When it comes to reviewing Hellgate London, the natural game to compare it to is Guild Wars.  They were both made by ex-Blizzard folks, they share similar game design features, and they have some interesting differences.  A union of the best features from each game and culling the inane designs might improve both games considerably.

I have both games, including all expansions for GW, and I enjoy both games quite a bit. For now, I like HGL better, but that might be just because it’s new and shiny. 

The three biggest failures in HGL are:

Number One:

Lack of any re-spec’ing – GW is way more cool about this and lets you experiment a lot with different builds.  Sure there might be “cookie-cutter” builds found quicker this way, but I’ve also found many “non-traditional” builds that are simply awesome to play as well. I’d never be willing to put as much time or effort into “experimenting” with HGL, as I’d have to build up a whole new character just to play around with a  tweak or change to a current build.  Sorry, as a middle-aged adult with a “real life,” I don’t have that kind of time. The worst part about it is that a lead dev of HGL said it would be “trivial to implement,” but that they had no plans at this time to do so – ARGH! (interview).  If they’re so averse to continual respecs, they could implement a model similar to DAoC where you have the opportunity to respec at key character levels (LVL-20 & LVL-40). OR special “respec items” that drop from unique mobs (Like the Dragon in DAoC), or simply have people pay for respecs, either in paladium or $US, whatever – just implement it in some fashion.

Number Two:

A very primitive inventory system.  It’s a direct hold-over from Diablo, and it was one of “The Worst” things about Diablo as well. Ugh!  Again, GW is MUCH better about inventory control AND it has a shared stash, so you can move items from one character to another.  This feature was supposed to be available in HGL, but so far it hasn’t materialized – supposedly it’s scheduled for some future patch, but that’s only half of the inventory issue…  More items need to be “stackable” and you should be able to carry at least  45-50 items. GW is 45 on-person, 80 in shared stash, plus 250 of each of the 33 “craft” materials – and even then you run out of space quickly. In HGL, you’d be lucky to 10-15 items on your person and about the same in your stash – talk about cramped!

Number Three:

No Henchmen.  Ok, so let me get this straight.  You pull forward two of the most annoying things about Diablo (no respecs and cramped inventory), and you remove one of the funnest parts of the game – choosing and equipping a henchman. I really don’t follow the logic here. I think the devs were drunk or just in a pissing match or something during some of the key design phases of the game.  As a game designer myself, to perpetuate bad designs and remove good ones just doesn’t make sense to me. They obviously were thinking about it a little bit, because the interface does exist in the game – for the Engineer class, where his main ‘bot basically fills the role of henchman.

Number Four: (ya I know I said three, but…)

The “subscription” economic model.  At $50 for the game and planned future expansions, I’m not sure why they didn’t adopt the economic model that GW has used successfully.  No subscription, but you can pay “real money” for certain perks, like extra character slots. And an economic schedule that plans for each of the expansions to fund the work. GW is 4-expansions in and is now developing GW2 without having had to resort to a “used-car-salesman” economic model.  I’m willing to pay subscriptions to “real MMO’s” like DAoC, EVE, WoW, etc.  But not for glorified “battlenet” games like GW, DDO, and HG:L.  I -AM- currently a subscriber, mainly to open up more character slots and to play with my guild buds.  But I only see that lasting for as long as my guild-mates play, which I estimate to be about 2-3 months.  Then I’ll un-subscribe, play the single-player game and re-up my “real MMO” subscriptions (DAoC and/or EVE most likely – I don’t think I could ever go back to WoW).

Anyways, having said all that, I -still- really like HGL and would recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the Diablo series of games. It’s still in its infancy and I’m sure there will be much improvement over time, and even now it has a very fun gaming environment with a lot going for it.