Remember that kid at school who flew under the radar, stayed out of everyone’s way and was generally referred to as the “dark horse”... or Black Beauty if you felt daring enough. You know, the same kid that you find out 10 years later has become a billionaire. Bethesda is that kid. With a development studio that’s been around for well over 20 years, their late bloom and subsequent expansion has made waves in the industry. The acquisition of id Software last year sent a signal of intent to their competitors that certainly dropped a few jaws. Not only do they have successful first party titles in their arsenal like Oblivion and Fallout 3, but with the announcement of today’s latest co-op dungeon crawler, Hunted: The Demon’s Forge, it shows that they’re looking to green-light interesting and unique third party titles as well.
Hunted developers, inXile, may not be the talk of the industry with Codemasters’ Hei$t failing to even make it out the door, but with industry veterans like Brian Fargo – Interplay founder – at the helm, they know a thing or two about games.
“We’re trying to bring back the old dungeon crawler of yesteryear,” Fargo proclaimed as he began to reel off a list of inspirations for Hunted that ranged from the traditional Dungeons and Dragons to the more obscure and massively popular, Wizardry.
“There’s a certain kind of romantic notion and draw in to finding the secret doors,” commented Fargo. “The magic mouse. The puzzle solving. The classic discovery and exploration. The emotion and atmosphere of it all, that we all love and grew up with,” he continued. “What would it be like if we took that dungeon crawling experience and married it with today’s latest technology. That’s where this product was born.”
When Hunted: The Demon’s Forge ships sometime next year, expect to see a “dark fantasy game of addiction and sacrifice,” said Creative Director, Maxx Kaufman . It’s essentially a fantasy action-adventure game built on the Unreal Engine 3 that places heavy emphasis on two player co-op and is set to throw in plenty of dungeon crawling and looting to satisfy our materialistic needs.
The story follows the wily antics of two adventurers; E’lara, the elven huntress; and Caddoc, the beefy warrior; who embark upon a mission given to them by a mysterious spirit named Seraphin. Other than that, it’s essentially a mystery at the moment, but as it always seems to be, the plot drags our duo into some seriously dark, but surprisingly vast dungeons. It may be tagged a dungeon crawler, but inXile were keen to show off one of their more open world environments in the presentation as well. A huge, sprawling outside environment with epic vistas and a surprising amount of natural sunlight. It was painted like something straight out of the fiction of Tolkein and is relatively new to this genre in particular.
With an emphasis on two player co-op and two differing characters to take control of, Hunted actually offers three styles of combat; E’lara’s ranged bow attacks, Caddoc’s in your face melee hack and slash moves, with both able to access to a wide range of spells. You’ll also have the ability to add magic to your co-op partner’s attacks as well, with something inXile are calling, “Battle Charges.” So if your immediate foes have a weakness to lightning, then E’lara can cast a lightning spell on Caddoc to improve his success rates and damage.
Although co-op is integral to the overall gameplay, it’s co-op with a twist. Not only can you switch back and forth with your co-op partner at certain nodes in the game world with regards to who you control, but the level design actually encourages you to split up. The multi-tiered dungeons provide excellent vantage points for E’lara and her ranged combat, whilst Caddoc can stay at ground zero dishing out the pain. Interestingly enough, the game’s “co-op at a distance” mantra means that you won’t be punished because of this tethering. Co-op at a distance allows you to heal your partner and even revive them should they get downed, even if you are the other side of the level. So as long as you can see them, you can help them, and vice versa.
Players looking for a split-screen co-op experience though will have to look elsewhere, with the title only featuring co-op over the information superhighway. Those with no online friends will be happy to hear that the game will feature “intelligent” matchmaking that takes into consideration your tendencies – like character selection, attack style –when matching you with a partner.
Hunted’s proprietary technology is Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 3 and boy does it show. Visually, even at this early stage, the title is an attractive offering, but the cover mechanics and general movement is reminiscent of Epic’s hugely popular franchise. Even the zone-end SFX that signals when the last of the area’s wave of enemies has been despatched holds a certain Gears of War vibe to it.
The gameplay is fast and frenetic, and definitely looks to overwhelm players with hordes of enemies. The destructible cover and the degradable shields means that E’lara and Caddoc must work together – and quickly – to despatch the foes while taking advantages of the strengths and weaknesses of each character and balancing it against the hordes. The enemies ranged from pig-ugly hob-goblins that attack in their dozens, to huge 10 foot winged beasts who are immune to melee attacks, although to finish off one of these giant boss-like foes, InXile have adopted to take advantage of the overused-QTE-finishing moves, but adding in a co-op twist.
It’s not all out-and-out action thankfully – because sometimes downtime is a welcome addition – and the inclusion of Fable-esque gargoyle puzzle doors offer a nice change of pace, and of course, a valuable reward.
Traditional dungeon crawlers of old place a heavy emphasis on looting and customisation, something that we didn’t particularly see much of with Hunted. inXile did note that there was some weapon customisation, but that was mostly with Caddoc’s melee weapons, which doesn’t bode well for that aspect of the title. That aside though, the environments at this early stage were grand, varied and hugely detailed, as were the enemies, and the ability to switch back and forth between characters at certain nodes is an interesting and noteworthy addition. The whole co-op at a distance mantra was something that we’re surprised hasn’t been tried before and if tied in with some hardcore looting, it may be just what the doctor ordered. Our initial impressions were more than positive on the whole and the short 30 minute presentation left us hankering for more. There’s a hell of a lot of time to go between now and release, but if inXile can expand the whole customisation and looting aspect, we may have a dungeon crawler worth getting our knees dirty for.
In the words of Brian Fargo – who actually borrowed it from Tom Ford – “everyone on the team is super passionate about the game and we’re hoping you see it on the other side.”
Hunted: The Demon’s Forge is currently in development and is expected to be finished by the end of the year, although a 2011 release sounded more likely.