Hands-On: Hunted The Demon's Forge
I got the chance to sit down with inXile Entertainment president, Matthew Findley, at this year’s QuakeCon and he introduced me to inXile’s upcoming title, Hunted: The Demon’s Forge. I was able to play a bit of the game while Matthew explained things and guided me through the different areas, ensuring that I experienced everything it had to offer so far.
Aesthetically, Hunted looks quite nice, though it’s a bit dark and shiny. While describing the setting to me, Matthew jokingly mentions that Hunted has been given the nickname “Gear of Warcraft” and I could kind of see why. The world of Hunted looks a bit like a fantasy prequel to Epic Games’ Gears of War. The same sort of slightly shiny, dirty, ruined wasteland look that dominated Gears of War is present here in Hunted, and personally I don’t think that’s a great thing. The main enemies I ran into in my playthrough of the game were goblins, or orcs or something like that. Hell if I could tell what they were as every one I saw was wrapped up in enough wet, shiny, black armor to make identification impossible. Actually, what they looked like were the armored orcs from the siege of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers. Though my point is that due to the dark, wet appearance of the world of Hunted, they could have been evil, armored carebears for all I could tell. While Hunted certainly deserves the Gears or War part of its nickname, I didn’t see very much Warcraft within the version of the game I played. The setting appears to be generic dark fantasy and that’s about it. There are some over the top fantasy moments, but the atmosphere they produce is less Warcraft and more God of War circa 1200’s.
Hunted: The Demon’s Forge, follows 2 mercenary adventurers as they pursue an army inhuman monsters pillaging their way across the land and enslaving townsfolk as they go. A co-op game, Hunted puts players in control of Caddoc the swordsman, and E’lara the scantly clad elf chick. Caddoc is a big, bald, tattooed fighter and E’lara is a buxom, blonde elf dressed in about 3 square feet of black leather (also tattooed). After being told by a mysterious spirit that fortune lies in a nearby village, the pair arrives to find the place ruined and the villagers slaughtered.
According to Matthew, Hunted is an attempt to return to classic exploration and dungeon crawl games. While a decent chunk of the game is the combat, about 30% of it is exploration. By activating a magical stone face you are presented with a riddle about sight. In this case, the stone face has one eye socket filled with fire. By placing a flaming arrow into the empty socket, I provided it with a second eye. The riddle completed, the face opened up into a doorway to a secret area. In another area, a skull above a fireplace mantle asks me to find the rest of its body. A quick search of the area revealed its bones and by burning them in the fireplace it opened a secret door and a treasure chest. While a pleasant addition to adventure games, these 2 examples really aren’t what I’d call dungeon crawling. I grew up on games like Baldur’s Gate, Darklands, Diablo, Wizardry, and Ultima, so it really takes a lot more then a few puzzles for me to consider something to include “exploration”. Then again, this was really the first time we’ve gotten our hands on Hunted, and there could be a lot more to it, so it’s a bit hard to make a decision about it just yet.
Unlike Gears of War, combat is neither clunky nor a chore. Both characters can switch freely between melee, ranged and magical combat. Spells can be cast either at your enemies or can be cast at your partner to “battlecharge” them. Cast lightning at the swordsman and his sword will glow with electrical energy. Cast the same spell at the elvish chick and her arrows become charged with electrical energy. Though these spells also have noncombat uses.
In dark caverns, your only source of light comes from the tips of the elf’s flaming arrows. Players choose to play as either of the 2 characters and can, at checkpoints, change over to the other one if so desired. Unlike other recent co-op titles I can think of *Cougharmyoftwocought* the AI in Hunted is actually pretty good. Even though it was a rough version of the game, there was no point at which I felt that my AI partner was holding me back or generally being a waste of space. Melee combat was a bit tricky at first but after a while I realized that the way to not die lay in using shields to block blows. Your shield ends up being your friend though after a while it will break and you’ll have to steal a new one from an enemy’s corpse. Weapons can be stolen from fallen enemies as well, but I didn’t see any sort of inventory system to keep track of them or store them other than the ability to carry 2 weapons at once. Meaning, if you find a really nice axe and a really nice mace, you’ll have to ditch one of them if you also find a really nice sword later on. Finally, the ranged combat was pretty fluid. Pull bow, aim, insert arrow into enemy’s head. Boss fights are a mix of straight up combat and strategy. While fighting one Geiger-esk demon, I was only able to start doing any real damage was when I battlecharged the swordsman, giving him the opportunity to wail on the monster with a glowing sword. The big downside to the combat system though is going to be its reliance on quick time events. While it didn’t appear as bad as God of War in this regard, there were a few quick time events I noticed during boss battles. I have to admit, after seeing that it’s going to rely on this tired and annoying game mechanic, my enthusiasm for Hunted diminished a bit.
Finally, while inXile has been quiet regarding the possibility of DLC for Hunted (rumors say they’ll have an announcement about it next month), they’ve already released details regarding the Pre-Order bonus packs available at different retailers. If pre-ordered from GameStop (stores or website), it will come with the “Darkset Pack” which contains special armor for both characters, an axe and shield for Caddoc, and a light sword for E’lara. Best Buy (stores and site) will give you the “Griffin Pack” which contains special armor for both characters and exclusive ranged weapons for both as well. Those seem to pail in comparison to the other 2 packs available. If pre-ordered from Amazon or Direct2Drive, you’ll get the “Demon Pack” which unlocks a new level and a demonic boss, as well as a new axe for Caddoc and an Annunvin character skin. Pre-ordering from Walmart (stores or website) or Steam will get you the “Assassin Pack” which unlocks a new level and a pale, gothgirl boss, as well as a bow for E’lara and a Seriphine character skin.
After my hands-on preview of Hunted: The Demon’s Forge, I still haven’t made up my mind about this game. It has a lot of possibility and the seeds of greatness are there. If the exploration and dungeon crawl aspects of the game live up to the hype, then I can really see this as being a title to keep an eye on. However, there is the risk that this game could turn out to be little more than another God of War/Gears of War clone, or at the very least, an uninteresting hybrid of the 2. It’s a pretty game, but in this day and age that really doesn’t mean a damned thing. At this point, it’s up to inXile to provide a game that lives up to it promises.