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Sunday July 15, 2007 2:34 am

E3 2007: Preview: Hellgate: London

Hellgate: London Logo

Here’s a quick rundown of what we learned about Hellgate: London as I got a tour of a few levels with Tyler Thompson, Flagship Studio’s director of technology.

Platform: PC

Release date: Still shooting for summer 2007 - which, let’s face it, is right now. According to Tyler, “We’re still working for that. If it takes a little bit longer, then we’ll let it take a little bit longer.” In industry speak that means, “If you don’t see it by August, you’ll see it for the holidays.”

Look: Flagship Studios, at its top levels, is populated by ex-Blizzard brains, including Diablo creators Erich Schaefer and David Brevik (and don’t forget Bill Roper, who played an integral role in the Warcraft, Starcraft and Diablo series). So, think Diablo, but much, much better looking. Tyler told me that the game is in the alpha stage. I’m used to seeing games in alpha looking a bit rough around the edges. This game was, in the levels he toured me, free of jaggies and visual glitches. The word that comes to mind is “shiny.” I found it to be very reminiscent of Diablo in look and feel. Of course, bear in mind the tour was guided, which means I only got to see the best looking areas.

The biggest improvement in look, and, ultimately, playability, is the improved camera from Diablo 2. Gone is the fixed, third-person isometric camera in favor of 360-degree, fully rotational viewing.


More after the break.

Features: This is an RPG, so you have the requisite six classes, broken down into subclasses of melee, shooters and healers, but there’s a lot of cross-over between them.

How Hellgate differs from Diablo, though, is in the total number and different kinds of weapons you’ll have available. Tyler says there will be well more than 100 unique weapons at your disposal and they will go far beyond the one-hand sword/two-hand sword/gun & crossbow paradigm.

Randomness and replayability seem pretty high. The different locations you work through on the map may consistently hold mobs of a certain level, but each time you revisit these locations, the mobs will spawn differently. In addition, there are a few extra nasty “random properties monsters” that pop up here and there throughout the world. In other words, you never know what will be behind the next door, pushing the replayability of Hellgate: London well past the 40 to 50 hours of the main quest chain.

Subscription details: Yes, this has been the big issue, with many dismayed at news that Hellgate: London would require a monthly subscription rather than being an expansion-based pricing model.

Yes, it will be subscription based in order to play the game to its fullest. Non-subscribers will be able to play single player and multiplayer online, just like subscribers. Subscribers, however, will have certain advantages of expanded gameplay. They will have more character slots, more item space, extra modes (including Hardcore Mode, vis a vis Diablo) and “added content,” which I assume means more levels.

Map size: Thompson said, right now, the map size is “getting close” to the size of Diablo’s map, which by no means is small. The different “acts” of the story do take you to different areas, but not to different “locations,” as the entire story takes place in London.

Quest variety: The variety of quests are definitely richer compared to Diablo, according to Tyler. Diablo’s quests mainly focused on killing this or collecting that. Hellgate: London will certainly contain those, but many will also be more objective-based, in that you do a task (i.e. turn on a series of turrets) or action (i.e. mind-control an enemy, run around in his brain and “fight” his “ego”) to complete the quest.

Notables:

-Will be DirectX 10 and DirectX 9. There will be multicore features, but the base specs needed to play will be intentionally low so PC owners shouldn’t have to run out and buy a new video card. Tyler wouldn’t be specific about what the minimum specs would be, but he said it will be at least four- or five-year-old video cards. It won’t look as good, I’m sure, but it will run.

-Not going to any consoles “right now.” “We have not announced any console plans,”... and please ignore the little man behind the curtain.

-Party size will probably be five. Raid content will be added, probably as ongoing content right after launch, but likely won’t be shipped with the game.

Overall impression: Right now the MMORPG market is ready for a new game, and there’s a lot of titles hoping to take advantage of Blizzard’s weakening grip. Given the fast action and appeal to twitch games - not to mention the phalanx of Diablo-starved RPGers – this might be one of the big hits of the year.

There’s certainly the right idea behind it and it appears to have a good foundation of action, play and look underneath it. But there’s still a lot of unanswered “ifs” to overcome - like server issues, bugs, balance and partying system, just to name a few.

There’s almost too many “ifs” to list, but you get the point. This is definitely going to be very good. The question is whether or not it will be great.

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