Hunted: The Demon's Forge Preview
It's been a while since we've heard from developer inXile Entertainment. This team, started by old-school RPG developer Brian Fargo, has been around for eight years now and have worked on a number of interesting titles, but they never seemed to find the funding, marketing or wide success they probably deserved with their games. That's likely about to change, as Bethesda is publishing their next title, Hunted: The Demon's Forge.
Hunted tells the story of two adventurers, Ilara and Caddick, as they traverse through dungeons and ruined temples doing the bidding of a benevolent god-like spirit named Sarafen. Both characters can each do melee, ranged, and magical attacks, but Ilara excels with the bow while Caddick is a master of melee weapons (and each can fire out magic spells with about equal power). The demo level we saw had them investigating a dark-ages town with great visuals, a solid atmosphere, and nice special effects - all powered by the latest Unreal Engine. Its cooperative mode is set to be online-only on all platforms, and while the inXile guys playing were using Xbox 360 controllers, it was actually a PC version of the game.
The investigation of the town didn't go well; when the first guy was thrown out of a window right in front of our heroes, a demon quickly jumped on him and yanked his heart out - in a much gorier display than we saw in Temple of Doom - and then ran off. The chase led into old ruins where more of these creatures were dwelling, and it becomes clear what type of game this is. To put it simply, it's like Gears of War meets medieval fantasy in the dark age with quite a bit of RPG thrown in. There's cover, ranged combat, and quite a bit of melee for Caddick, too.
But it's silly to try and just distill the essence of a game down to "this game meets this other game" - dozens of talented developers work on these things on for years, and there's much more there. Hunted builds on the pedigree of Brian Fargo's roots from 80s RPGs like The Bard's Tale, along with classic dungeon crawlers from the past, and brings that style into the modern day with real-time action, lots of physics, and the latest lighting and effects. From that perspective, it really is kind of a unique take on today's action-RPG. It's a third-person shooter, but it's in a fantasy world. It's got a cover system, but the system is changed up quite a bit with the swords, shields, and bows. And the environments that the team has created so far evoke an epic sense of adventure for our two buddies that reminds one of God of War's sense of scale but with that RPG heritage as well.
The interaction between the pair really added something to the game that solo adventures like Bethesda's own Elder Scrolls games don't really touch on. They're not romantically involved, so their banter reminds me more of the professional relationship between Scully and Mulder on The X-Files, or to pick out something more recent, Dunham and Peter Bishop on Fringe. Despite keeping their relationship professional (at least, that's how it looked in our demo), they do work together well, as the levels are generally designed to have Ilara take the high ground and fire arrows down on the enemies that Caddick is taking on with sword-and-board. And in this game, the board part of the equation isn't as solid as you expect, as shields deform and break - and Caddick will have to scavenge new ones from dead bodies or from caches around the dungeons and combat environments.
Many cooperative action games now have some element of bringing up your buddy if he or she gets taken out, but you'll only be able to do it a limited number of times here. Regenerative crystal/potion thingies are in limited supply and each character can only hold three of them, but the plus side is that they can be tossed at the downed buddy for a remote revival. This is important, as the developers intend on splitting up the duo to different sides of large rooms often.
For a game that's coming near the end of this year, Hunted already looks very polished, with great animations, solid fighting situations, and interesting tactics as the two fighters take advantage of their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. We know that Bethesda puts their full support behind every game they publish, even when it happens to be a game like Rogue Warrior, so it's good to see really promising games getting the treatment. While Hunted doesn't seem likely to win any major breakthrough awards just yet, it does look like a very exciting and fun game for those looking for a good old-fashioned cooperative dungeon crawl.