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Game Over Online ~ Hellgate: London

GameOver Game Reviews - Hellgate: London (c) Electronic Arts, Reviewed by - Phil Soletsky

Game & Publisher Hellgate: London (c) Electronic Arts
System Requirements Windows XP/Vista, 1.8GHz Processor, 1GB RAM, 6GB HDD, NVIDIA GeForce 6200/ATI Radeon 9000+,
Overall Rating 70%
Date Published Wednesday, November 28th, 2007 at 11:14 AM


Divider Left By: Phil Soletsky Divider Right

The Good: From the team that brought you Diablo, a fine and venerable pedigree.
The Bad: They bring you a game a heck of a lot like Titan Quest, which was itself a Diablo knockoff.
The Ugly: Only they made the interface more cumbersome, and ruined multiplayer utterly.

Ahh Diablo. I’ve got warm memories of that click-heavy RPG-lite hack and slash adventure. Was it shallow and pointless? Of course it was, but you could play it for either 10 minutes or 5 hours, and since the maps redrew themselves every game you could play it over and over again with it staying sort of fresh even. Well, the team who gave you Diablo is back again, and they’ve given us Hellgate:London (H:L), a game a heck of a lot like a game I reviewed about eighteen months ago called Titan Quest (TQ), which at the time I called Diablo 2.5. And while I’d like to give the Diablo folks extra credit for being there first, this time around they’ve made some surprisingly newbie mistakes that suck a lot of the fun out of playing, and the more I play it the more disappointed I am with the results. As a note, to get the most out of this review, you should probably familiarize yourself with my Titan Quest review – I’m going to be referring to it a lot.

H:L is a sort of third person isometric view RPG, with much of the UI almost identical to TQ, which takes place in some far flung future (duh) London in which a (double duh) Hellgate has opened and demons have poured out. It’s your job to close it. You accomplish this by talking to NPCs who give you missions. This interaction is pretty stupefying. You walk over to an NPC with an “!” or “?” over their heads indicating they have a mission for you, and click on them. They give you a quick text dialog (all with a very British sort of Monty Pythonesque air about them) about the mission and your reward for it, and you can either choose to accept or refuse. If you accept, a note goes into your quest log with all the pertinent information. TQ was exactly the same in this regard. The quests can be either part of the plot train or a side quest, though all more or less fall under the category of “kill this thing” or “recover that thing.” And off you go into the world, killing this thing, recovering that thing, working to close the gates, collecting money (palladium), loot, and experience.

The palladium can be used to buy stuff. The loot can either be sold for cash, equipped if it is appropriate to your character, or broken down into material components, which can in turn be used to enhance other items. The experience is used to gain levels, which allows you to increase your base statistics (strength, accuracy, stamina, and willpower) and add to your skills on the skill tree. TQ had the skill tree thing as well. Each character type – blademaster, marksman, engineer, summoner, etc (there are six total) – has it’s own skill tree, and for each level you gain you get to allocate a skill point to either improve an existing skill or get a new one. In H:L you do not, as in TQ, get a neat poster showing the various skill trees and what the skills mean and do, but you can find this through the appropriate menu in the game. I personally preferred the poster, but it’s not a deal-breaker without it.

Item enhancement is one of the most significant ways that H:L departs from TQ. TQ used a series of artifact pieces to enhance items with new powers. H:L does it in a number of ways. You can collect material components and when you have collected enough of them, you put them into a machine (available in each station) that will use up the components to enhance an item. Some items furthermore have enhancement slots which allow you to connect modules to items to improve them. Later if you wish, these modules can be (for a price) removed to give you back the original item and the modules to use somewhere else without any damage to either item. The final way that you can enhance an item is to drop it into a machine in the station (not the materials enhancement machine, but a different machine) which, for simple cash, will imbue the item with some special enhancement. These three methods let you truly end up with items in hundreds of flavors, my only objection being that you don’t, before you pay your money or expend your materials, have any idea what you’re going to end up with. Even afterward, running my sword through the cash enhancer gave it, for example, an AURA OF RADIANCE 1. I think AOR1 is a skill, but I don’t know. It doesn’t appear on my skill tree, I don’t have the silly skill tree poster, and I don’t have anywhere else to look it up. I didn’t even get to choose if I wanted AOR1 on my sword or some other enhancement – like putting a quarter into a gumball machine with no idea what I’m going to get. If AOR1 is a skill (I still to this day don’t know), and I happened to have AOR5 in my skill set already, that wouldn’t seem like good money spent, now would it?

H:L takes place in nearly endless subway tunnels (the stations are your bases) and desolate city streets and… that’s about it. I’ve never seen such bland and repetitious scenery and textures used in all my years of gaming. Oh, you have a few brief excursions into hell (which remind me a lot of Diablo scenery), but I hope you like subways and abandoned cities because you’re going to see a lot of them. Weapon and spell effects are better, and there are hundreds of flavors of weapons and dozens and dozens of spells, many with individual eye-candy to go along with them. The guys who did the weapon effects were busy souls. Almost none of the scenery is deformable, the exception being crates that sometimes have stuff in them when you smash them, other boxes that are piled around, and various explosive drums and tanks scattered about the place. These can be detonated to harm monsters. You can interestingly destroy them when you are standing right next to them, have the nearby monsters die or be injured, without harm to yourself. I can only imagine a patch somewhen will correct this oversight. Oh, and something they made a big deal of in the manual is that each dungeon is redrawn new for you to adventure into it (like Diablo was). Only, you know what? They move some rooms and tunnels around, and somehow an abandoned subway tunnel still feels like an abandoned subway tunnel, and not so fresh. It feels instead like, if I just went through an area killing everything, then teleported out and teleported right back in again, a pain in the butt to have to kill everything twice.

The majority of the UI is similar to TQ, but in places where they deviate they have brought nothing but annoyance. Within the inventory, the options to examine, identify, break down, use, or otherwise manipulate an object is irritating and prone to mistakes, especially in combat situations. The game compensates for this by giving you a confirmation checkbox, but it means that every time you want to break an object down, it takes no fewer than two clicks and becomes quite ponderous. I’m also stuck with the old-style Diablo inventory again (something that was also amiss in TQ, but fixed in the TQ expansion pack)! I’ve got to juggle objects of different shapes within the square grid of my backpack by hand to make them fit. Didn’t we leave that inconvenience behind more than a year ago?

The most disappointing of all has got to be the multiplayer, which is far less enjoyable and far more frustrating than it needs to be. Right off the bat, annoyance number one, I can’t bring my single player characters into multiplayer – I’ve got to start out with a new one from the ground up. Who’s the genius who decided that? So I have to make a new player, and I start playing the multiplayer game right where I started playing the single player game – alone – and it’s not until I get to the first “station” that I can meet up with other players. The whole station is in fact like a single’s bar, with characters standing around looking to join parties – or maybe they’re already part of a party – as near as I can tell it is impossible to tell which. You’ve got to just walk around asking people and see who accepts and who declines, and it can be crowded, and hard to separate out all the people jammed together. In Titan Quest you would just join a game online, and the people there could instantly make you part of their party and portal you to them no matter where on the map they are. In H:L, we’ve got to meet in the station. Then, and this has to be the worst bit, we set out on an adventure, only because we’re all at different points in the adventure, some of the members of the party have their path blocked and can’t travel with us. This too there was no way to know until we tried to travel together. Ninety seconds into gaming and our party is fractured, and as near as I can tell, short of cutting the lagging players out or traveling back and going through the early portions of the adventure with them, there’s no way to correct it. In TQ you would sometimes adventure with guys way past your level and get killed repeatedly for it, but at least the game would let you do it without blocking you. After more than 30 minutes of trying to put a party together, recruiting more than a half a dozen players only to lose them here and there, I ended up with only me and one other guy adventuring together.

A lot of what worked in TQ, because it was somewhat new back then, doesn’t work so well now. The scenery is dull and repetitious, and the monsters are slow and stupid, coming at you a few at a time to be dispatched easily when a serious bull rush might actually cause you some trouble. Getting a party together for multiplayer is awkward and takes far more time than it should, and even then individual party members are often lost or cut off from the rest of their party without an easy means of correcting the problem. Between the been there/done that overall flavor of the game and the niggling UI and gameplay doldrums, I’d have to say I’m dissatisfied with my trip through the Hellgate.

 

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Rating
70%
 

 

 
 

 

 

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