Real-life London is only marginally less scary.
Don't you just hate it when you feel compelled to do something, even though you know you aren't really enjoying it that much? When you decide to perform some mundane task even though there are far better options on offer, and it's all because of a base, animal-level compulsion? Welcome to Hellgate: London.
It isn't a terrible game at all, it just isn't good enough to justify the amount of time I personally have put into it over the last month or so. I feel dirty when I play it, wrong when I smile at my new sword and I lament the loss of innocence in the world when others join me online to play. All because it's so decidedly base and uninspired, yet it makes those that play it do so for excessively long periods of time.
We all know collecting things is great - I find it physically impossible to throw a hell of a lot of the shit I have lying around away. The bods making Hellgate are evil and have taken advantage of this simple fact - as soon as they placed thousands of items in the game to collect, they had a hook, and as soon as they made the game throw said items at you en masse, they drag you in, against your own free will and (probably) with little sadistic smiles on their faces. The sick freaks.
This is a game about content - and I apologise for sounding like a marketing prick there, but it really is. It's an experience of constantly checking your inventory, picking up items, selling, buying, trading, upgrading, breaking down to composite parts and throwing away (god forbid). You will spend more time managing your inventory than you will exploring the arbitrary London setting, and more time talking to idiot shopkeepers than you will dealing with the legions of Hell. Well, that may be a mild exaggeration, but you get the point.
Hellgate is based in that land of London, where no one smiles, everyone sounds like Dick Van Dyke and the opening of a gate to the bowels of Hell really wouldn't change that much. London is awful, after all (mighty mighty Leeds!). Anyway, a gate to said Hades has opened, and some naughty demons have come out. This has made the people that didn't get violently slaughtered take refuge in the numerous Underground stations through the city, and it's also made some folks with swords, guns and magic decide to kill the shit out of the baddies. Inspired, I'm sure.
It's generic fantasy stuff, just with an (as I said before) arbitrary London setting to get people interested - other than the well-known names and Tube stations this could be most places in the UK, to be honest, and it seems there is far too much impetus put on the setting. And good lord those accents are unmitigated crap.
Nearly 500 words in and we can mention the game proper. Players take control of whichever character type they decide from a choice of six - Guardian and Blademaster (the tanks), Summoner and Evoker (the magic users), and Engineer and Marksman (the FPS elements) - and travel around the lands of London dispatching with hellspawn in whichever way best suits them. What this actually amounts to is an incredible amount of hacking and slashing, or shooting, or summoning and sitting back. An incredible amount.
There seems to be no real strategy to things, with players either wading in full on with the direct combat classes or simply backpedalling with the less direct classes. That's it. There are powers to gain and some auras and other crap that are unlocked, but the meat of the game is simply smash, slash, shoot and sit back. There is also an inordinate amount of barrels and crates strewn around Lon Don in whichever identikit locale you are currently slogging around in. This, on paper and on its own, doesn't work too well. Unfortunately the collect 'em up aspect is all too present and correct.
If there were fewer items, or if the game were more relenting when it came to furnishing you with new items, Hellgate would lose a major edge. It would be nothing - a void. Combat is boring - Blademasters and Guardians simply click non-stop until the enemy is dead, the classes using guns and magic simply run backwards shooting until the enemy is dead and the summoner summons their demons, sits back and waits for them to kill the evil demons until they are dead. The setting is uninspired - hokey fantasy rubbish with three million fetch quests placed under a London skin.
It isn't as funny as it tries to be, though it by no means takes itself too seriously. Every character type both in single and multiplayer receives exactly the same missions, and as many as there are, they're still dull in the majority. It's sometimes incredibly difficult to open crates, as the viewing angle won't face far enough towards the ground in 3rd person mode. It's generally very drab, and in some areas the dull zombies blend into the dull background.
But it's still decent enough to warrant playing. You do the math(s).
The fact that it ties so simply into the base collecting aspect of our psyche - a very boyish thing, I should point out - annoys me. But it still doesn't stop me from having a quick bash that lasts an hour or two. The more committed out there - most likely the Diablo fans that have already owned the game for nearly a month - will put ungodly amounts of time into it, I'm sure.
The other aspect that will keep people coming back is in the multiplayer. It isn't the great MMOG that it was sometimes made out to be, but Hellgate can offer a great experience when organised correctly. Not easy with the rubbish lobby system and lack of friends list - though this may change with patching and Xfire compatibility. Or something.
It is intensely rewarding to see a team acting as a team should, however, and single player doesn't give you the real idea of how a character class is meant to perform on the grand scale of things - Guardians and Blademasters running in and battering them, the support classes hanging back like the pansies they are and supporting. It can be lovely. It's just a bit of a bitch to set up. There is also a subscription service available for those that want more character slots, better weapons and the like, though the £6.99 a month is a bit much, especially when you consider it's the same price for a WOW subscription - an infinitely more in-depth and rewarding experience, with an easy to use and fully-functioning friends system. But those with money to burn... Well, give some to me, actually. Sod the game, I'm poor.