Diablo Goes to Hell (In a Bad Way)
*This Review is from initial release*
Fans of Diablo, rejoice! For this is the game that we've been waiting for. Hellgate: London is brought to you straight from the makers of Blizzard's Diablo. Diablo was pretty much their game before World of Warcraft. If you were to pop in your Diablo II disc, you'll still find thousands to game with. The story isn't where it's about. It's the loot. Most role-playing games are so involved in the story that you really don't get to enjoy the action. It's basically like opening a fantasy novel and reading it, only with colorful pictures. Diablo is really just based on action, destruction, and treasures. With these features alone, Diablo is a near-perfect series, so it's no surprise that Hellgate: London is really fun.
Hellgate is based on a post-apocalyptic London. The rest of the world has already been taken over by demons from Hell, but London is the break away part of the story. You're mission in the game is solely to just save London. The rest of the world can wait. The game is broken down into 5 different acts, each getting harder and containing more quest. The environments are different per act, although, one of the problems with the game is lack of difference. For instance, in the first act, you may be fighting off a bunch of zombies in a gone-to-hell (excuse the pun) subway, but in act two, you'll be in the same subway. The difference is very small too. In the second subway, you may just notice harder bosses, a small change up in how it looks, and maybe an extra room. I guess so many years of playing dungeon crawlers, you just want to get out of the dungeons. While the dungeon areas are small, the out doors are (although the same as well) are just much more exciting looking. During some of the levels, you get a chance to enter a hellgate, which leads you into an arena with several monsters, not excluding bosses. At the center of the arena is either a chest full of (usually) junky treasures, a quest objective, or a portal into the abyss.
The different characters classes are really impressive. You have basically a variety of three different types of characters, and six overall classes. First you have the Templars. They're the guys, according to the story, who knew about the events of the hellgates and demon take overs forever, but were called crazy by the locals. They're going to be the good, old school swords and shields characters. One character is more shield and sword based, while the other is focused on doing maximum damage, even as to wielding two swords. Next, you have your Cabalist, which are more of the magic classes. You have your basic spell casting characters, or your summoning characters which can summon a horde of beast to fight with. Lastly, you'll have your more modern grunt men, which are going to be the guys walking around with guns. The unique thing about the gun-class characters is that they can be viewed using a more first person perspective. The difference between the two choices here is one is just a gun totting class, while the other (engineer) is more of a robot building version of the summoner.
The rarity of the game is what makes the experience of Hellgate extremely fun. Sure, the tilesets may need some changing from time to time, but there's definitely a good amount of variety in the loot that drops, as well as the beasts that drop them. When fighting a group of zombies, you may encounter a Rare zombie (which will be the only one with lettering above it's head) or an Epic zombie. Killing these zombies will ultimately give you more experience, and toughen the game up for some. The drops are usually pretty good, but it's overall about the challenge at this point. Let's examine the variety in weapons you get. If you pick up a common (green) helmet, you'll examine it and it will reveal it's true stats to you. Usually, you can pick up the same helmet over and over, examine it, and each time it will be different. But that's not all. You'll also be able to upgrade that helmet, using broken pieces of other equipment you've picked up (and broken down to it's lowest form). Still not impressed? Most items also can be socketed, giving you a base stat, base specials, and then allowing you to place in your own specials. Still not impressed? Well, you don't know what to do with all that money just sitting in your bank? How about turning that common into a legendary item (orange)? That's pretty cool. The same happens for the types of monsters you fight. Some of the monsters you encounter will have different types of resistance and specials they can use against you. It keeps the game changing each time you enter an area. Another neat aspect on the rarity portion of this game is the mini-game you play without knowing it. In your bottom right corner, there's always three icons displaying different icons (teeth, pentagons, fire, etc..), each displaying a set number. If you happen to figure out how to read the icons, finishing a mini game will reward you with hefty treasures for completing them, giving the game a little more bang.
One of the best aspects of the game, aside from really entertaining achievements, is the easter eggs. I actually think it's worth noting the easter eggs in a separate paragraph for the purpose of fully examining these wonders. During battles, you'll notice pipes or passage ways through the ground. If you enter these, it loads a new area, some that are just full of coins, then you exit out of another pipe. Sound familiar? This is a homage the designers put in to Super Mario's treasure pipes. Sometimes you'll encounter rare monsters to fight that end up dropping good coinage and gear. Some of the other easter eggs include just talking to the characters in the game. You'll end up hearing references to several other games, mainly their own Diablo. One of the first quest you get is helping a child recover his wooden leg (that can be used as a weapon) from a beast. For those unfamiliar with Diablo II, you use Wort's Leg to uncover a hidden cow level in the game. It's a funny level and full of treasures, as well as one of the quickest ways to level up your character. I'm not sure as of yet, but I'm waiting for the opening of a portal to a new version of the cow level. Lastly, one of my favorite easter eggs is homage to a video game icon known to PC gamers as Coconut Monkey. In December 2007's PC Gamer, there's a code in the magazine that gives you an unlock for an in-game pet known to readers of the magazine as Coconut Monkey. It is the future, so this time around, Coconut Monkey is floating around and looking pretty dead, but that is just the coolest in-game pet since the baby Diablo or Zergs from World of Warcraft.
As far as the graphics, there's really good, even on a DirectX 9 video card. Using a DirectX 10 video card is what it's all about though. The game looks really sweet with it's advanced motion blur and lighting, however, it comes at a cost of performance. The overall experience with the graphics are nice, but there's some errors. For instance, the game really tries to load too much at once sometimes, most noticeable in the subway stations. The game really has a problem with just too much being on the screen at once, and with it being a DirectX 10 built game, that will definitely cause some systems to bog down. During the instances (or any battle areas), you'll usually play the game lag free. The only times I noticed more slow down was during battles where the friendly AI units helped you, mainly because the game pours too many on screen at once. Overall though, the game runs really well, and it should be playable on a system even running some of the oldest hardware (although, it will cost you in overall quality in a big way). Aside from visuals, the audio is near perfect. There's not a lot of voice acting, which should have been added, but the musical score is perfect. It's not overall annoying, and it plays when your is a hint system.
The bugs that are in the game are highly annoying, and will (and from seeing from the player reviews, have) turn people away from the game. Don't discourage though. The company is new. The engine is new. The network is new. You're helping start a new company, so you can't expect perfection. However, the one bug that annoyed me most of all in the beta was the system hanging while quitting the game. This bug is still available. Most of the bugs are just that. There's a few generic bugs in the game. One being when you start the game up in multiplayer, it will usually pop up with a "Network error" bug, but after you click okay and sign in, it's fine. One of the biggest problems I personally have with the game is lag. I understand it's new, but I'm really having a problem with server lag. I'm sure this will be worked out by Christmas.
Lastly, there's an optional subscription fee that players may want to jump into, although I don't recommend it. The only thing it really adds is harder difficulty levels, a few more pieces of armor and sword, and a PVP mode. The PVP would have been nice, but I can live without this round of hack-n-slash. The fee isn't too pricey for only $10, but still, it's a great game without spending the money per month.
Overall, this game will keep you entertained for hours. The game play alone, from beginning to end, is a good 40 hours. Even though the level cap is at 50, you won't be hitting it in that time being.