This weekend at PAX East, we went hands on with Bethesda's dungeon crawler Hunted: The Demon's Forge. This title offers a unique co-operative gameplay experience with gamers banding together with a friend, via split-screen, or online.
The story in Hunted: The Demon's Forge is your standard fare. An evil force is spreading across the land, kidnapping and killing innocent people - and its your job to take it out. The atmosphere is very dark and dreary - doing an amazing job of setting the tone for the adventure ahead. The story may not be the most original, but the title is elevated by its fun co-op gameplay. The focus on the co-op makes for an intriguing experience with a live player - meaning it suffers slightly when playing single player. The AI is not as competent as a live person, and the experience is reminiscent of moments in Resident Evil 5 when the your computer-controller partner seemed to work against you more than they helped.
Players can take on the role of one of two characters - with the ability to switch at certain points in each level. Each character has both melee and ranged weapons but they typically skew with a bit more experience in one or the other. Caddoc, the warrior, specializes in melee combat while E'lara, an elf, is much better with a bow. Depending on the gamer's playstyle, they can either approach the title as a hack-in-slash with Caddoc or as a 3rd person shooter with E'lara.
Both characters also have magic at their disposal, including offensive abilities, weapon enchantments, and the ability to charge allies with spells. This 'Battle Charge' is basically a buff that gives your partner increased damage in battle. If used strategically, the Battle Charges can help bring down especially challenging enemies with ease.
Magic, along with other abilities, can be purchased using crystal shards hidden throughout the levels as well as collected after defeating enemies. Weapon and shields can also be upgraded - by picking up new weapon equipment from fallen enemies as well as smashing armament racks. When standing over a potential new item, the stats of the currently equipped weapon or shield as well as the upgrade are displayed. This allows the player to quickly make a decision on whether to swap weaponry - or just move on.
As stated before, Hunted is focused on the co-op experience and surviving the dungeons will require gamers to work well with their partner. In addition to the battle charges players will also be required to use their ranged attacks on a group of enemies while the other on-screen character flanks. The gameplay should be familiar to those who enjoy the co-op in the Gears of War series.
It's easy to get separated from your partner in Hunted but the team at Bethesda has an effective solution -players can activate a small ball of light that leads them back to their missing comrade. A second ball of light also appears - this time leading players to their next objective (similar to the lighted paths of Fable 3 and Dead Space).
Bethesda has done an amazing job with the graphics in the title - with a high level of detail in the character models. Unfortunately, outside of weapons and shields, there are no additional armor pieces for the characters - most likely a cost cutting measure (focusing on highly detailed characters rather than customization). While it's a bummer, given the game's beautiful look, the developers made the right choice - opting to focus on a polished product with fun gameplay customization.
One aspect present in the demo that didn't get explained (or utilized) was the game's presumably economic system. Players can collect gold pieces, though it wasn't apparent what the money will be used for - since weapons are acquired on the field and magic is upgraded with shards.
So what was this money for? It was briefly hinted that the currency would be used by gamers to create their own dungeons. No other details were given about the feature, or how it will work, though there's no doubt it could be one of the more interesting features in the game - not to mention generate a lot of replay value.
Hunted: The Demon's Forge appears to be a solid title and anyone who enjoys co-op gameplay should mark their calendars for the game's scheduled launch on May 31st.