So demons have invaded and are destroying the world. What're you going to do? Well, gather loot and upgrade your stats, of course! Hellgate: London is a typical dungeon-crawling, loot-collecting hack-and-slash game, and while it does a lot of things right, it seems that whenever is done well, there's something else that just seems to fall flat.
Hellgate is a title developed by the people who made Diablo, which means that you'll be seeing a lot of similarities in the titles aside from simply having the term 'hack-and-slash' used to describe both of them. The core gameplay of the game involves running into a variety of locations with your selected class, killing everything you can find (and completing quests), collecting the equipment and cash that inexplicably falls from their bodies, and repeating the process until you beat the game. Then you do it some more. It's not a complicated formula, but it's one that works, is fun, and it's the reason Hellgate can be played, despite its many flaws.
As the title suggests, there's something of a gate to hell that is bringing a slew of bad creatures to our world, driving the survivors underground. This is where you, a random fighter in the war, enter to fight back the forces of darkness. The story presents itself somewhat poorly through some choppy dialogue that doesn't quite know whether or not to take itself seriously. There are cutscenes that work really well, but they are few and far between, and generally you're stuck reading a lot of quest text and listening to repetitive exclamations by the people you talk to.
You start by selecting your class and customizing their hair, skin color, and face before sending them into the world. There are half a dozen classes to choose from: the melee-based Guardian and Blademaster, the ranged Evoker and Marksman, and the minion-summoning Engineer and Summoner. All allow you to kill demons in a variety of ways, though between some of them there are some obvious similarities, and they just don't feel different enough.
And one of the biggest problems with the classes themselves is the skill system. If you've played Diablo 2 you'll know the rules: gain a level, gain a skill point. Some skills have prerequisites in the form of level requirements, either in your character or another skill. The thing is, the skill trees are just plain uninteresting. The Evoker stands out as particularly dull, where there isn't so much a 'skill tree' as a series of vertical 'skill lines'. It's really hard to tell which skills are even useful, or to compare one to another.
The main areas of the game, where all the stores and quests are located, are called stations, and are where you'll be hanging out when it comes to your merchanting tasks, emptying your inventory of monster goodies, and so forth. It's also where the players hang out in online mode, so here's where you can see and talk to them. These stations are connected by other areas that are chock full of a variety of monsters and demons that, in general, would like you to die, please. The areas definitely look good, technically speaking, but they're randomly generated, so there's nothing impressive about them. Because of this, it seems like the game doesn't take advantage of its setting (except for a couple set locations). With all the underground tunnels you run through, they might as well have called it Hellgate: Generic Underground Location, and nothing would've changed.
The combat itself is pretty routine; you click on the enemy, and they get attacked. The view is either in first-person mode or over-the-shoulder, depending on what kind of weapon you've got equipped. The first-person mode is quite misleading, however, as hitting enemies is less about whether or not you're aiming right and more about if you've got the targeting reticule pointed in the general area of your enemy, as combat is based around statistics and not your mouse-aiming abilities.
What Hellgate does do right, however, is why people play: the, ahem, phat lewt. The ability to gain greater and greater equipment is what makes the game so addictive, it's what makes one think "Perhaps I'll do just one more quest, maybe just get enough to replace these old greying gloves of mine." In addition to buying and selling equipment, you can break items down into their elements, which is an important part of the equipment system; with these elements, you can either modify previous armour and weaponry to increase defence and attack (respectively), or create completely new items entirely.
But that's not all. With a bit of cash, you can add some special effects to the equipment you already own, though since it's random, you might get an addition to something that your class doesn't care about. There's also the option to add modifications to certain weapons that have slots available for them. These mods increase various things, and though it's free just to throw the mods on, it costs a bit of money to take them off.
Now, the single player and multiplayer experiences are exactly the same in Hellgate: London, so there's no real reason to play offline. You're also given the option to pay a subscription fee, this gives you access to some extra content like quests, events, modes, guild creation, and equipment, if you're willing to pay for it.
Technically speaking, Hellgate: London is hit or miss. Things look quite good, and the variation in enemies is decent (until they start pulling the different-colors-different-names stunt for the enemy models). There are problems, however, like a framerate that fluctuates wildly and randomly and a couple odd issues that don't hamper gameplay too heavily, but still are present. There are also some server issues that meant I was dropping out at least once ever couple hours, which doesn't lose too much progress, but will eliminate any work since your last visit to a station, which could mean a couple finished quests or so.
All in all, Hellgate: London isn't the next revolution in Diablo-style gameplay. While it does some important parts well, notably the item management and upgradeability, other parts like the skill sets and character customization fall short. The technical issues have gotten better since the last patch, but they're still present, and can hamper the experience, especially the framerate. It all adds up to a game that doesn't live up to expectations. It's not a bad game; it's just severely flawed, and ends up just being decidedly average.