Genre: Action RPG / FPS
Developer: Flagship Studios
Release Date: TBA
Genuinely innovative games are pretty rate these days. You'd think someone would've had the idea to hybridize the multiplayer FPS shooter and the tried-and-true hack n' slash style of an multiplayer action RPGs before, but Flagship Studios' Hellgate London is the first real effort in this direction. Much of the game will be very familiar to FPS fans, and much of it will be very familiar to Diablo vets, but the overall shape of the game is simply like something we've never seen before.
The demo we saw featured the female version of the only class revealed thus far, the Templar, and demonstrated the way the melee and ranged weapons would interact in the game. Ranged weapons could be used in first person or third person modes, while melee weapons required third person mode. Dual-wielding any type of weapon was possible for the Templar, as was wielding one weapon of each type. In fact, during the demo, we were shown some of the possibilities of each combination.
Pure ranged combat would be most likely to appeal FPS vets, and there was a staggering variety of guns to use just in the demo. Generally range and speed were more important than precision in Hellgate's gameplay. Guns weren't limited by ammunition counts, instead able to be fired infinitely. Most guns could be used easily even if someone was not skilled with FPS, but there were also guns designed to reward fast FPS skills. Most of the guns were unusual weapons based on magical premises, with the most normal being a sort of pistol that discharged a magical blast.
Melee weapons were essentially high-tech versions of what you could find in most hack n' slash RPGs, but even that allowed Flagship some room to be inventive. For instance, one weapon that we saw used at length was a sort of "automatic short sword" that spewed gasoline-generated flames when it struck an opponent. When in melee sequences, the perspective pulls back to third person, to make aiming easier. This makes the way the melee/ranged fighting combination works rather interesting. Certain guns in the game are designed to work particularly well when paired with a melee weapon, in third-person mode. These include guns that are essentially fire-and-forget weapons that home in on their targets, such as a gun that shot swarms of locusts, and guns that essentially paralyzed or drag monsters toward the player to set them up for melee beatings.
Each weapon in the game, whether it's ranged or melee, is "socketed" and can be customized inserting certain mod packs. We didn't get to see much of this displayed in the demo, but some effects of mods, ranging from added damage to wider damage cones, were described for us. One cool effect we did get to see what was how you could see how mods changed the appearance of a weapon in-game. Similarly, in classic Diablo style every piece of armor you acquire alters your character's appearance. The variety of looks in the final build should be positively dazzling, as the demo showed off at least eight different parts of the body that had unique armor bits for them.
The weapons are interesting enough, but all of the classic tree-based skill growth and special powers one might expect in an action RPG are available in Hellgate: London, and will help distinguish the different classes from each other. The class we saw, the Templar, specialized in buff effects so we didn't get to see much, but the possibilities are promising. We imagine they'll play a big role in Hellgate: London's multiplayer campaign.
The way the developer outlined the multiplayer component makes it sound like nothing else that's currently available on the market. Multiplayer will be massive, but strictly cooperative and based largely on satisfying various task-oriented missions (such as gathering items, rescuing people, or killing specific monsters). The single player and multiplayer campaigns are entirely separate, essentially making Hellgate a title with two unrelated game modes. While the single player game will follow a plotline and ensure certain power-ups, the multiplayer game is more freeform and will make it more of a challenge to acquire the best gear. It's implied that the multiplayer campaign is meant to follow after the single player mode, and may present a higher level of difficulty overall. While some monster and map generation in single player will be pre-set for the sake of story progression, the multiplayer map generation will be more truly random.
Using the time-honored Diablo tradition of randomly generated maps for a game set in London might strike you as pretty weird, so we made a point of asking about that and the beautiful backgrounds. The official reason stated for the decision was both to give the game Diablo's amazing replay value, and to make sure that the designers weren't tied down to a real-world map of London (or that people who had been in or visited London would have unfair advantages in the multiplayer game). However, Flagship has not sacrificed a feeling of authenticity in the name of gameplay.
While the precise street maps of Hellgate's London won't quite match up to the real thing, each segment of the city is based on its real-life counterpart. So, the types of advertising, textures, architecture, and even building materials authentic to that part of London would form the basis for the appearance of that area in Hellgate. The idea is to create something the player could believe in as London, without actually having to duplicate the London map.
Right now Flagship Studios is coy about when Hellgate: London will be released, falling back on the old "done when it's done" answer. Most fans are betting on a release in fall 2006 or spring 2007, but it's obvious there's still a lot Flagship wants to add into the final product. There's really no telling when the game will actually come out at this point, but it's shaping up to be the next big thing when it finally does hit. In some ways Hellgate: London is the very essence of PC gaming, seamlessly blending elements of all the top PC genres to make something both familiar and new. With no console ports yet announced, it'll also be a AAA-title that's PC-exclusive. When's the last time that happened?
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