Tales of WoW Tourism
Once upon a time in another life I was a thoroughly devoted World of Warcraft player. Thoroughly devoted in that it was my home base of operations, and I would go off on these short jaunts into other titles. The term “WoW Tourism” was apt because when I ventured out I would often go on these excursions with a large chunk of my House Stalwart friends and raiders. We would set up temporary bases on the shores of these new game worlds and then within a month or two we were all back thoroughly devoted to Warcraft again. To be truthful I think this constant flow of games to keep going off and exploring helped keep us planted in Azeroth for as long as we did. It gave us the opportunity to go out and see what was available, only to fall back into the comfortable rhythm of the familiar. There were so many different games that fell into this bubble like Lord of the Rings Online, Warhammer Online, Champions Online, Star Trek Online…. I am seeing a pattern here that apparently during the 2000s you could just graft the word Online onto anything and make it sell a couple of million copies. The jaunt that I was most likely the most devoted to however was Hellgate London. The story behind the game is something of legend, as a bunch of folks parted ways with the Blizzard mother ship and set out to build a better mousetrap. It had an awesome storyline, and great futuristic MMO meets Diablo gameplay. The problem being is it had a bunch of issues at launch.
As was our usual fashion we had like fifty people in the House Stalwart guild at launch, and then a month later only a handful of us were still regularly playing. I was one of that handful and I actually subscribed to the game for quite a while. Its key problem however was it had some extremely messy network infrastructure. At this point I am not sure if it was bad code or lack of servers, but in any case its key promise of massively multiplayer diablo… never really panned out. In our experience if you grouped with more than one other player, the game started to lag to a point where it was completely unplayable. Since we were an MMO guild, the fact that we could not regularly group together pretty much killed our experience, and before long everyone was back in World of Warcraft. The thing is I have always held a torch for this game because you would be hard pressed to find an experience that was more “me”. Killing random zombies and demons that drop all the colors of the rainbow in loot rarity? Fuck yes sign me up. The tragedy of the tale however is that by the time Hellgate launched, Flagship studios was already in trouble and news of that was starting to leak out around the seams. The studio closed around a year later and with it both Hellgate London and the unreleased game Mythos went up in smokes. Throughout that year I was still playing my characters on a semi regular basis in single player mode, but I took got pulled back into the draw of World of Warcraft as I started raiding more seriously as a main tank for the group NSR.
Travelling Through Time
Over the last few days I have felt that itch of nostalgia about this game, and I had known for awhile that the original was purchased by the Korean developer HanbitSoft that later got gobbled up by T3 Entertainment. I had also heard that they released an expansion of sorts for the game called Hellgate Tokyo, and that more or less the game was playable for free. I’ve known for a bit that there was a Steam Greenlight page for Hellgate but to the best of my knowledge that has gone no further in actually getting it onto steam and making it a viable modern experience. Instead I found my way out to the T3 Fun Hellgate download page, where you are given a selection of awkward methods to get the client. The first option was one of two torrent links, that no one seemed to be seeding. The second option was the download of four RAR files directly from T3, or a series of mirror sites…. none of which seemed to actually work. The only real option seemed to be to download the RAR files and hope everything completed successfully as they were each roughly 2 gig in size. The first archive was a self executable but there was no way in hell I was going to run that, so thankfully 7zip was able to extract the whole package safely to a sub directory. From there we get to the client install which took a truly excessive amount of time for a roughly 6.5 gig game. From there I started running into problems with the game launcher itself, which had some of the most curious engrish I have seen in awhile. You run again little patcher, you run to your heart is content! I am still thinking we need to make the above statement into an inspirational poster. After letting it close and reopen a few times it finished patching up and I was able to get into the game.
I have to say if I did not know that this was in fact a legitimate version of the game I would assume I was running on some sort of emulator server. When the game first loads you are thrown into a sort of tutorial room that has vendors allowing you to use TCOINS the cash shop currency to pay your way past some of the obstacles. You are given an assortment of freemium items to try out, which mostly is an assortment of boosts and convenience items that you don’t really need. Once I got through the awkward lobby it joined the game proper that I was most familiar with, and started questing through the first few areas. It seems like some of the scripting is broken, in that I got a series of quests that rewarded me the exact same item over and over which was the equivalent of “Wirt’s Leg” from Diablo. There is also a strange amount of Engrish going on in some of the messages, largely strange because it seems like this game was translated from English to Korean… and then back to English when they launched the client here. I mean all of the quest dialog was originally in English, so it makes me wonder if no one actually saved a backup of that dialog when localizing it? All of the awkward patches aside the game runs remarkably well, and while it is a decade old it still looks passable. I am notorious for not really reading dialog messages, and apparently one of them told me that none of the changes I made would take effect until I restarted the client. As a result most of the screenshots that I took have exceptionally muddy textures, and for the most part that was my big complaint. However it seems that after restarting the client as the game suggested the textures don’t look half bad… once again considering the ages of the client. The above screenshot is with all of the sliders set to max, and I can accept the way that looks.
War Against Demons Never Changes
The game for the most part plays just like I remember it playing. I started a Templar Guardian which is their tanky class and proceeded to wander around killing demons and getting a silly amount of loot. The primary difference that I remember from the original is that HanbitSoft seems to have inexplicably decided to code it so that these insane named epic spawns happy called “Messengers of Hell”. You get a broadcast when it happens and more often than not they spawn in right beside you and proceed to start wrecking you. The very first one of these that I fought I barely survived, and there have been a few other close calls. The positive however is that they are essentially giant loot bags. When you kill one they erupt into a shower of gear and I have managed to pick up several orange quality upgrades off of them. At any given point they are dropping several tiers higher gear than is available from the surrounding mobs, so I make a beeline to get to them and take them out as quickly as possible. The other thing that I had forgotten was the mingame. If you look in the screenshot above there are three icons hovering above my secondary weapon attack. I never quite figured out how they worked back when we were originally playing, but if you get a certain combination a random shower of loot spawns and places a nifty sound effect. There was apparently a guide on Massively that is still available through the Engadget site that does a pretty good job of explaining how it works. If nothing else it adds for momentary excitement when the loot explosion happens.
The funny thing is… the game still does it for me. It triggers all the happy endorphin releases that a video game should, and it has made me lament what might have been. Hellgate London was just such a cool franchise, and with it spawned a series of novels that were actually enjoyable reads. Really it was like roaming around in a MMO Doom universe where the world has been sacked by demons and the survivors all struggle to exist in the remnants of the abandoned subway system much like the Metro series of games. It scratches all of the right itches as far as an post apocalyptic game goes, and I would love to see what Hellgate would be like in a modern context. The problem being… that is never going to happen. It seems as though HanbitSoft/T3/Redbana don’t really care much about this game. From reading on the forums it seems like exploits are common and widely used, and they don’t much care one way or another about it. I had a lot of fun playing however and I managed to spend roughly three hours in the game last night. I know this because there is a little warning that kept popping up explaining each time another hour had passed that “Excessive game play may affect your lifestyle.” The other glimmer of hope is that there is apparently something called the Hellgate Revival project, which attempts to take the original Single Player mode and decouple it from needing a server and update it. I am going to try and apply all the necessary patches to the original game to get it to a state where I can test out the revival mod and see how well it works. Hellgate really was a damned fun experience, and I am happy that I am able to play it in any form. Excuse me while I continue to wallow around in nostalgia for a bit longer.