I was excited to see what Bethesda was being so secretive about when Console Monster got an invite to the screening of Hunted: The Demon’s Forge. I had no idea what to expect apart from the fact the game was only being published by Bethesda and in fact developed by inXile. After their previous game, HEI$T, was terminated by Codemasters and Bethesda’s latest published titles have ended up a little worse for wear, I was starting to get a little sceptical. Luckily, Hunted seems to deliver something easily recognisable but also new.
In spirit, Hunted is inspired by classic dungeon crawlers. You can collect loot, explore the world and level up your character. Obviously, that has all been done before and if anyone is looking for a dungeon crawler today they are waiting for Diablo III. However, Hunted offers something a little different by changing everything you would imagine a dungeon crawler to be. No top-down camera this time around, switching your perspective to behind one of the two main characters you control. Hunted looks more like a third-person action title rather than a dungeon crawler, focusing heavily on the co-op experience. Think Gears of War with a fantasy setting, magic and swords.
You take control of either E’lara, an audacious and sexy elven huntress, or Caddoc, an oddly careful hulking male hunter. Both characters wield magic and psychical weapons and have various tactics to explore. While E’lara uses a crossbow, Caddoc wields a giant sword and this offers quite a variety of gameplay for each character. One of the best features I noticed was the fact you could swap which character you wanted to be at any checkpoint, even when playing co-op. So if you are bored of shooting targets from afar then switch straight to Caddoc and run in and deal some crazy damage.
The premise is that E’lara and Caddoc are mercenaries in search of missing villagers who are being abducted. Seraphine, a mysterious spirit, offers advice and upgrades in exchange for crystals found around the field and to progress the story. There is little known about the story apart from that, but you can get the gist that you’ll be heading into some pretty dark, creepy and even especially moist dungeons.
As mentioned before, Seraphine is found after certain checkpoints and she offers you upgrades for your skill tree using crystals you found dotted around the world. You can use this to upgrade spells and magic that both E’lara and Caddoc use, as well as upgrading move sets for their psychical weapons as well.
Spells consist of the general fire and ice affair, but you can also evolve and cast these spells on your partner resulting in a Battle Charge. This means your normal attacks can be enhanced with elements resulting in more damage on the enemy.
Co-op is the main focus of the game; while you can’t run offline co-op, you can play online with a friend or stranger. The game features a matchmaking system influenced by dating websites, making sure you find someone who is going to suit how you want to play. Along with an interesting matchmaking system, the game also supports co-op at a distance. InXile president, Matt Findley, wanted to offer players the chance to “either play side-by-side or they can explore other areas and still have the ability to support each other from a distance.” This results in quite a varied style of play.
From the demo presented, E’lara stayed back while Caddoc went in for the kill. Taking the majority of damage from enemies in the area Caddoc was quickly overcome and quickly went down. As with Gears of War, all Caddoc can do is helplessly try crawl back to E’lara but rather than waste time E’lara can throw a vial of health towards him and as soon as it smashes over him he is revived. I’ve always found it a little frustrating in co-op games where I’ve had to run back to my less-than-able partner who might constantly be going down to revive them. This little feature can save not only time but also frustrations that come along with playing with a friend rather than AI.
The game controls much like Gears of War with its cover system and it is even running on the Unreal Engine. The environment sets looked fantastic and there was no real issue with frame-rate when pillars and cover was being blown apart. Caddoc and E’lara’s character models look fantastically bad as; items you pick up are visible on the character such as mana vials appearing on E’lara’s belt.
The game is a mix of action and exploration, as you would expect from something claiming to be a dungeon crawler but as Matt Findley explains “There will be some branching paths throughout Hunted that players can discover and solve secret puzzles. Our goal was to create huge, beautiful vistas that give players a sense of scale and awe. By keeping the game more contained we’ve achieve this.”
Releasing on both Xbox 360 and PS3 consoles, the game is estimated to contain around 12 hours of content and no news of any planned DLC. With that said, I’m personally pretty excited for this co-op dungeon crawler. Not only has inExile dared to be different but it’s about time another co-op focused game hits the market.