Hunted: The Demon’s Forge – gameplay impressions
Hunted: The Demon’s Forge is a modern co-op cover action game that looks to revive the memories of old dungeon crawlers, such as Wizardry and Bard’s Tale. Dungeon crawlers were massive in the 80s and 90s but it’s rare to see them these days.
When the guys at InXile were playing and creating these great fantasy games of the past, they always imagined what they would be like with better technology. In a sense, they are living this dream with Hunted.
Hunted follows the story of two characters, E’lara and Caddoc. In the beginning they meet up with a mysterious spirit named Seraphim. She tells them to head to the town of Diaphid, as there’s been some trouble, and to go speak to her father. Here starts InXile’s Eurogamer Expo presentation.
Controlling the characters are Matt Findlay (President of InXile) and Maxx Kaufman (Creative Director). They take us into Diaphid, where we find all the villagers missing. E’lara gives us a clue as to what’s happened to them: “The air is thick with death.”
Hunted sits comfortably over in the darker end of the fantasy spectrum. The setting is gloomy, and the music is eerie. The game doesn’t shy away from violence either; we see a surviving villager run out into the streets only to have his heart ripped out by a pursuing monster. A chase ensues which takes E’lara and Caddoc into a nearby dungeon.
Matt is playing as Caddoc, he’s a giant warrior who specialises in swordplay. Maxx has control of E’lara, a long-range specialist who uses her bow to devastating effect. Each player has three combat stances: ranged, spells and melee; but it’s fair to say that E’lara is best with ranged weapons while Caddoc likes his big melee attacks. Both are equally skilled with magic spells.
E’lara is said to be the most aggressive of the two, more likely to rush in and ask questions later. Surprisingly, Caddoc is laid-back and likes to strategise. Each character is comfortable in the other’s presence, and they regularly start bantering. The dialogue is overacted, but this suits the fantasy genre. Their humour adds some light relief from the misery in the story.
Each character has their own strengths and their weaknesses. E’lara is very good at helping from afar but her arrows are useless against berserker enemies. Caddoc should take these out himself.
“By having each character have their different strengths and weaknesses, and by designing enemies who have their strengths and weaknesses, we tried to create a situation where players have to use strategy. To try and figure out, based on what enemies are in the arena, what’s the best way to go in. Should E’lara rush in? Should it be Caddoc?”
We had an opportunity to go hands-on with Hunted later that day. We found it possible to get by doing our own things, but it was a struggle. It was only when we started tuning into each other – looking at what the other was doing – did we start to really maximise Hunted’s potential.
While InXile want you to work together, they don’t want you to be falling over each other. They are working on a philosophy of “co-op from a distance.” That means that you don’t have to be by your mate’s side all the time, as many of the skills can be used across the map. E.g. E’lara can revive Caddoc from far away.
You’re encouraged to split up and go your own ways. While playing as Caddoc, I slipped away from SupremeBeingJay and went exploring. My reward was a large and handy axe which unleashed hell on my enemies. I’m not sure if my colleague appreciated me disappearing, mind.
The gameplay is mixed up further by the introduction of magic. Spells are designed with co-op in mind. E’lara can freeze enemies with her ice spell, and the defenceless enemies can be smashed to pieces by Caddoc’s melee attack. Caddoc can also help E’lara by using his levitation spell. This lifts the enemies into the sky ready for E’lara to fire an arrow through them.
Playing as E’lara is a very different experience from playing as Caddoc. Thankfully InXile won’t force a player to stick to the same character they started with. At each checkpoint you get the chance to swap over and experience the other. We enjoyed having this freedom to mix the play a little.
A little flair is added to the combat with the occasional climax kill. These are brutal finishers used as signposts to signal the end of a fighting section. In the developer session we saw E’lara fire an arrow right through a monster’s eye; that looked painful. We also saw Caddoc forcing his sword into a monster forcing its blood to spill over onto the screen; that also looked painful.
Hunted has a lot going for it: graphically it’s pretty impressive with stunning vistas; the maps are larger than you’d expect; and the gameplay is very intuitive. If you’ve ever played a third-person game with cover mechanics (e.g. Gears of War) or any other action adventure game with swords, then you’ll feel pretty comfortable here.
This level of familiarity would normally leave us a little worried, but, in truth, Hunted’s gameplay suits being a little (for want of a better word) obvious. Because of the familiar gameplay, we were able to jump straight in.
The co-op aspects are what adds the freshness to the game. Co-op is still a genre which is yet to truly take off, although we can’t see that lasting. Hunted shows how much fun a dedicated co-op game can be; we can easily see ourselves spending our evenings slaying monsters with our mates.
The one disappointment is the lack of split-screen co-op. We asked Matt Lindsay about this and he said that he would have liked to have had split-screen but it would have meant scaling back the visuals. It was a sacrifice they understandably didn’t want to make.
We also asked Matt how he’d planned to vary the environments. He told us that Hunted would get the player out of the dungeons from time to time and into towns, temples and wildernesses. InXile spent a lot of money and time getting the visuals up to a high standards, so they want to get out of the dungeons occasionally to show off some wonderful vistas.
Hunted: The Demon’s Forge was said to be only days away from completion when we saw it. InXile will now start the BETA stage, and they hope to bring this dungeon crawler to you in early 2011.