Autopsy, Part 4

By Shamus Posted Thursday Jun 12, 2008

Filed under: Game Reviews 36 comments

Hellgate week plods ever onward. This is the last of these grim reviews. This has not been a pleasant experience, cataloging this long list of failures. I feel like a vulture that perches at the foot of your deathbed and then wearies you with an extended account of everything you did wrong in life. This is a joyless task, although I do have a purpose in mind.

Tomorrow I’ll have something more positive about the game.


I think people have already covered the problems with the leveling in the comments of the other posts. But to sum up:

  1. There is little or no guidance as to what a spell or ability will do before you purchase it.
  2. Many of the skills turn out to be useless.
  3. There is no respec – no way to recover mis-spent skill points. Which, considering the first two flaws, is pretty easy to do.

Suggestion: Unlike the other issues with the game, most of this could be fixed fairly easily. Allowing users to pay palladium to re-allocate skill points would fix 90% of the gripes with this part of the game.

The Online Experience

I don’t play MMO’s, so I’m not really qualified to judge the quality of the online experience. I’ve been playing online every evening for the last five nights. To me it feels much the same as the single-player game, but with very mild and occasional lag, and slightly fewer bugs.

I never got around to grouping with anyone (which I intended to do for the purposes of this review) but it was nice having the chat window there. It was an additional vector of information about the game, and occasionally gave me something to read while waiting for my shields to recover. The game was very solo-friendly even into my mid-teens. Given the number of solo players I saw milling around, I’m guessing you can keep playing solo even into the high levels.

For the last three days the chat has been infested with people (probably bots, actually) flagrantly shilling leveling services by spamming the chat rooms. A single bot / user will go on for hours without anyone stepping in and taking action. I sometimes set them to ignore, but I’m shocked that there isn’t anyone around to take care of them. Don’t other MMO games forbid this sort of behavior?

Suggestion: Something really should be done about the spam bots.

The Mini-Game

I just discovered this in the comments on yesterday’s post. The mini-game is explained here. Three icons appear in the corner of the screen, each with a number. These are little tasks, such as “kill 5 demons” or “deal fire damage eight times” or “find three swords”. As soon as you complete all three mandates, you get a little reward and three new icons appear.

Having an endless supply of small, short-term goals is nice, and gives you a reason to mix things up and try different weapons. It eases the inherent grinding nature of games like this, and once I knew about it my enjoyment of the game was greatly increased. It’s simple, easy, and diverting.

Which makes is all the more irritating that they never, ever bother to explain the thing, anywhere in the game. It was a constant irritant for me. What are those three icons? What do they mean? Why are they there? No help. No mention. No tooltips. You have to read a forum post to know what the deal is. Even once I knew about the mini-game, I still had to Alt-Tab out of HGL to see what the next batch of icons meant. This is not a game that Alt-Tabs gracefully, and I shouldn’t need to do it at all.

Suggestion: This one is simple. Add a few tooltips. Boom. Problem solved, and the game suddenly becomes less irritating and more interesting. Even better, give a little message when all three are cleared that explain the reward. Of all the crazy stuff wrong with this game, here we have a feature that works properly but the game never bothers to let the player know about it.


From The Archives:

36 thoughts on “Hellgate:London
Autopsy, Part 4

  1. Gahaz says:

    Since you have now dipped your toe into the MMO market, how about trying World of Warcraft out for 10 days and seeing what you think.

    Its oh so tempting and easy to do…

    Its even older computer friendly, oh so friendly.

  2. Solka says:

    Don’t tempt him into MMO!

    1) It won’t work, I think..
    2) We still want regular updates from him

  3. Ron says:

    Ignore WoW. It’s not worth it. It’s just like EQ, where you cannot advance without grouping. I would recommend, like others have, Guildwars. I did not like the game when it first came out and didn’t touch it again until a year later when Nightfall came out. After reading your post. I think you would enjoy it. And there amount of “spam” chat is minimum, since there is only team chatting in the adventure world.

  4. lplimac says:

    I signed up for WoW’s ten day trial… think I even played a few times, then stopped. WoW’s boring to me. I much prefer LotR Online. Not having to play monthly helps (I bought the founders package with LotR). If WoW offered that I may try it again, but Blizzard has no need to offer it.

    Re: Solo play. One of the strange things with HG:L is that you never really have to team up with anyone to finish any of the quests. I played through the normal campaign, very rarely teaming up and when in a team we just did some side quests, not the main story-line. I guess that’s good, but for an MMO wannabe strange. Most other MMO’s I played some quests had to be done in a team. I do play in a weekly team but that’s just to have fun playing with friends, not because it’s needed to do anything.

    Once again, respecs are in the pike with the next update that’s currently in test. From what I understand you need to pay palladium to make changes with your stats but not sure.

    Not being into random chat I just leave the four main chat channels when I log on (there’s a /channelleave command for each). Haven’t tried the voice chat yet but I’m sure it’s for your team only.

    Anyway yes the mini game is another interesting, undocumented feature. I’d pay more attention to it if it gave better rewards. And that touches on my one big gripe with the game. Nearly all of the quest rewards are worthless junk, rarely is anything that you may want to keep given. Guess that’s intentional so people will farm mobs and the few named demons for good drops.

    @Ron And there amount of “spam” chat is minimum, since there is only team chatting in the adventure world.
    But when your in the towns… ye gods GW is the most spam filed game I’ve played!

  5. neolith says:

    I think your’re wrong there. You can progress in WoW from lvl1 to lvl70 without ever having to group once.

  6. daemon23 says:

    From what I can recall, the minigame was intended to be a mystery you were intended to solve, to reward experimentation. Of course, within a few days people had the entire thing explained to the nth degree and those explanations widely published, so it looks pretty pointless in retrospect. At this point they should look at fixing it, but they likely won’t.

  7. Factoid says:

    I find every MMO I ever play to be completely “Meh”. They just don’t appeal to some people.

    I was interested in Planetside when it came out…that sounded pretty awesome…like an MMO version of tribes. An FPS game that was persistant and was basically an ongoing never-ending war. There was leveling, but it wasn’t really “role playing”. You could log in, join a squad and play for a while, then log off, and you weren’t penalized for not playing 200 hours a month.

    It suffered from a poor implementation, though. I’m convinced the concept is sound.

    I think someone is working on something similar only set as a Space Flight Combat game. That might be awesome, except I’m sure they’re ruin it the way ALL space sims are ruined these days…by making it a mouse-operated 3rd person perspective.

    Space flight sims NEED to be first person to be immersive…and you need a joystick to play in first person. Joystick Keyboard flight sims are awesome. If someone made an MMO version of Tachyon, or Independence War, or Starlancer or Xwing vs Tie Fighter…I’d be onboard in a heartbeat.

  8. Gahaz says:

    Actually WoW is the most solo-friendly MMO out there. My wife (who hates any other game except peggle) Just likes leveling characters. She has leveled 3 characters to 70 and is on her 4th. She never groups and as soon as she reaches max level, where you have to start grouping, she moves on to another character.

    Besides, I (and probably a few others) would love to hear Shamus’s take on the big bad bear in the MMO landscape.

  9. Benjamin O says:

    Gahaz, Peggle rocks!

    WoW? Nah, if I have to pay to play a game, I’m not interested. I’d pay NO MORE THAN $5/month. That’s it.

  10. kmc says:

    I’m sure other people will write (possibly are writing right now) about the spam issue. The way it works is, if someone’s spamming, you report them as a gold spammer. I forget about WoW, but in LotRO, you just right click the character name and say “Report as gold spammer”. That character/account/ip gets banned (I’ve never been sure which), and that person is gone until they get right back on, create a new character, and go back to their old ways. It’s a system. Meh.
    My question is, it’s always seemed like there should be a better and more effective way to take care of that kind of thing, so has anyone else thought of a different way to do it? I’ve given it some thought, but haven’t come up with anything viable.

  11. Joe Osborn says:

    I find Tabula Rasa pretty interesting, and it has some similarities to Hellgate (actiony combat, future setting, etc). I’d be interested in seeing a comparison between the two in the style of these Hellgate articles.

  12. Nearly all of the quest rewards are worthless junk, rarely is anything that you may want to keep given

    That is a good thing about World of Warcraft — often quest rewards are well worth having or pursuing.

    It just took up so much time, which is why I and my daughter both quit playing.

  13. bargamer says:

    Yay for Guild Wars! Boo on WoW and LOTR Online! (Haven’t played Tabula Rasa since the Open Beta.)

    Seriously, you could describe LOTRO in 3 words: Korean-style farming. Every damn aspect of the game is about farming, in some shape or form. Leveling, quests, crafting, PVP, and “bonus attributes,” there’s nothing to do in that game but grind, grind, grind. Worse still, even after all that grinding, you find out that some classes are just inherently better. *Cough*Champions suck*Cough*

  14. thepanzer says:

    You should give WOW a try just for a comparison basis. As much hate is spent on WOW from various corners there’s a reason it has 10 million subrscribers and has sucked all the oxygen from the room for PC gaming. The attention to detail, polished nature, intuitiveness for most actions, and user friendly enviroment have essentially set the standard for what a fantasy MMO should be. Once you play you’ll see why nearly every new MMO has to pass through the “comparison to WOW” gauntlet. That isn’t to say it doesn’t have failings as it does like all games do, but on comparison with the rest of the MMO market it knows what its doing. My main issue with WOW is I’ve done everything I want to do in the game and am bored as hell looking for something new. Once you’ve reached your goals in PvP, raiding, questing, and instancing then you’re done until the next expansion. Granted it’s taken me 4 YEARS to get bored with all their is to do and I can’t think of any other game I’ve played continuously for so long, so again more reasons for 10 mil subscribers in WOW and…ahem…a lot less in HGL.

    Now if only I could get a MMO based off of Homeworld 2 I could die and go to heaven. WTB more space MMOs!

  15. Shawn says:

    If you do sign up for WoW, create a character Alliance side, on the Kirin Tor server. Then you can join the Pig and Whistle Society, the ridiculously awesome guild that I happen to be the leader of.

  16. Nilus says:

    Me and my wife like Guild Wars. Since my wife has implemented a rule that any MMO I play she gets to play too, Guild Wars was one of the few affordable ones.

    As far as other MMO. World of Warcraft didn’t pull me in, I really don’t get its appeal. I think the problem is for me a good MMO has to get me into the game before I even start playing. I want character creation to be unique and fun and have a lot of variety. This is probably why the last MMO I actively played was City of Heroes. Honestly I enjoyed making characters more then actually playing the game but it was fun. Its still the only MMO I have seen where you could make a truly unique character.

  17. Thanakil says:

    I find WoW to be immensely enjoyable from 1 to 70. And yes, you can easily solo from 1 to 70, you just need to know where to find “quest hubs”. (Basically, where npcs giving you quests are located) Missing on some of them can be pretty bad since you miss out on gold mines of experiences, but asking for help/directions from other players (or just looking on various websites) can fix that. Having a nice guild will usually make that easier, since they can direct you (on your first character) on where to go.
    (And druid is a really fun and diversified class, just throwing that out there ;))

    Grouping (to run 5-man instances) is still recommended since they are pretty fun (if you find a good group) and can smoothen you levelling (they usually have a few quests who help give you better equipment, and will make getting one level pretty easy, especially with the exp you get in the instances).

    WoW becomes kinda boring once you reach the max level tho… The PvP was awesome the first few days I played it, then became kinda repetitive afterward. Raiding was really really great with a nice guild, having nice people with who you play as a team to raid was really nice.

    Too bad it ends up in a “repeat the same stuff again and again until you learned how to do it perfectly” tho. I was a healer for the top guild of our server, so we usually were able to learn raids pretty easily, but the amount of “Do it again, stupid” and the amount of farming for pots, buffs, whatever (or just paying for the repairs of the main tank) were all boring.

    No idea if it’s different now (was about a year ago, maybe?) but WoW was definitely fun for at least 1 to 70. (60-70 is the best damn part of it too). I just found the endgame to be really boring after a while.

    LOTRO isn’t that bad a game. I didn’t find the game (after launch) to be that great, but the constant flow of additional content is really a big plus for the game. They kept adding more and more, some of it focusing on the social aspect of a MMO, some of it on stuff to do (new areas, ect).
    LOTRO isn’t a awesome MMO, but it has a lot of things that can be fun.
    The classes themselves I do find are kinda lacking, and fighting isn’t that fun (or maybe just my class, playing a instrel). It can be kinda bad for a game where you spend most of your time in combat (when leveling up) to have fighting bores the player.

  18. lplimac says:

    @bargamer: Worse still, even after all that grinding, you find out that some classes are just inherently better. *Cough*Champions suck*Cough*

    Solo, Champions ain’t much I’ll grant you (I have a lvl 50 one) but they shine in well balanced teams and the PvP zone. They can be mini tanks, the best melee DPS and AoE. Just have to have the traits slotted correctly to take advantage of their strength. As for what else you say, well lets agree to disagree :)

    Stephen M (Ethesis): Same with LotR. You can buy or craft nice stuff but some of the quest rewards are the best items in the game :)

    Minstrels really shine in Fellowships. They are OK solo but, if there is a quest that requires a fellowship Minstrels are always in high demand for the quest. As a support character they can’t be beat

  19. Belzi.ET says:

    About WoW. I would really enjoy Shamus view, too.

    From my point of view. WoW offers both, the possibility of playing solo or in a group. My girlfriend was playing like Gahaz’ wife. Creating a character, leveling him to max-level, become good in professions (those recipes available) and then started a new one.
    Some time ago, I invited her to join our 10-man group to visit a dungeon. In the beginning she was afraid of making mistakes or be contra-productive to the group. But after about half an hour it pleased her to play in a group with people she knew (we had a real-life guild-meeting). Since then we play in this group once a week and try to pass some challenges.

    For most of the points you had about HG:L, WoW does quite a good job. There are 6 crafting and 3 gathering professions (you can choose 2 of them), 9 classes each with 3 skill-trees (you can respec, just have to pay a little bit), quest-rewards during leveling are useful, every button / skill / talent has a informative tooltip and the whole world is splitted in various regions with different atmosphere (desert, jungle, forest to just mention a few).
    It offers a wide range of “tasks” and therefore probably everyone finds his place and joy within the World of Warcraft.

    Ok, this sounds like a fanboi. But before I tried it I would never have believed to pay a monthly fee to play a game. Now I’m playing for more than a year and still always find something to have fun. One day I’m roleplaying and fishing, the other I try to do low-level group-dungeons solo.

  20. Lintman says:

    Shamus, have you played Titan Quest and its expansion? It’s a pretty good Diablo clone from a couple years back and now available fairly cheap (though I paid more than $20 for it).

  21. Thanakil says:

    Yeah I know, that’s why I wanted to play it, I usually love playing support classes. (Main reason why I rolled Druid for WoW. They are a excellent support class, making them great in a group, but still managed to be fun when you played alone.).
    But I just find leveling boring with them (Minstrel), I don’t know if it’s because of fighting in Lotro being boring in general, if it’s because of the class not being fun to level up, or possibly just the area which I’m in. (it could very well be the area/level-range being the problem)

    I gotta try getting 5 more levels and see if the game gets more fun after that, there’s so many things outside of it in LOTRO that interest me that I don’t wanna give up on the game just yet because of this. It seems like a pretty complete and polished game.

  22. Russ says:

    After reading all 4 of parts of your HG:L autopsy, you are spot on. I loved Diablo 2 and was hoping Flagship could deliver another great experience. But suffering through the games shortcomings, I was still determined to beat it just so I could say I did. However, bugs prevented me from getting anywhere. I eventually dropped the game and went back to Titan Quest: Immortal Throne.

    Titan Quest along with its expansion nearly perfects the third person looter game. The classes and combinations are interesting,loot comes at a quick rate, you are constantly moving through new and different environments, you can respec skill choices with a little gold, collect and socket charms, and the game is fairly robust and runs well on older machines.

    If I could make one change to the game, it would be to add a “Gheed” character so that you could blow all the gold you collect on gambling for rare items and sets.

  23. Dev Null says:

    Actually, even as a WoW addict myself, I suspect Shamus wouldn’t like it. Unless you join up with a group of people you already know and like, the social side of it takes quite awhile to filter out the annoying dweebs and find a circle of people you enjoy playing with. Dragging real-life friends in to play is a good option, but S has commented enough that computer games are mostly a solitary pursuit for him, and he does his socialising in person – like with his tabletop games, about which we’ve heard so much.

    As a solo game, WoW works ok, but mostly as a means to an end (endgame raiding); it misses the point. Well-detailed world, but no actual plot – and Shamus likes a little story in the mix.

    I’m not saying you _couldn’t_ like it Shamus, I’m just amused by all of the campaigning to get you to try something that doesn’t really seem like your bag (from, of course, only what we know of you through your blog.)

  24. WindBlade says:

    I’m currently messing around with a free to play FPS/MMO hybrid game called exteel.

    Its primarily a standard online shooter with upgradeable anime style giant robots.

    As with most F2P games, there are items that can be bought with real money, but these don’t break game balance if you really don’t want to pay, and are very cheap if you do.

  25. AndrewNZachsDad says:

    A number of people have touched on one of the aspects of WoW (and, I would assume, most other MMOs) which is at the core of why Mr Young does NOT play online games. Per Belzi.ET: “But after about half an hour it pleased her to play in a group with people she knew”. A number of people have extolled the virtues of group play in WoW with a group of people you know, whether in real life or simply through online communities (a guild composed of Twenty-Sided Tale fans, perhaps?) There are two problems I have personally experienced with this, however:

    1. If you are trying to complete quests which would benefit from grouping but no one you know is available, you are stuck grouping with whatever people you can find. God knows who you will get: it could be an enlightening experience reaffirming your faith in Almighty God, or it could convince you that this world is swiftly sliding into a fiery furnace. The chances of the latter are significantly higher.
    2. If you are lucky enough to start on a server at the same time as all those friends of yours, as soon as you log off to take care of less important things (like eating, sleeping, work, family) your friends will swiftly leave you in levelling dust. By the time you log back on they are all enjoying the endgame events while you wander around Westfall seeking skins and herbs and murdering hapless boars. As others have mentioned, not remaining at your computer for in excess of 8 hours every day means you will not be able to keep up. Pair this with the fact that people who play that much will inevitably know how to level faster than you anyway and you will swiftly lose any interest in feeling like a loser whenever you log on.

    I played for about 9 months before deciding that I was not willing to put enough work into making my monthly subscription cost worth it. Part of it may have been that I felt obligated to play as much as I could to get ahead. At that point, it really becomes like having another job. And one that I’m paying to work at, to boot.


  26. Poet says:

    If you’re going to play an MMO, wait for a good one. Star Trek Online will no doubt be out before doomsday.

  27. Ian says:

    @Factoid: [PlanetSide] suffered from a poor implementation, though.

    I beg to differ — PlanetSide suffered from SOE.

    PlanetSide used to actually require tactics, building up squads, and raiding facilities. The balance was good, the gameplay was fun, it was unique. You had to have a varied squad to survive, including vehicle pilots. Death didn’t harm your precious skills in any way, but it was a terrible inconvenience when you were trying to defend a base (since, after a base lost power, you would have to hike from a nearby tower or from your home base…ouch). They had a large transport ship that would drop anyone off anywhere, but it only triggered every 30 minutes to encourage squad formation. Despite this, an instant action mode was still provided for people who wanted to act like mercs. It was awesome.

    Then, shortly after release, they tried to make it appealing for the average deathmatcher. They made it so that death, well, wasn’t much more than a minor inconvenience. The HART (aka big friggin’ transport) timer was reduced to something absurd like five minutes, so people never bother to form squads anymore because there isn’t a point — it takes longer to form a squad and actually use tactics than it does to jump in and die in ten seconds. They nerfed the Vanu Sovereignty’s weapons to the point of totally suckage. They were already hard enough to use before (though powerful once mastered). Now they’re hard to use and weak. Makes sense, right? Instant action no longer has any meaning because the entire game is now a lousy team deathmatch with capture points.

    Ugh. It actually pains me to write that. PS was so much fun in beta, it bugs me to see how badly it was ruined after it was released.

  28. Poet says:

    Funny, I mention ST Online, then decide to see if there was ever any update on it.
    Bam. Just a few hours ago.

  29. You can get a lot of the feel for WoW from guides like this:


    and this http://www.wow-pro.com/leveling_guides/james_alliance_leveling_guide

    Almost good enough that you don’t even have to play the game to get the feel. ;)

    I played 1-70 solo, with some on the fly grouping for some of the quest instances. Most of my play was 5-6 o’clock a.m.

    I slipped up and ended up on a RP PvP server (I picked it for low population …), if I had known better I would have been looking for a PvE server.

    I’m not sure what to make of the token/daily quest approach, since the tokens get you better equipment than the top crafting equipment … but I don’t plan to reactivate my account until the next expansion, if then.

    It was a great game, but it is too easy to spend 3-4 hours a day on it, day after day, between myself and my daughter (who wanted me to create a separate account for her so we could play at the same time).

    Interesting to compare it to HG:L.

    I think they really missed a lot, so many wrong choices. I’m wondering how they managed to not see the problems coming, or if they were just cutting corners and on too tight of a development budget for too long.

    Since Korea seems to be a big success for them, I’m really wondering if HG:L II will resolve all the problems they have and be a success. Looks like they have enough revenue now that they’ll get the follow-up game out.

    In which case, this autopsy might well help them.

  30. ngthagg says:

    Shawn: Or, he could create a Horde character, like real men do :)

  31. Dys says:

    May as well tag this on the end here. My main problem with hellgate was the sameyness. I worked out the modding system and the mini game without help, though it took a while. The game started crashing on startup a while back so I stopped playing, these posts have made me want to play again so I intend to remove and reinstall. The point I wanted to raise is : Hellgate is one of those games what requires the disk for the uninstall process. What the hell is up with that?

  32. Dys says:

    Added to that, the registration key is already in use since I installed the game before and created an account, yet hellgate’s website cannot find said account or even recognise my email, therefore I cannot reinstall the game. Fantastic.

  33. Dys says:

    Because the EU accounts are held by a different domain, and the US site knows nothing about them. Of course, which site does google take you to? Does it ever ask you which region your account is in? Not the first time I’ve enocountered this kind of grief.
    Sorry for cluttering up your comments here, but this kind of thing really irritates me.

  34. Derek K says:

    @Ian: Planetside still kicks ass, man.

    Squad based tactics aren’t required – you can footzerg with the greenies as much as you like, just throwing bodies at someone. And it’s fun enough to do. Or you can do all the Combat Engi stuff (they’ve added 2 new layers to CE).

    But man, get yourself in an outfit that’s more than just “Oh, human body, invite!” and jebus, things change. My outfit typically has 5-15 people on a night. We have two basic requirements: If you’re on, you’re on vent. And if you’re on, you’re in the outfit squad, doing what they’re doing.

    I have a couple alts for when I don’t want to run with them. When I do, our single squad has more impact than 30 random people running around. Basic tactics (our big guys have huge, complex plans) are enforced, we move as a team, have a rezzer, enough armor to cover the squad, and an advanced hacker.

    It is a freakin’ blast. It’s the only MMO I’ve consistently played for the past couple years. Also, my wife revealed her very competitive side once we got in to PS. She is a beast, I tell ya.

  35. TalrogSmash says:

    For f2p MMO goodness, RuneScape by jagex

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