Hellgate London

The gates of hell are open, and you must slog through randomly generated levels packed with the infernal legions of the damned toward a showdown with ultimate evil. Sound familiar?

That Hellgate London borrows heavily from the Diablo model of dispatching nether beings with mystical energies and the healthy smack of enchanted steel is neither surprising nor disappointing. If anything the millions of fans of Blizzard's franchise have been aching for an adequate heir for years, and while games like Sacred and Titan Quest have made journeyman efforts to fill that void, they have always fallen ultimately just a little short. So, when Bill Roper – one of the masterminds behind the demonic franchise – broke away from Blizzard and announced his project, which sounded suspiciously-exactly like Diablo with fancy new 3D visuals, great enthusiasm followed.

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Hellgate London is the culmination of that effort and it can perhaps best be described as the promise of an excellent game in a currently flawed state. Offering the basic frenetic gameplay of Diablo 2 in a 3D futuristic environment lends a lot of basic potential to Hellgate London, and the hand of Bill Roper is evident at many if not every turn, but serious bugs, an unwieldy UI, horrendous account (mis)management, repetitious environments and a constantly evident lack of polish leave the game short of its lofty goals at launch.

Hellgate London is something more than an action-RPG and something just short of an MMO, a hybridized blend that can be played entirely offline, though it makes very little sense to do so. I know it's perhaps anathema to inject personal anecdotes into critical analysis, but I've never been much for ceremony, so here goes. When I was a teenager I was a C student on my best days, and every single teacher I disappointed would send home critical evaluations with the words "shows strong potential" highlighted by what I can only describe as frustrated red underlines. Were I sending home a mid-quarter progress report on Hellgate London, that's exactly what I'd write under my otherwise discouraged evaluation, and like my parents and teachers I spend as much time imagining what this game will be once it finally applies itself as slapping my head at the boneheaded blunders it currently makes at every turn.

Even the most discouraging critics of the game generally admit that the game is very likely to be different in six months than it is now, and independent developer Flagship studios may be given some latitude with the understanding that traditionally games of this nature rarely launch in a completely finished state. Were the issues entirely content related, it might be easier to look past some of Hellgate London's less egregious shortcomings, but with regular server downtime, a non-functioning account creation system that has now blossomed into an all out SNAFU, and a variety of crashes to endure, the game clearly would have been very well served with a little more time in development. So far, a patch a day has not been uncommon, and it has become clear that little touches and fixes are slowly bringing the game together.

Perhaps this next statement breaks either some unspoken bond of trust I have contracted with you as a reader, or bursts a little too boldly through the fourth wall, but what are these perspectives for if not to be uncommonly honest with you, so here goes: I find myself wanting to make excuses for Hellgate London. In fact, I dare suggest I'm not the only one, because despite what are mind-numbingly apparent flaws in its current state I want this title to be good. I want to encourage more developers to strike off on their own and try to bring their visions for great games to fruition, and I want to be positive about what should be a fantastic game, but let's be honest. This game is what happens when great designers run at full speed into the brick wall of a financially mandated hard deadline, the inevitable trainwreck of simply running out of time and money. As a gamer it's discouraging as hell because whatever inspires Diablo 2 fanatics to return time and again to the infinite and unyielding obliteration of Mephisto is present here. This perspective ultimately breaks down to a pretty simple question: can you look past occasionally show-stopping bugs and rough edges like you'd find on an industrial sander to the game beneath?

But, when I say bugs, let me be clear. We're talking evil creeping carrion eater kind of bugs that will halt your demon-stomping in its path with a total system freeze. Even with 2 gigs of RAM and a Core 2 Duo processor, I still get what appear to be memory leak crashes to desktop every other time I play. Even the randomly generated maps, which they have presumably been working on for years, occasionally offer no passable path between you and your destination. In multiplayer, I have suddenly had my partner vanish, though he was still clearly in the same gamespace as evidenced by demons falling to invisible blades. There is a cavalcade of little things that will need to be fixed, put in place and polished in the months to come, and this is just a sampling.

Hellgate offers online players two options, a subscription based model or a free model with fewer features, less access to content updates, and fewer character slots and items. Unlike typical MMOs, Hellgate London's price-tag provides a complete experience without ever requiring you to enter a credit card number, and it's hard to criticize giving players a free option regardless of comments made earlier in the development cycle. This is a game where it makes sense to offer a subscription model, and being able to play while you wait for Hellgate London to have the content in place to make a subscription worth your while is actually a fair option.

From a gameplay perspective, Hellgate London stays faithful to a Diablo mindset of fighting waves of monsters. The in-game dialogue moves a perfunctory story along well enough and is occasionally quite funny in a clever and quirky way. While there are a number of moments of unusual and creative quests, particularly along the track of the main storyline, taking advantage of the potential of a fairly flexible 3D engine, too many side quests devolve into hunt and gather tedium. Some will find this mitigated by the real draw of the game, which is endless dungeon crawling and item collection. It's easy enough to imagine an eventual market for highly prized items and sets, a traditional development for games of this type that manage any longevity, but again we approach the idea that the value of Hellgate London is, as yet, untapped. While the story, items and missions are all there, it's easy to imagine the game being significantly better once the user interface is improved and the economy is thriving.

If it feels like I'm entirely on the fence about this game, it's because I am. It's the kind of game I'd rather revisit in six months to see if it eventually matches its potential, because in its release state it is simply incomplete. The fundamentals are there, but the bug fixes, interface improvements and general polish are being patched in day by day. On the upside Hellgate London starts from a reasonably solid foundation and improves each day, but on the downside you might feel like you've just dropped $50 to play what is essentially an advanced beta. How you square on the issue of companies needing to launch so they have the assets to finish their game will be a lot of the deciding factor for anyone interested in the game. Enough friends with whom to play and a healthy patience will make the price of admission easier to swallow, but if you're looking for a polished experience in this kind of gameplay, you might want to break out the old Diablo 2 cd and play that for six months while Hellgate London finishes cooking.

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Comments

The_Archon wrote:

I'm also trying to figure out a few quirky things, like... what's that little trio of icons in the lower right corner? A sprocket, beast fangs, a wrench... do they change? What do the numbers mean? What are they even for? Nothing in the manual.

And why, sometimes, when I hit "F" to loot something, do I get a special fanfare and more loot popped around me? I can think of no rhyme or reason for it, but it happens. Also not intutive.

They're related, take a look at the other HGL threads here and look for more info on the Mini Game.

It's not really a MMO I don't think, you just happen to walk by people in the stations. There's no auction house, no mail, no cities or major hubs and no group content coupled with an embarrassingly bad guild & chat UI.

Add me to the group of people that love the game but is being driven insane by the crashes. I killed a story mission mob the other day and crashed before I could pick up the 2-3 legendaries that dropped. I ended up resetting the quest twice to kill it two more times, but never got a legendary that I could use.

The_Archon wrote:

I'm also trying to figure out a few quirky things, like... what's that little trio of icons in the lower right corner? A sprocket, beast fangs, a wrench... do they change? What do the numbers mean? What are they even for? Nothing in the manual.

And why, sometimes, when I hit "F" to loot something, do I get a special fanfare and more loot popped around me? I can think of no rhyme or reason for it, but it happens. Also not intutive.

Those numbers count down as you kill/loot the appropriate types of monsters/items. Once you fulfill all the requirements, you get that fanfare and extra loot.

"Even with 2 gigs of RAM and a Core 2 Duo processor, I still get what appear to be memory leak crashes to desktop every other time I play."

Yeah... there have been a lot of posts in this thread already that I agree with. I was in the beta, it was a really fun game, I can't buy a game no matter how fun that crashes this often.

Engineer is the best pet class I've ever seen. Summoner was a close second. What can I say, I love having lots of little guys I don't have to manage that often...

That's the odd thing though, not everyone is crashing or having memory leaks. What people don't understand that things like memory leaks are very hard to find. Even more so when it's not a common issue that everyone is having. I've only had one crash since I've started playing and zero memory leaks. Maybe it's because I'm using an older rig, maybe it's my graphics settings, maybe it's something else entirely, who knows.

I used to be in game development and I know how hard it can be to find bugs and issues. As a software analyst/programmer, I deal with hard to find issues everyday so I know what it's like...

Could this game become to Diablo as Vanguard is to WoW? Will bugs and unpolished UI bring just enough animosity to turn people away from a game with so much potential due to it being release 6 months too early?

Could this game become to Diablo as Vanguard is to WoW? Will bugs and unpolished UI bring just enough animosity to turn people away from a game with so much potential due to it being release 6 months too early?

No.

1. Vanguard had to have potential

2. Vanguard crippled modern high end gaming rigs. HGL runs fine with all the bells and whistles on modern high end gaming rigs. HGL runs fine at decent quality with a few settings adjustments on average gaming rigs.

3. FSS is fixing bugs left and right with patches every few days

4. HGL was released maybe 1-2 months early. (maybe as little as 3 weeks) Vanguard was a flawed design principle (the anti-WoW) and wouldn't work no matter how much extra dev time.

Fang got it right. You cant compare Vanguard and Hellgate. Vanguard is simply a terrible game released way too early. Hellgate seems to be a quite interesting and good game released way too early.

One would hope game devs (and MUCH MORE important, the ones with the money...) realize that releasing a game too early is not only bad for the game but also for their profit.
Hellgate released early next year had probably been received a lot better.

Would also hope they would stop exploiting the concept of micro-transactions and subscriptions, but thats probably too much to ask for.

The review is pretty accurate, though it might have focused a bit more on the game beneath the endless bugs. Since there really seems to be a nice game down there.

However, no matter how much I want to love this game (and Ive enjoyed it a lot so far) the game has ended up being a huge disappointment because of the problematic launch, which is sad for both FSS and the players, considering its a semi-MMO, the amount of other players actually matters for us. Now many of those potential players has been scared far away from the game.
Developers, learn the lesson please!

You might find this post of interest, from the developer who's fixing (fixed?) the memory leak bug:

http://forums.hellgatelondon.com/sho...

Hi, I'm one of the devs on the team. I am currently working on fixing the memory-related crash most of you are seeing. I am very sorry that the game was released with such an issue.

I have browsed through many of your posts - enough to know how upset and frustrated you are. I share your frustrations - I expect more.

My plan is to keep you updated on the progress of this issue, what I'm doing to attack it, and let you know when you can expect a fix. I'll let you know if there is anything you can do to help out. If you have some technical knowledge, feel free to offer any suggestions that would be helpful. If you are good at virtual prodding or whipping, you might offer that extra "encouragment" to tide me through.

...

I've been working on a solution for this problem for a couple months now. I've replaced our entire memory system with a set of pool and heap allocators designed to reduce fragmentation. It's been "done" for a few weeks now, however there are still bugs that need to be worked out. It's a large set of changes, and I didn't want to just throw it in there right before launch with no testing.

...

My current target is to get the known bugs fixed and into our test center by Wednesday. I'll have to check and see what that means for getting the bits to you, but probably sometime later this month. I'll keep you updated as I find out more.

Hellgate has gone from "broken" to "buggy" in less than two weeks. My own experience has been vastly improved by post-release patches and driver updates, to the point where I can now enjoy the game. It's not up to snuff yet, but it does seem to be getting there, and quickly.