Hunted: The Demon’s Forge
Developer: inXile Entertainment
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: 05/31/11
I admit it: I’ve been personally excited about Hunted: The Demon’s Forge for almost a full year now. Back when it was on display at E3 last year I spent a good amount of time with it and enjoyed the hell out of it, and when Bethesda offered us the chance to check it out back in February, I jumped at the chance, and I came away seriously impressed. I like the Gears of War style cover-based third person shooter, I like fantasy-based hack-and-slash games, I like co-op, and I like Rogue-likes, and Hunted: The Demon’s Forge promised to be all of those things at once, so basically, it was like inXile was making this game just for me. Now, obviously, I’m not a complete sap; I know that a game can look and sound great on paper and play like a nightmare in reality, and if Brink taught me anything, it was that no amount of positive first impressions make for a good final product. Further, inXile might have been enthusiastic about their game, but a brief look over of their developer credentials indicates that they’ve not really handled a high profile game before; the closest thing one can call “high profile”Â that they’ve developed was The Bard’s Tale, which was… okay, more or less, and everything else has been okay, kind of sort of. That said, the good news is that Hunted: The Demon’s Forge shows that they have the chops to hang as a developer, as it more or less pays off what it was going for. It makes a few missteps along the way, to be sure, but it’s a great semi-high profile attempt for the company and it’s easily one of the better games to be released this year.
Hunted tells the tale of two mercenaries, the human Caddoc and the elven E’lara, and how their quest for profit turns into a major epic endeavor to, well, you know. Save the world, that sort of thing. Anyway, while on a completely unrelated quest, Caddoc discovers a door he’s seen in his dreams, and after following the path behind it, he and E’lara come across a woman named Seraphim who seems to possess great magical power. As she explains it, she’s the daughter of a nearby noble who intends for the two mercenaries to speak to her father in hopes that they will undertake a mission for him, while also carting around this deathstone that’s lying nearby. Despite Caddoc’s fairly astute protests about the fact that “it’s a deathstone… next to a dead body”Â, the two end up doing this thing, and as a result, discovering a much bigger and more involved series of events than they could have begun to imagine. Hunted basically tells a tale that’s one part barbarian fantasy and one part a more developed Demon’s Souls, and for the most part, pulls it off well. The plot twists that come up aren’t particularly surprising, so to say, but the storyline works well, in one part because the game sells its concept and ideas well, and in one part because the banter between Caddoc and E’lara comes off as fairly organic, which adds a bit of fun to the experience. Hunted doesn’t take itself completely seriously, and it manages to have somewhat of a sense of humor without being absurd, with the end result being a story you’ll enjoy seeing through to its conclusion.
Visually, Hunted shows a lot of artistic attention to detail, but isn’t as technically sound as the developers might have wanted it to be. It’s like this: the game environments are generally very in depth and engaging, the important character models are well rendered and animated, and the various special and spell effects are quite beautiful in execution, so, by and large, you’ll find the visuals to be quite enjoyable. However, the fact that the game is rather massive but fits on one disc, combined with the fact that the game runs mostly smoothly without framerate issues or slowdown, basically means that as a result other things can be more obviously lower tier as a result. For instance, enemies are often not as detailed as important characters, and they repeat a good bit. Also, there are some mild glitches that pop up here and there, such as finishing strike animations that hit wrong or characters clipping into part of the environment, that don’t ruin the experience but do hurt it a little. The audio aspect of the game is more solid, fortunately, thanks in large part to an excellent voice cast. Caddoc and E’lara are voiced exceptionally well and really have great chemistry together, as odd as that sounds when describing video game characters, and Seraphim (voiced by one Lucy Lawless) has this enjoyable sound to her voice work that she may be a horrible or wonderful person and she’s not about to give you a hint which that really adds to the mystery behind the character. There are bits and pieces of voice work that aren’t up to this level of effort from random peasants and such, but these less stellar performances are few and over quickly, and the stars of the show are good enough that this doesn’t matter. The music is your expected rolling orchestral score that is fitting and appropriate to the subject matter, and while it’s not wholly amazing, it’s very good given the circumstances. The sound effects and enemy noises are also rather well done and fitting to the experience, featuring plenty of great battle noises and enemy effects that really help the experience along as well.
Hunted essentially works as a combination melee action game and cover-based third person shooter, depending on the circumstances. Each character has three different ways to fight enemies, depending on what’s best at the time and what best plays to their strengths. Both characters move with the left stick and either look around or aim with the right stick, dodge and take cover with A, interact with the game world with B, and use healing potions with the left bumper. Both characters can switch to melee with X, magic with the right bumper, and ranged attacks with the right trigger. While in melee combat, X allows you to attack repeatedly, while the left trigger allows you to raise your shield and block incoming attacks. While using magic, pressing the right bumper unleashes the attack, holding the right bumper can allow elemental attacks to be “battle charged”Â into an ally, and the D-pad can be used to switch between spells that are hotkeyed. While using ranged attacks, the right trigger fires shots and the left trigger allows for aiming and zooming in. It might seem a little daunting switching between the different combat styles, at first, but the tutorial does a good job of teaching you how they work and you’ll find you can pick them up without too much difficulty.
Hunted doesn’t just make the two characters interchangeable, however. Caddoc is a much better melee fighter, while E’lara is a much better ranged fighter, and the game makes it a point to make these differences a solid part of the game. Caddoc will spend a good portion of the game in the thick of battle, beating the hell out of various enemies, and as such, can wield heavier weapons, and can build up a Fury bar with successive strikes that unleashes massive damage on its victim. E’lara, on the other hand, can equip heavier bows that deal more damage and can rapid-fire shots or zoom in further, and she can light her arrows from fire basins for added damage and puzzle solving. Both characters both have spells available that they can use after the tutorial mission, based between elemental damage and weapon damage. Elemental spells are universal between the characters and can be fired at enemies or charged by holding the right bumper down to project them into your ally, increasing their elemental damage for a bit. Weapon skills are unique to the characters, and cannot be charged, but can allow them to deal additional damage or perform new techniques, as the situation merits. In single player games you can switch between the two characters as needed at stations that periodically pop up in the game, and while you can also do so in multiplayer, the dynamics of the experience change a bit, as you can instead leverage your skills to their best ability with a friend instead of swapping back and forth as the coming section will require.
The game also carries more than a few RPG elements under the hood. For one thing, you’ll find crystals as you progress through the game which can be used to buy new spells, as well as buy spell levels and upgrade the levels of the spells in question. Each character gets one crystal as you earn them, so you needn’t feel like you’ll have to short-change one character in development as this isn’t the case. The game also tracks various actions you perform, such as finding Dragon Tears (rare relics that pop up through the game), finding secret areas, killing enemies, and so on, and gives you various traits as you surpass these levels. So, in other words, by killing various enemies, you can in turn boost your health, magic, potions you can carry, and so on, making literally everything you do important to your development. Oh, and yes, the game makes use of potions, in three varieties: health, for replenishing health, mana, for replenishing mana, and revival, for reviving your allies. Health and mana potions can only be used by you, and since you don’t regenerate either, you’ll need to keep track of them as you progress. Health potions will need to be used manually, while mana potions will be used automatically as you deplete the bar, so you won’t have to pay as much attention to them. Revival potions can only be used on your partner, however, but lest you think this is another Gears of War sort of mechanic, in a nice touch, you can simply throw the potion to your ally instead of having to be on top of them, and if you’re out but your ally isn’t, they can throw out a potion for you to use, so you won’t be out of the game just for not having one when it’s needed. If both characters bite it, it’s game over, however, so keep that in mind.
The game also features a fairly expansive amount of hidden locations to find, some of which are small, single room areas with a chest or something hidden within, while others are massive multi-room catacombs featuring huge puzzles to solve that reward you with lots of loot and possibly keys to unlock other treasures later in the game. The game, aside from doling out crystals as rewards, also gives out new gear and gold to use. The former can be found either in normal or enchanted weapon racks, and depends on who breaks the rack, so if Caddoc breaks it, he gets a weapon he could use, while E’lara gets the same if she breaks it. You’ll get newer and better gear as the game progresses, as well as enchanted weapons that deal massive enchantment-based damage for as long as they have charges, depending on the rack you break. You’ll also find shields and armor in these racks and on the bodies of the dead, making raiding the dead a highly profitable venture, especially if your shield is on its way out. Gold, on the other hand, can be used in the Crucible level creator, as you reach new levels by the gold you acquire. The gold all amasses together in one rank that dictates what tools you have available to create a stage, be it arenas, loadouts, enemies, or modifications against the players, allowing you to basically build siege stages for your characters to try and survive.
The core game can be completed in around twenty hours or so, depending on how good you are at the game, though if you spend time looking for all the hidden goodies you can easily double that amount of time. Completing the game unlocks a “New Game Plus”Â option, allowing you to carry over some goodies for a new playthrough, though you don’t get your character “as is”Â, though you can just start from the beginning with that save anyway, so it’s not a big deal. You’re also offered multiple difficulties to plow through as you see fit, as well as an “Old School”Â difficulty once you’ve completed the game if you’re looking for a rough time of it. You can also create and play maps in Crucible mode as you see fit, and you can play co-op with friends both online and off if you’re looking for some multiplayer fun, which can make looking for some of the less obvious hidden goodies more fun in the long run. There are also plenty of Achievements to earn and cheats to unlock for those who want to do so, so you can fool around with the game to whatever level you wish once you’re finished with the campaign. Oh, and the game also archives the lore you earn from speaking with the dead and a bestiary of enemies you kill, if you’re into reviewing these sorts of things to peruse the game world of the game you’re playing, so for those who enjoy this thing, it’s in there. Basically, Hunted has a lot going for it as a solo or multiplayer experience, and as such, it makes a great argument for your money, all in all.
That said, the game can be a bit rough in spots, even on the easiest difficulty, if you’re more acclimated to games like Gears of War or other similar action games, as it has a Rogue mentality at times to it. For instance, massive monsters or violent, raging skeletons can show up to ruin your day at the worst possible times, or massive enemy hordes can come forth to completely ruin you, and if you’re not prepared it can hurt a bit, especially if you’re not a terribly good explorer and don’t find the sorts of tools you’ll need to buff up, or you don’t think to heal yourself and make use of your character’s strengths. This isn’t a bad thing per say, but it bears noting that there will be a bit of a learning curve if you’re not acclimated to games of this sort. Further, the enchanted weapons the game gives you are nice enough, but often don’t have a lot of charges to them, and their base damage is often lower than that of similar weapons in their class, making them somewhat useful for short periods, but hard to justify if you have a weapon with a much higher base damage and an ally who knows how to buff effectively. There also doesn’t seem to be any sort of obvious way to share Crucible maps with others, and while you can jump into maps with others to play around, some kind of server that hosted the maps might have been better in the long run.
Hunted: The Demon’s Forge does take the elements of a Gears of War and a Demon’s Souls and cross-breed them into an experience that’s a bit more involved than the former and a bit more accessible than the latter, and it does so more or less successfully. The story is a good piece of barbarian fiction that’s fun to see through to the end, and the visuals and audio are mostly rather good all around. The game offers lots of different combat options that are simple enough to adjust to while also offering plenty of great RPG elements that add some nice depth to the experience. There’s also a lengthy single player campaign to plow through, alone or with a friend online or off, as well as a level creator, New Game Plus mode and multiple difficulty levels to fool around with for those who want a good amount of reason to come back to the game. However, there’s a bit of a learning curve to the experience, the enchanted weaponry the game offers doesn’t always make a great argument to pick it up, and the level creator doesn’t offer any sort of easy way to share maps with others. As a first “big”Â effort from inXile, however, Hunted is a great time that’s well worth checking out, as it’s an in-depth experience that’s fun to play alone or with a friend, and while there are some mild hiccups, they are exactly that: mild, and surmountable.
FINAL SCORE: GREAT GAME.
Short Attention Span Summary:
Hunted: The Demon’s Forge is a surprisingly interesting and addictive action game that features some very interesting RPG conventions and aesthetics, and while it’s not without its issues, it’s generally a great time if you’re willing to forgive them. The story is your typical barbarian fantasy with some solid writing backing it up, and the visuals and audio are mostly enjoyable and well implemented. The gameplay offers an interesting crossbreed of shooting and melee fighting with some neat magic, exploration and RPG elements thrown in, and between the lengthy single player campaign, the on and offline co-op play, the multiple difficulties, cheats and New Game Plus options, and the level creation mode, there’s a lot to do with the game to keep you coming back after you’re finished. There are some mild visual quality issues here and there, though, and the game has a bit of a learning curve if you’re more of an action game fan. Further, the enchanted weapons don’t make as compelling an argument for use as they could, and the level creation system lacks any sort of online server for uploads or anything like that. At the end, though, Hunted is much more good than bad and is an ambitious effort from inXile that they mostly pull off, and as such, it’s fairly easy to recommend if you can look past its few flaws and see its many positives.