Hellgate: London is an action role-playing game from Flagship Studios, which, if you believe their press releases, is (the first, last and only voice in the world of action RPGs.) Flagship Studios gets to say things like this because they're made up of a lot of the people who developed Diablo II for Blizzard Entertainment, including Bill Roper, who was the Senior Producer, and David Brevik, who was the Project Lead.
The problem that Flagship faces in claiming to be a creative force is that even when Diablo II came out four years after the original Diablo, there were almost no other competitors, and so everything they did with Diablo II felt new and original. But these days there are action role-playing games all over the place, and it's a much tougher genre in which to stand out. And sadly, Hellgate: London does not stand out. Other than the setting, which I'll admit is kind of fun, it doesn't really do anything that players haven't seen dozens of times before. That doesn't make Hellgate: London a worthless game to play, but it certainly makes it disappointing.
Hellgate: London takes place in a near-future version of the world, where demons have invaded through special hellgates, and where humans have been reduced to hiding out where they can. The demons plan to convert the world into a mirror image of their own -- using a process called (the burn,) which, as the name implies, isn't especially healthy for the planet's original inhabitants -- but the humans haven't been able to make a dent in the demons' ranks because any loss they take is instantly replenished through the hellgates. After years of warfare, things have started to look a little grim for the humans, but that's when you step in to turn the tide.
The campaign that comes with Hellgate: London follows your path from a lowly level 1 character to a demon-killing machine. The campaign starts out with a science fiction approach to defeating the demons, as you endeavor to track down and help a Dr. Fawkes, but then things take a serious turn for the weird, and the campaign heads downhill, fast. I'm not sure if Flagship Studios thought they were making something lighthearted and funny, or if they figured that nobody really cares what the story is in an action role-playing game (and especially one with multiplayer aspirations) and so they didn't try very hard. Whatever their intent, the end result is a complete and utter disaster.
Little did I know when heading into the game that Truth is really a family of five, and that somehow talking to Truth and touching a Sigil five times would help me defeat demons. Honestly, I'd rather collect the Five Keys of Uber-Powerfulness and then use them against the demons. That RPG premise has been used as a story element so often that it almost seems sensible. Hellgate: London's story is just bizarre. It feels like Flagship Studios went to a local college, got the Philosophy Club stinking drunk, and then gave them an hour to come up with a plot outline.
Worse, the writing is atrocious. Everything about the game is taken seriously, with the demons presenting a devastating threat and London looking worn and beat up, but the NPCs act like they're in an Adam Sandler movie, and the juxtaposition is jarring. One human leader talks about how to store mayonnaise, another can't help swearing every other word, and one quest-giver actually gives this line:
(The cauldron is housed within the mysterious realm of Chocolate Park and is guarded by the ever vigilant Wall of Frosting.)I've played some casual games where a sentence like that would make sense, but I never thought I'd see it in a major role-playing game release. Eventually I started skipping the dialogue as much as possible. All it did was kill the atmosphere.
The campaign, of course, also comes with a series of quests, but they don't really help matters. 90% of the quests involve the most basic of objectives -- (kill 10 zombies,) (find 8 zombie brains,) (kill the zombie boss,) and things like that -- and while the other 10% (generally the quests at the end of the campaign's five acts) are challenging and work pretty well, you have to spend hours slogging through the boring quests to get to them.
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