When Hunted: The Demon’s Forge was first announced, it very nearly flew straight under my radar, due to the uber-generic fantasy title. Just as I was getting ready to click away from the post, a name caught my eye: Brian Fargo. Most long time gamers (at least the smart ones) give mad respect to Fargo, the one time co-founder of Interplay, who was instrumental in bringing PC classics like The Bard’s Tale and Wasteland to gamers.
Fargo’s new company, inXile, is the dev team behind Hunted, and I was very curious to find out if the brilliance behind such landmark titles could translate into success in the modern games market. After raiding the Bethesda booth for a nice sized chunk of hands-on time with the game, I’m extremely optimistic that it can.
Hunted: The Demon’s Forge is a third-person hack-and-slash action RPG in a dark fantasy setting. If that description doesn’t get you excited for the game, I can’t say I blame you, but it’s the little gameplay tweaks and design choices that made this game stand out for me.
If you think Gears of War meets D&D, you’re a little bit closer to what Hunted brings to the table. This is a fantasy game geared for co-op play; my demo time was spent playing two player with the developer. The game features two characters, a melee warrior type human and an elvish ranged archer type.
The beauty of the design choices here are in the strengths and weaknesses of each character. The warrior will get picked apart by certain enemies that the archer can take down in safety from far away; likewise, enemies that the warrior can crush close up will make short work of the elf if they get close enough.
The warrior has a ranged attack, and the elf has a sword for melee, but if you don’t play to your character’s strengths you’ll find yourself failing in short order. There are frequent points in the game where players can swap characters, so neither you or your friend are stuck with one play-style for too long unless you want to.
The emphasis on co-op is further enhanced by secondary abilities and spells. Remember in Bioshock how much fun it was to combine plasmid powers with weapon attacks to drop certain baddies? Well, take that same combination and make it dependent on smart, well-timed co-op execution to be successful and you can see how playing through this game with a buddy can be both challenging and a blast.
When I played as the ranged class, I could activate an ice arrow ability that froze enemies that the warrior then quickly finished off. When I played as the warrior, I had a blast running into a group of skeletons and using a levitation field effect to raise them up in the air and suspend them while the Bethesda rep quickly polished them off with the bow and arrow. The game will feature a wide variety of buffs and abilities that will help you and your partner face the greater challenges in the game.
The other design choice that really impressed me was the decision to cater to both combat-only and more traditional RPG play styles. If you want to, you can power through from fight to fight, and just enjoy the Gears-y combat, which is satisfying in and of itself. Combat controls felt great; the left analog stick gently strafes when you move it left and right, which means less fiddling with the camera in the middle of a hectic battle.
Less pure combat oriented gamers will be glad to see that the game offers more depth and lengths by providing opportunities to go off the beaten path and explore, solve puzzles, and gain tangible rewards in the form of equipment or abilities for your character. This is where the Fargo pedigree really shines.
All in all, the game looks great, combat feels satisfying, and the co-op game design really knocked my socks off. The game is set to release in Q1 of 2011. Realistically, this game probably won’t be as fun if you’re forced to play with AI as your partner, but I personally can’t wait to get a buddy and go straight Legolas on some fools.