In 2007, Flagship Studios released Hellgate: London, a hack-and-slash action-RPG. The development house was made up of former Blizzard employees, and the game used many elements from Blizzard’s highly-popular Diablo series. Set in a post-apocalyptic London, demons have unleashed hell on the world, and it’s up to you to stop them.
While the reviews were average, one major problem was that this non-MMO tried to charge a subscription for “premium” multiplayer content. In 2007, the only games that got away with charging subscriptions were AAA titles by large studios. Free-to-play was considered an inferior gaming choice, and the idea of charging for a game that wasn’t an MMO was unheard of.
It was no surprise that the studio declared bankruptcy in 2008, and its assets were seized. Fast forward to 2011. At some point between 2008 and 2011 T3 Entertainment acquired the rights to the game in North America and Europe, and set up to make Hellgate: London (now Hellgate Global) a free-to-play MMO.
So being the MMO fan that I am, and looking for something to play with friends that isn’t a fantasy theme park MMO, I downloaded the client and fired it up. The first thing that greeted me was a clunky UI that looked like it hadn’t change since 2007. The second thing to greet me was the fact that I couldn’t remap my mouse buttons, forcing me into WASD controls against my will. OK, so a UI that doesn’t really work isn’t the best start, but I’ve worked around worse. So how about the tutorial? Well, it was about 10 minutes long, threw everything at you in a tidal wave of confusion, and then dumped you into a subway station, one of the safe hubs where you pick up quests and drop your stuff in your bank.
After a few minutes to get acclimated, I found a quest and jumped in to the killing. This was exactly as fun and mindless as it is in Diablo. Mow down hordes of enemies, collect tons of loot, sell loot, mow down more hordes of enemies, collect tons more loot, rinse repeat. Ah, but if it’s fun in single player, surely it rocks in multiplayer.
Well, turns out that that the half-assed multiplayer implemented in 2007 became…the half-assed multiplayer in 2011. Bugs that should never have made it to release in 2007 are still there in 2011. Like the fact that some of your party members can jump into an instance and not see other party members, even though they’re there and able to fight. And this can happen repeatedly, forcing your group to jump in and out until everyone syncs up. This may well be the worst network code I’ve ever seen, and it’s something that an MMO should never allow past closed beta. There’s also no way this game was released in 2007 without this bug. It adds weight to the theory that the online multiplayer portion was a last minute addition, an attempt to cash in on the subscription model that made people see MMOs as nothing more than free money generators.
Another problem we encountered (mind you, all this was within an hour of play) was that since I’d already done a particular quest the day before, when the other party members went to do that same quest, I was completely unable to join them. I couldn’t port to them; I couldn’t restart the quest. I had to sit out. I haven’t seen that in an MMO since, well, probably since 2007.
And that was the end of our Hellgate Global test.
From what I understand, the game is completely free for the first couple of areas (which will get you to around level 12), and after that, it costs $4 to unlock the rest of the world. This was an apparent last minute change to the payment model that came about during closed beta. When you think about it, that means it isn’t really a F2P game but rather they provided an unlimited time trial and charge extra for things like more bank slots and PvP arenas. Sure, four dollars isn’t much money, but when the game is this shoddy, it’s still not worth it. When the developers seem to love a product, it shows. When it seems they’re only in it to make money, that shows, too. I don’t pay for the latter.