PC Game Review: Hellgate London by Flagship Studios

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Confessions of a Disillusioned Diablo Fanboy

Okay, I have to admit that I consider Diablo one of the finest franchises ever to grace the hard drives of humanity. While I am a Blizzard fan in general, the Diablo series is my special love. I have had Diablo 2 installed since it came out, which amounts to five different computers, and I am one of the few owner of the little known expansions to Diablo, Hellfire.

So when I heard that Bill Roper and the Diablo development crew left Blizzard to make their own game, I was ecstatic. I followed the development of Hellfire, preordered, and when it launched I went and bought it. For those of you who don’t follow the careers of game developers with a love and longing bordering on the obsessive, here is the low-down on Hellgate:

Hellgate: London is a genre-crossing massively multiplayer game that attempts to be all things to all players. If you want to run around and shoot monsters first-person shooter style, you can play a hunter class and mow down the bad guys with everything from machine guns to swarms of insects. That’s right: you can shoot swarms of insects at your enemies. If you feel like playing it as a classic role-playing game in the third-person, you can play a cabalist or templar class and the gameplay shifts to accommodate. While you can technically scroll in or out of first-person mode, Hellgate defaults to putting the gunners in first-person view and the sword and sorcery types in third person.

The setting is a future London that has been invaded by demons from another dimension. You go through a main story that explains what has happened and, of course, you go about trying to fix it, guided in your tasks by a friendly and apparently omniscient character named Murmur. The game is free to play, but if you subscribe you get access to special content not available in the main storyline and other features.

The game mechanics are very much like Diablo. There is a main story, available in both single-player and multi-player modes, and people can choose to group together, trade items, and converse in various main areas. The interface and skill progression are also done in the same style as Diablo.

Since I had pre-ordered, I got a special dye so that I could look like a bee. While I didn’t see anything about yellow and black stripes in the lore of the game, I was unconcerned. After all, I had played games where I jousted on giant flying ostriches, and compared to the plots of most of my favorite imported games, this was downright linear. I installed the game and logged in.

This was where I started to harbor doubts. There was already a patch on launch day, and it turned out that much of the vaunted “subscriber only” content wasn’t in the game yet. Because of an error, the subscriber content for the first in-game event was given to everyone free, which would be great if I hadn’t been a subscriber.

I decided to bear with it. After all, it was a game from a small company, and I was really excited to see what they came up with. The game suffered from serious bugs and performance problems. On two different machines, both well above the recommended specifications, the game would randomly crash during play or lock the entire machine during launch, requiring a reset.

Again, I persevered. I was determined that this was going to be my new game of choice, and I was willing to be patient. After all, even the best online games have problems, especially during their launches.

However, I did not play continuously. I was waiting, you see. Waiting for it to be fixed, waiting for more variety in the areas, waiting for a game that didn’t crash my machine quite so much. I played through to about level 30 with several classes.

Last night I gave up.

Why did I finally give up? Well, I have gone back and forth with it for eight months, and each patch is worse than the last. The “subscriber only” services are still not worth the money, and the framerate, which on my system shouldn’t be below sixty frames a second, is half of what it was when the game came out.

While we are talking about the patches, let’s talk about the patching system. Even though there is a built-in updater, when you install the game you have to download a huge content patch for the Stonehenge missions, even if you aren’t a subscriber and thus can’t use the content. Then the game cycles through three different patchers, which often crashes the entire system. If you don’t happen to do the patches in order, there is nothing that tells you what to do. Instead you have to track down the patch on their website and read the instructions.

The “extra content for subscribers” consists of the same kind of repetitive gameplay with slightly different tilesets, and the game community is almost non-existent. On top of that, it still randomly crashes when everything else runs perfectly. I have simply given up.

The final verdict is that even with one of the best development teams around, Hellgate: London game is a waste of time and effort. If it survives another year, I may give it another go, but until then other games must take my attention.

World of Warcraft, anyone?