hands on the upcoming action role-playing game from the creators of Diablo at E3 2006.


LOS ANGELES--Hellgate: London, the hybrid first-person/third-person-shooter action role-playing game from the original creators of Diablo (now at Flagship Studios), is on display here at E3 2006. We had a chance to try out the updated version of the game as well as to get a production update from Flagship CEO Bill Roper.

At this point in time, both the templar (a kind of high-tech holy warrior) and cabalist (a sorcerer that specializes in black magic) character classes are in the game and are playable in a demo version that includes several different areas. Hellgate seems just as easy as ever to get into; by default, it uses the typical first-person shooter control setup of W, A, S, and D to move and the left and right mouse buttons to attack with the weapons in your left and right hands, respectively.

Apparently, the game will also have context-sensitive shortcuts that will let you map multiple functions to a single key so that you won't have to use multiple shortcuts if you don't care to. In a private press demonstration, Roper showed how he mapped his character's sprint ability, overhead bash attack, and spinning whirlwind attack to the Shift key to automatically move quickly when far away from enemies, then switched to different attacks depending on whether his character was standing in front of a single enemy or mobbed by multiples. The CEO also showed off an interesting new cosmetic detail, armor "theming," which automatically grants your armor pieces a uniform color and visual theme depending on whether you're wearing multiple pieces of the same set or wearing different pieces of armor from different sets--a common occurrence in online role-playing games that makes your characters look ridiculous because they're wearing armor pieces that are different colors, like orange, purple, and green.

We created a cabalist character by adjusting the height, build, face, hair, and features, then played through one of the game's early levels, which began inside a station in London's world-famous Tube underground train network (now abandoned and fallen into ruin, since the game takes place in the wake of a near-future demonic invasion). Several characters stood around the station, some willing to speak with us, others claiming they didn't know us well enough to talk. One character who was glad to speak with us was "L'il Joey," a disabled child with a glimmer of hope in his eye and a World of Warcraft-esque yellow exclamation point hovering over his head (this marking indicates that a character has a quest available to give).

It seemed that L'il Joey had lost his prosthetic leg aboveground, and he gave us a quest to retrieve it. We headed topside to fight through the ruined streets of the Big Smoke in search of the dastardly demon that had swiped the child's leg, fighting through crowds of small demons with a tractor beam-like energy weapon in one hand and a pulse-firing pistol weapon in the other. We finally came upon the hulking, misshapen miscreant--named The Taint (no snickering, please), a tangled mass of arms and heads--which we slaughtered and divested of the embezzled extremity, and then we returned to the station. We then passed it back to a very grateful L'il Joey, who insisted on becoming our squire and went so far as to change his name to the original name of King Arthur, Wart. (So in essence, we had just returned Wart's leg...Diablo players should get the reference.)

Though the game's release date remains undefined, Roper did share some interesting details about its development process that perhaps shed some light on why. The team is constantly working on adding new content to the game; for instance, the "hellrifts" (portals that open into a demonic pocket dimension) were added to the game only recently, even though they will be an important part of the game, since they'll house challenging quests and will be highly hostile environments (you'll be able to survive only a limited amount of time through a hellrift before running out of air, and you won't be able to use the "recall" spell to instantly transport yourself to the nearest friendly station).

Apparently, Roper's group also added several additional "chance" events--random miniquests that may or may not even appear in an average game session. Just this past week, the team added a new chance event (which we were unable to see for ourselves), which Roper refers to as "alone in the dark," a brief mission that takes place in a pitch-black tunnel for which players will have only a light-emitting monocle that acts as a flashlight. The CEO compared the gameplay of this chance event to the "flashlight sequences" in id Software's Doom 3. In the meantime, the team continues to churn out content and expand the game's lore and backstory, such as exploring almost-plausible real-world technology to explain the high-tech weapons and armor in the game (the cabalist's "harp" rifle, for instance, is based on harmonic resonance technology, while many of the templars' items will contain the mysterious metal known as palladium, which modern-day scientists, according to Roper, still can't properly identify beyond its unusual capacity to store energy).

Hellgate: London looks even better than the last time we saw it, and the fact that the company had produced such a lengthy demo (Flagship staffer Ivan Sulic mentioned that the E3 version included some four hours of gameplay) suggests that good progress is being made, even if the creative minds at Flagship continue to pull new ideas out of their hats and add them to the game weekly. If you haven't been keeping track, Hellgate: London has no official release date at this time. But if you happen to track any of the development team members down and ask them, they'll be happy to assure you that the game will be done...when it's done.

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