After wrapping up Crysis, I started casting about for something else to play. A few months back, when in the midst of Orange Box fever (note to self: in typing that, I remembered I still have Episodes 1 and 2 of Half-Life 2 to finish), I tried the demo of Hellgate: London and rather enjoyed it, but had a plethora of other games going at the time. With nothing else more tempting around, I thought I’d give the full version a spin.
During installing, updating, and patching I got dangerously bored, so while creating an account I thought I might as well have a look at the subscription option, and decided the benefits weren’t earth shatteringly exciting so I wouldn’t bother. After another five minutes of thumb-twiddling I figured what the heck, it’s only seven quid, and typing in my credit card details would at least kill some time, so I slightly subscribed a bit.
Firing up the game, stepping into the desolate ruins of London was fairly familiar from the demo. It’s similar in some ways to City of Heroes, fast paced action on randomly generated maps with a limited number of tilesets, so like City of Heroes it should be fun to hop on for a quick blast now and again. I really like the post-apocalyptic setting of the game, a ruined London with survivors huddling in tube stations is obviously quite evocative of the Blitz, and the scarred barricades and shells of armoured vehicles give the impression a not-insignificant dust-up happened recently, and the people in the tanks didn’t come out of it too well. Boxes, crates and barrels strewn around the place sometimes yield money or items when destroyed, and there’s something terribly satisfying about vandalism on a grand scale, like City of Villains mayhem missions, or driving around in the late lamented Auto Assault knocking down road signs, barriers and especially pedestrians to gather crafting materials.
Something that wasn’t familiar from the demo was the grappler. The demo let you try out the Blademaster and Marksman classes, and I much preferred the ranged weapons of the Marksman to having to get close enough to use a sword. While trying out various characters in the full game, I whipped up a Guardian, and found a grappler, a weapon of some sort. Equipping it and pointing it at a zombie wandering down the street to find out what devastation it would unleash, it shot out a hook, caught hold of the zombie and with an audible “twang!”, catapulted the surprised undead shambler over to me, conveniently saving that long hike all the way over there to smite it with a sword. (Actually, I was lying about the audible “twang!”, the only tiny flaw in the grappler is that it doesn’t do that. Then again, it doesn’t really need to, as I shout “twang!” myself every time I fire it now.) The grappler is 39 carat mithril genius, I don’t know why nobody’s done it before (that I can think of). There’s plenty of knockdown and knockback (in CoH, sometimes far too much knockback if you’re a Scrapper in a team of Storm Defenders), but no… what’s the opposite of knockback? Pullforward? There’s hardly any of that; maybe telekinetic type powers like in Bioshock, but it’s not quite the same. It solves some of the frustrations of a melee character in a ranged world (sprinting full speed towards the enemy who get shot by your comrades just as you get there, or jumping up and down trying to poke some flying thing), and is just generally fun. I must try grouping up with a bunch of melee types to see you can play Grappler Ping-Pong with zombies… It might even work for tanking; never mind shouting “yo mama” jokes at some demon to try and persuade him to attack you instead of the squishies, twang! him away from them and over to you instead! The major drawback is that the grappler takes up a slot that could be used for a shield or gun, so unless you get very adept at twang!ing an enemy in then switching weapon sets (as well as using all your other hotkey abilities), it’s not the most efficient use of gear, and disturbingly twang!-resistant enemies were turning up, even at the lowly levels my Guardian’s progressed through so far. Talking of tanking, I gather that’s what Guardians are supposed to do (they even have some sort of taunt, not that I bothered reading what it did, ‘cos it’s a taunt, pah), but I’m not entirely sure how you accomplish the role when the greatest challenge is finding a live opponent. Nothing outside the uber-bosees survives long enough to be taunted, or indeed twang!ed; I guess the fiendish army will get a bit more challenging in future levels.
Neat though the grappler is, it’s not enough to lure me away from guns, guns, more guns, and a couple of spare guns in case the aforementioned guns run out of ammo (which they don’t, the game has no concept of finite ammunition, but you can never be too careful), so my main character is a Marksman. I’ve only been playing a few days, but the story and quests are quite engaging so far, within MMO limitations. There’s been plenty of boding, portents, mystery and a bit of a cut-scene, leading up to missions for Lucious Aldin and Techsmith 314, the greatest lunatic NPC double act since Minsc and Boo of the Baldur’s Gate series (not that Boo was a lunatic, obviously, Boo was a perfectly normal miniature giant space hamster). I can’t remember any specific lines of dialogue, but they’ve been very funny in a bonkers-in-the-nut way.
I can’t see Hellgate as a very long term thing, but it’s certainly diverting enough at the moment.