If I were to talk about a first-person action-RPG with shooter elements, in a futuristic wasteland, that contained randomly generated maps and loot, along with six unique classes along with hundreds of hours worth the replayability, what game would you begin to think of? You would quite possibly swear the loot-grind filled titles I was talking about would either be Borderlands or Destiny.
But what if I told you that the game I’m talking about had all those features, but more unique classes, randomly generated dungeons, randomly generated loot and countless multiplayer hubs where players can gather in order to trade, group up or discuss their adventures. Toss in the fact the game had a fully functional PvP and came out two years prior and created by veteran developers from the Diablo franchise and you have the potential for great success.
For some of you, the story of Hellgate: London may already be something familiar to you, but if not, then I hope you stay a while and listen. In this article, we’re going to be discussing what Hellgate: London did good and things it did arguably better than those that came after it.
The story begins: Getting to Know Hellgate: London
For those unfamiliar with Hellgate: London, it’s exactly what you would imagine were you to take both Terminator and Diablo and placed them together in a futuristic setting. With demons waging war against the last remnants of humanity, your job as a hero is to stop their inevitable demise, utilizing magic spells, guns, and swords to fight back against the hordes of Hell.
The carefully used mix of ancient evils, the ruins of London, and a Hellish apocalypse displays the potential depth of Hellgate: London had it stuck around longer than it had. Despite its struggles, Hellgate: London continued on to inspire spin-off books and graphic novels set within the games universe.
The games rich lore, potential future locales was perpetuated through the games six unique classes, each from one of three factions, and each providing their own unique story to tell within the world of Hellgate: London. Much akin to others like themselves, the Templars are holy warriors adorned in high-tech armor and offer two subclasses such as the Guardian, a subclass focused on their defensive abilities much like Destiny 2’s Sentinel subclass for the Titan.The Templar’s even see a secondary class known as the Blademaster, something that resembles that of the Psycho from Borderlands as it hones in on its skill of being a close ranged character utilizing brutal close range attacks. In turn, you also have the Hunters, a rag-tag group of factionless survivors.
These are your scientists and your mercenaries that have banded together in order to survive. In the Hunters, you have two subclasses that are rather remarkable in their own rights. First, you have the Marksman, a subclass focused on its use of evasive skills and accuracy whereas the Engineer is less focused on the use of attacks, but more focused on its use of technology. The Engineer was well utilized when buffing friends and debuffing enemies in order to control the ebb and flow of combat.
And then you have The Cabal, a faction of magic-wielding users consisting of two magic-focused subclasses. First, you had the Evoker, a subclass focused on unleashing powerful attacks by utilizing focus items to power their attacks. Then you have the Summoner, a subclass that focused on summoning forth power elemental and demonic minions that would be used in order to rid the world of demonic foes.
As expected, each of these factions helped to bring the world of Hellgate: London to life. Unless you’ve read the books and graphic novels, you wouldn’t know just how compelling the lore of Hellgate becomes or why its hard to understand why this game had failed.
Hellgate: London wasn’t scared to take some massive risks
In Hellgate: London the setting is just as eerie as it sounds. Set in a London only in 2038, Hellgate isn’t far off from our modern day-in-age and still offers up an experience unlike any other. Whether it’s the bleak and sinister atmosphere of London’s war-torn streets or the shadow ridden subway stations that provide little to no safety from the demonic threat that lurks in the tunnels just seconds away, Hellgate: London is unique in what it does.
Unlike Destiny 2, we are given a clear picture of everything that is going on. Humanity is on the verge of extinction. There are no immortal Guardians who can resurrect rapidly through the use of the Traveler’s light or New-U Stations planted carelessly through the lands of Pandora. It’s not uncommon to see various heroes within Hellgate: London falling in combat never to walk again.
But that’s the bigger picture: Nothing lasts forever in Hellgate: London. Unlike Destiny or Borderlands, where death is permanent and heroes only live on in the memories of those who knew them. While the outlook of humanity is bleak in Destiny, the series is rather scared to take risks and show the human side of its characters. While Borderlands has certainly taken these risks with the death of characters Handsome Jack, Angel, and Roland.
But why are these risks? How are these something other games should find inspiration from? At the time, Hellgate: London was a one of a kind game that no one has been able to replicate or has even been willing to take the risk of recreating in any way possible. Even with several developers still around from Blizzard North, no one has taken another stab at one such title nor has anyone seemed to be willing to do so in recent years.
Now, here’s where the inspiration from Hellgate: London comes to play in modern games.
You see, Hellgate: London, at its very core, is a Diablo-like hack ‘n’ slasher that controls more like a first-person shooter that can be played in the third-person perspective. Just as you can imagine, the latter is highly emphasized on in this genre by future titles such as Borderlands and Destiny 2 where they were designed as shooters first and loot-based ARPGs second. In turn, Hellgate: London was designed the other way around, focusing on its ARPG loot-based antics first and shooter elements last.
If you look at who developed those games, it’s hard not to see why this could be problematic for their games. They are both developed by teams that are veterans of first-person shooters. Both teams are well known for their works on previous titles such as Duke Nukem, Shadow Warrior, and even Halo. To put it simply, the games that came after Hellgate: London improved heavily upon the titles lack-luster shooting mechanics.
But after you play each of the aforementioned successors, you’ll finally begin to realize that Hellgate: London was an attempt at succeeding upon the shortcomings of Diablo and Diablo II. While Hellgate: London had its own problems at launch, the game eventually became a competent ARPG and eventually began to take the proper steps to succeed where it had begun to fail.
Unlike its genre successors, your choices in Hellgate: London felt like they mattered.
In Borderlands and Destiny 2, it’s not hard to notice their core mechanics. They’re both action-shooters with RPG elements. Both inherently take on the attempted use of meaningful RPG mechanics such as quests, open-world sandboxes to explore and skills that seemingly attempt to alter how players interact with their games.
However, Hellgate: London was a step above them all in several ways. It’s skill trees felt as if they mattered. Each ability point could be spent on branching paths, each offering players a chance to create their own viable builds and utilize ability synergy in order to optimize their characters to how they see fit. This approach made customization and progression more meaningful and less wasteful than we’ve seen in games such as both Destiny entries.
In many ways, you could truly think of Hellgate: London as the Diablo that almost never was and a Diablo-like shooter that with its pseudo-MMO like mechanics when they played the game online. Many years later, games such as Borderlands, Destiny, E.Y.E: Divine Cybermancy, and even Warframe would succeed where Hellgate: London failed. They would garnish larger and more sustained crowds than Hellgate: London.
Sadly, all that followed after Hellgate: London failed to capture fans the way this now dead title had. It’s loot actually mattered, no encounter was ever the same, and ultimately, it was a well-conceived title that was ahead of its time. So-much-so that games like Firefall and Defiance would attempt to replicate what Hellgate: London had done only to fail while others would draw inspiration from its unique action RPG elements filled to the brim with loot grinding antics.
A tactic that Destiny 2 has tried to do, but has since deviated from, which has caused a lack of items that can be earned and reasonable replay value. While Destiny, the predecessor to Destiny 2, certainly had rather unpredictable loot tables and item rolls, something of which Destiny 2 doesn’t have. While Hellgate: London is certainly a dead title, outside of a currently ongoing fan revival known as Hellgate: 2038, they both still offered high replay values, stories that carried enough weight to them that fans kept coming on playing post-game.
Sadly, Destiny 2, more-so than any other game, may find quite a bit of reason to look into Hellgate: London for potential solutions to the games ongoing problems. While Destiny 2 is still active and Hellgate: London is a shadow of its former self (outside of project Hellgate: 2038), its situation isn’t any better, which makes Hellgate: London an arguably better game.
If Destiny 2 is looking to succeed, it may be advisable for Bungie to draw inspiration from the game, see what it did wrong, but also to see what it did right and why fans, even 11 years later, are still playing Hellgate: London and talking about it to this very day. For now, however, we can only hope that games that follow suit continue to be unique, continue to innovate and drive player interest to all new heights. If not, the future for loot shooters is grim and seems that only a few will exceed expectations where only a few have tried.
About the Writer:
Dustin is our native console game reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the borders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPGs, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.