Ah yes, the doomed titanic that with all its glitz and romance still fell to icy waters in a failure never to be forgot. A lifetime sub, who only got a mere fraction of the time it would take to balance the cost of a lifetime sub, I'm fully jaded against Failship studios, but this game is still one of my personal favorites.
The premise is simple: Lets make an action RPG that lets you play like a shooter too. Thus we have born the three main factions: The Templar (heavy metal and melee), The Hunters (sci fi military guns and robots), and The Cabalists (mages that wish to tame the demons and use their powers).
The three offer a diverse play field, each weapon feeling different from the others, and each LOOKING much different from the others. You certainly don't mistake the three factions for one of the others when you run into them. Of course, with that much faction going on, you would expect PvP, but NO! You can duel, sure, but who cares about beating up on each other with such a lovely bunch of demons around?
Anyways, lets get to the nitty gritty:
Graphics: This sucker can haul. There are a lot of people out there that complained about how bad it looked - they obviously haven't seen most other MMO's on the market at it's time. On the lowest settings, yes, it wasn't the most pretty of games, but it was one of the first MMO's you saw out there adopt the DX10, and (a couple patches later) the darn thing looks AMAZING. It's fully accented by all the lighting and tech-assets in game as well, so not only does it look pretty, but it does it in a tron-kinda way, if tron had knights, guns, and fireballs too.
Set-piece wise, yeah, it got bland. Although the tile-sets for all but the primary event locations would be randomly generated every time you went in (ie. Layout of the tunnels/ruins/whatnot are random) the actual pieces (buildings, cars, wreckage) was the same, so the path could very well be totally different, but they looked so similar in visuals that they all tended to blend together. Later patches added stonehenge, which gave a nice refreshing taste of the wilds (forest-y areas? Sweet).
Play: It was an action RPG. Instead of click-and-forget, you run around madly clicking (or holding down) the attack mouse button to kill stuff, in combination with skills from the usual hot-keyed toolbar of skills and items available. The layout of this, however, is nice and streamlined, so the majority of the screen is still clear for all that beautiful carnage.
Even with all the hacking and slashing, most melee weapons ended up feeling the same. The guns each had a feel of their own, big one shot spreads, little fully auto pingers, crazy big damage snipers, but most of those are limited to just Hunters. The magic skills where all pretty unique to an extent as well, as where the demonic-theme weapons the Cabalists used (one shot bugs, IIRC). Of course, the equipment is only as good as the randomly generated loot you find (or buy, as shops are also randomly generated). The old loot-enthusiast game play mechanic has worked for many a game, and really makes it feel awesome when you finally nab a super-rare item that puts all your current equipment to shame.
The inventory system had you playing "tetris" with items, squeezing different sized items into different spots to maximize the amount of stuff you could fit in your inventory before you had to go back to town to sell things. It was annoying, but later alleviated to an extent with the addition of cubes (little mini storage boxes that you could carry in your inventory).
Skills are straight forward, although what you equip is dependent on them as well in this game. For instance, want a real nice enchanted armor? Well, chances are it is going to use X stamina, Y strength, and Z willpower to equip it. All the items equipped must not have the "feed" (total reqs of the items) exceed the total available (your stat) or else you cant equip it. This really makes the +stat items feel valuable, but at the same time causes some grief when you put your stats one way to find out you needed it another for the newest thing you picked up.
Story: Uhm...it's by far not the best story in existence, although it itself is in existence, which is more than can be said for some games. It essentially is this weak string of events that makes sense for you to do, and holds everything together, but if also feels like someone from a SyFy original could have penned it as opposed to some great author of our times.
Audio: Its as good as one can ask for. Thunks and splats from swords, thuds and booms from guns, and the sizzle of magic are as they should be, critical hits reward the player with a splash of light and a nice identifiable sound effect, and the background audio really adds atmosphere (screams sometime send a chill right down the spine). The music is upbeat, normally doing nothing more than making your adrenaline flow a bit more and getting you back in the mood to slaughter evil creatures, and certainly it's not going to win any awards, but its there and its not bad at all.
Voice acting is, to an extent, awesome. The lines are believably British, but more importantly is some of the crude humor that can be picked up. One shop keeper delivers a line as you enter her shop along the lines of "Is that a heavy weapon in your pocket, or are you happy to see me?", while another comments that he "doesn't sell burlap sacks no more" after asking you if your looking for something for your ugly face. Mostly though, the voice acting is delivered as everyone's favorite RPG staple: the text box. We are use to it by now, so it's not to bad, although mostly all characters have at least a one-liner they spit off when you start to talk to them.
So yes, the game had problems when it came out, but in the hands of people that seemed to care more about their product, I have no doubt it would have been one of the greatest out there. Word is that the korean company that won the rights to it from FSS after they went under (Hanbitsoft, IIRC) has plans to release it over here (with new content and expansions) as a free-to-play called Hellgate: Resurrection. Apt name, and I know I would sign on without a doubt.