When I had a run through the demo released recently I was firm in my opinion of the game being over-hyped, bland and non-engaging. Now, though, I have to make two things quite clear to anyone who reads this - A demo should never be used as a measure of a games quality and Hellgate: London is actually a lot better than the demo let on.
Hellgate takes place in 2038, nearly twenty years after the war that brought Hell on earth, quite literally. If you leave the story at that you'd think of Hellgate as a been-there done-that affair, fortunately Hellgate elaborates on the idea with a great story which though isn't completely original, is still very much enjoyable. It's told via text which can be overwhelming at times but it's interesting enough to stomach. It would've been great if there was a bit of voice acting to go with it, though.
Templars, for centuries, have held back the forces of Hell using their magic, and certain events in human history are cover-ups for the times evil emerge. Unfortunately, the Templars number and power has dwindled and Hell, being the sneaky folk they are, capitalise on this and lay fiery waste to the world.
There is hope for mankind, however, thanks to underground groups who've been preparing for the worst – they've even developed demon-resistant bases. These defenders are armed with a fusion weapons of our age and that of days long gone, swords and magic. Obviously, this is where you the player jump into the fray.
Here you'll get to choose from several different classes to play. It's likely your first few hours with the game will be testing out each to find that right one as these aren't the run of the mill classes you're so used to – their core elements are there, but with a Hellgate spin on them. You'll then need a decent amount of time developing the class before you get to see the real benefits of each.
Expectations are admittedly high towards the idea of being able to play the game in third and first person which is strange as this has been offered in other games for quite some time. There really isn't much difference in how you play the game, so if this is something you're getting excited about experiencing, prepare to be disappointed.
Hellgate is quite similar to Guild Wars in its design in that its focus is on solo PVE which can be played with others. As this is an pseudo-MMO there is a subscription side to the game whereby signing up offers you a range of exclusive opportunities whose true value is yet to be determined. Free-for-all PVP is just one of these. We got a taste of this side of things and didn't come away convinced. The core game still has plenty to offer with approximately 40 hours of gameplay in the solo campaign. Of course, the inherrent nature of an MMO is that the hours you can clock in outside of the main questlines is limitless.
Again, like Guild Wars, the world is split in Shards which is the game-word for servers. Playing through these instances is entirely solo-able, but as with any good MMO you'll get more fun out of grouping with real people, this too reaps the reward of gaining more experience and items. The instanced gameplay seems to have a profound effect on the latency issues seen in online games of this nature, here, there pretty much is none.
Another problem seen in similar games is the spikes in difficulty, you'll be glad to hear, then, that Hellgate scales this towards the player. The better you are, the harder the game, the worse you are the easier the experience is (relatively speaking).
Simply put, the core of the game isn't anything new, but it's done well enough.
A criticism Hellgate has suffered recently is for its graphics, and yes, they can be quite drab at times, but for every street of drab you'll get three streets of beautiful design. It may look dark and gloomy but it's put together in an artful way. The engine doesn't try to push the envelope at all but it pulls off everything it attempts with finesse and with no slowdown in frame-rate at all, the crux of any online game.
Hellgate: London presents a wonderful story set against an artfully designed world but never goes that extra mile to separate it from the masses. It's unlikely this game will appeal to everyone but it is sure to find a strong cult following. Sure, it's more enjoyable than the demo, but it's worth a try before you commit yourself to another time-sinking adventure.