Hands-On Preview: Hunted: The Demon’s Forge

Way back in the summer of 2010, as I toured Bethesda’s private booth at last year’s E3, I noticed that everyone was gathered around Fallout: New Vegas like starving animals, while the other games in the booth were… somewhat less enticing at first glance. It was almost comical, in a lot of respects; reviewers eagerly stood in line waiting for what was the most hotly anticipated title of 2010 at that point, but only seemed to gravitate to the other games in the booth once they’d seen New Vegas or once it became apparent that they’d be waiting a significant amount of time to do so. I’m not a big fan of standing in line, personally, and I kind of figured that I could wait, so I did the opposite: I immediately made a beeline for whatever wasn’t immediately being crammed to capacity with waiting people, which is how I got the opportunity to play with what was an early gameplay demo of Hunted: The Demon’s Forge. At the time, I was very impressed: the game was touted as combining the gameplay and action of games like Gears of War with the exploration and customization of Rogue, allowing one or two players to plow through a fantasy world in search of neat gear and enemies to obliterate. Flash forward some six months or so and Bethesda came knocking once again, asking if we’d maybe like to check out a more fleshed out demo of Hunted, and my response was an immediate “YES!” I admit, I was highly intrigued by the game I’d played some several months prior, and I wanted to see more, to see if it was shaping up to be the game I was hoping for or something else altogether.

Upon arriving at the suite Bethseda booked at a fairly expensive looking hotel in New York, I immediately found myself shaking hands with Matthew Findley and Maxx Kaufman, the president and game director of inXile entertainment. Matt’s business card identifies him as “the voice of reason,” and it has a neat little raised typefont on the logo, but otherwise, you wouldn’t have been able to identify either man as a being the head of a development house. Both men were incredibly enthusiastic about being there and legitimately seemed proud of their game, looking at it as more of a labor of love than a product. I tend to prefer that sort of mentality when dealing with people, and was enthusiastic about sitting down with Hunted as a result. The two sat me down, handed me a controller and a pair of headphones, and told me to play to the end of the tutorial and flag them down if I needed anything. With those instructions in mind, I jumped into the game and watched the introductory cinematic. The cinematic was a real-time display of the game world, with frequent appearances from a buxom pale woman who looked to be some sort of magical being, though the game didn’t make much of an effort at the time to explain who she might be, the reasons for which became apparent later. Eventually I found myself in control of one of the main characters, learned the basic mechanics of movement, and then died in the bottom of a cave before the character woke up from what was apparently a rather vivid nightmare.

It’s at this point the game decided to introduce the two main characters: Caddoc, the mail warrior who is best up close, and E’lara, the female ranger who is best at a distance. The two characters, right from the beginning, show a sort of brother and sister kind of relationship, complete with competition and sarcastic banter that’s lively and believable, and it added a bit of life to the game that the E3 demo had lacked. The first fifteen minutes or so of the tutorial walked me through the basic combat options. You’re given melee and ranged attacks, which can be enabled using the face buttons or the triggers, respectively, depending on how you want to approach a battle. Melee combat offers light and heavy attacks as well as the option to block incoming damage at the cost of deterioration of your shield, while ranged combat works like Gears of War, complete with aiming and firing being assigned to the triggers and being able to take cover behind debris of various sorts. After some mucking around, shooting and smacking around enemies, the game got around to introducing the pale skinned woman from the intro as Seraphim (or something thereabouts), a magically inclined young woman who asks Caddoc to pick up an artifact called a Deathstone, which Caddoc is not especially interested in doing, as, well, it’s a Deathstone, and it’s next to a dead body, you see. His associate is not so cautious, however, and the end result quickly degenerates into being chased down by demons and the undead, allowing me some more experience with the healing mechanics of the game. Unlike a typical third person shooter, Hunted allows you to pick up healing potions that you can carry to restore health instead of allowing the player to duck behind cover to regenerate. Once you run out of potions and health, you’re taken down unless the other player has a revival potion, which they can then use to resuscitate you. While the healing mechanics might not be immediately popular, the revival mechanic should be. Unlike similar games, so long as your ally is in line of sight, you can toss the potion at them with the press of a button and bring them back to life, meaning that they can be a good distance away and you can bring them back without having to traverse half the battlefield to do so, which is fantastic.

The tutorial section addressed a few other basics of the game, such as being able to switch between characters at gray pillars that pop up periodically when you want to try out a different side of things or want to switch to a particular character for a particular section. This only seems to be a thing in single player mode, but it seems as though players can pick who they want to be on their own in multiplayer so it doesn’t make much difference all in all. The game also introduced the exploration mechanics a bit, showing off a talking spirit who spoke of a powerful weapon isolated on a nearby island that we could acquire if we wished. Puzzles are presented in these sections for the players to complete, and while they’re mostly non-essential, they’re not overly complex at this point and allow for some great weapons. In this case, Caddoc found himself a massively powerful ice axe that put a severe hurting on anything he hit, making him into the heavy damage dealer of the group for the duration of the experience. You can complete the puzzles alone by holding B to highlight objects your ally can interact with, which both looks at said objects and informs the CPU that you want them to go do something with said object. When playing in multiplayer, this acts as more of a request than a command, but it’s an easy way to let the other player know what you want if nothing else. Magic was also introduced here, though only briefly, as was the upgrade mechanic that will allow for you to employ it as you play. By collecting crystals from around the game world you can trade them in to Seraphim for more spells or upgrades that can waste enemies, which adds to the exploration mechanic and allows you to buff up your characters as needed. Neither character seems especially better at spellcasting than the other, at least, so you won’t have to take that into consideration when choosing a character.

Once the tutorial was completed, we jumped ahead to a later stage and took on the co-op for a spin. After outfitting the characters with new spells, I was given a rundown of how magic works. There are two kinds of magic in the game, weapon magic and battle magic. Weapon magic works as you’d expect; it makes your weapons deal more damage and/or carry elemental properties, depending on which character you’re using. Battle magic, however, is a bit more involved. Pressing the right bumper will simply cast battle magic against an enemy, but holding the bumper casts the spell on your ally instead, imbuing them with the elemental property of the chosen spell. In other words, you can cast a spell on your ally to give them lightning damage for a bit, thus allowing them added damage and effects, which is, honestly, pretty cool and quite useful, as we ended up making use of this constantly while playing. There are also various sections that pop up, dubbed Combat Arenas, where the two characters will be in competition with one another to kill the most enemies. These are not readily identified as actual arenas, per say, but just areas where you try to kill more enemies while moving forward. Winning these segments, among other things, will improve your capabilities in battle, allowing for more healing potions to be carried at once, combat bonuses, and other fun things, allowing the characters to develop in a manner similar to Modern Warfare‘s Perk system.

Then I got to storm a ballista and wreck a giant tower, so there’s that.

The demo wrapped up with an involved dungeon exploration area under a town, showcasing both the wide variety of enemies that could be faced and the risk/reward system of the exploration mechanics. As we explored, I was told, the possibility of encountering a Berserker Skeleton would increase, and I was advised that we did not want to face him. Upon finding the third of four runes, I found out why: the burning orange skeleton completely wrecked both of us because we weren’t prepared for him and it was only through pure luck that we beat him at all. This really adds that Rogue experience to the game that I’d been anticipating: exploring the dungeons gives you rewards, but also puts you into potentially deadly situations that might end up getting you good and dead. It was exhilarating, if nothing else. I was also explained that there will be a side quest in the game featuring three brothers who have died and left nice little treasure troves to be found. Opening each tomb gives you nice gear and one of three keys needed to open a treasure room late in the game… and also unleashes a nasty monster upon you. The one we had to face down was a massive skeleton that we had to take turns distracting and ripping apart to beat, and once again, it was no picnic, but it was very fun.

From a visual and aural standpoint, Hunted impresses. The voice acting and music are rather nice, and some solid voice talent lends itself to the game, including Lucy Lawless as Seraphim, interestingly enough. The visual effects are also rather nice, featuring some excellent world design, fluid animations, and lively landscapes, including a room where you can watch water run down the walls as if it were real, which was quite impressive. I’m told that both men have spent many weeks playing through the game to ensure there are no bugs or glitches at this point, and as of right now, knowing where every hidden item in the game is and the exact path to follow, it takes them about eighteen hours to complete the game. This, as such, indicates that average players will likely see around twenty to thirty hours of play time from the game, which is amazing given how many similar games offer half that, but that may change as time goes on. I’m also told that there will be a level editor included with the game for designing your own personal maps to play with others or for others to play through, which should add some solid repay value to the game. The discussion of DLC revealed that the game is still in the “wait and see” phase, so Hunted is unlikely to debut with DLC on day one, but, again, we’ll see how it all pans out.

As of this time, barring any unforeseen complications, Hunted: The Demon’s Forge is looking to be, and I am honestly not exaggerating when I say this, one of the best games that will come out this year -period. The announced release date for the game is 6/3/11, though I’m hoping to see more of the game before then, if only because I honestly want to play more of it. Keep an eye on Hunted, and keep an eye here for more updates as they become available.



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2 responses to “Hands-On Preview: Hunted: The Demon’s Forge”

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