Bethesda and inExile Entertainment Turn Up the Heat in Hunted: The Demon’s Forge

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At Bethesda’s BFG 2010 preview event two weeks ago, the publisher gave another extended look at the upcoming fantasy action title Hunted: The Demon’s Forge. The seesion started with remarks from Brian Fargo of inExile Entertainment, the developer studio working on the game. Fargo’s worked on any beloved game franchises, including The Bard’s Tale, Baldur’s Gate and Fallout. He talked a bit about his early D&D influences and the Wizardry games, and how he wants Hunted to call back on those games’ take world-building n the fantasy genre. Modern games focus a lot on combat, he said, and combat has to be “engaging and fulfilling” but it can’t be everything. If you keep on getting combat rained down on you, then the exploration and puzzles and skill-building don’t resonate as much.

The preview then transitioned in to a live two-player co-op demo session on Xbox 360.Co-op at a distance is the main gameplay theme in Hunted and the main characters–elfin woman E’lara and Caddoc, the human male warrior–have skills that feed into this idea. Cadic carries two weapons (sword and axe or mace) along with a degradable shield and Ilara carries two bows (sniper bows regular bows). Any weapon you find in a quest will be stronger than the one you already have.

E’lara’s an archer so her spells will have a distance component; Caddoc’s magic will enhance melee so you’ll see stuff like swords that light on fire. But each character won’t just be limited to their specialties. Cadic has a crossbow, too and E’lara will have hand-to-hand combat but her melee will be weaker overall. One aspect of the distance co-op is called battle-charging, which involves one character using a spell on another. All of their magic had co-operative buff aspects, so when E’lara battle-charges Cadic with, say, a lightning spell, he shatter attacking skeletons in one blow instead of three. Later on, Cadic battle-charged Ilara with a fire spell so her arrows set a distant turret-wielding skeleton on fire. Her shots weren’t hurting him before, so this instance is an example where battle-charging will prove to be a necessity instead of a cool perk. And, if a partner goes down in the heat of battle, you can throw regeneration vials like grenades to revive the downed player. More of that distance co-op was seen with E’lara shooting off arrows that freeze enemies so that Cadic can smash them to bits. Each character will have flashy finishing moves–E’lara’s arrow will sport a follow-cam view  for the death blows and Caddoc’s combat kills will happen slo-mo.

There’s a streak of competition built into the co-op, too. Dynamic banter from the partner characters comments on who has more kills. And the game’s checkpoints allow for body swapping, meaning that you can switch to Caddoc if you’ve been playing as E’lara or vice versa. Both players can have turns with both characters and see who racks up a higher body count. There won’t be any split-screen co-op in Hunted as inExile didn’t want compromise on the graphics in order to enable it. In single-player, the AI will act accordingly to character and progression needs. The human player won’t need to issue commands in combat.

As the demo continued, the two adventurers entered into a deserted dungeon, where Caddoc has a vision about the Deathstone artifact. When they encountered it, it became clear how it’d impact the progression through the game. The Deathstone allows for communication with the deceased, and it will generate side quests, flesh out backstory and aid in puzzle-solving. A Deathstone journal lets you review past visions so you can stay on top of objectives. Hunted promises a huge world to explore filled with riddles and clues, with prisoners that you can free during the quests. It’s a dark world filled with obstacles and each character will have moves to help open up paths. Caddoc special skill is pushing heavy objects, and like E’lara will be able to wield fire for illumination. Glowing blue flowers will regenerate mana for magic and crystals hidden throughout the world are the game’s currency, so you should explore to find them. Checkpoints will let you invite other players and you can import your Caddoc or Ilara to help friends. Any crystals you find in co-op will go to both players.

The game looks significantly better than when I last saw it at GDC. There’s definitely a gritty fantasy feeling that’s torn straight from Heavy Metal magazines in the leather armor, tattoos and massive swords. The battles against resurrected skeletons channeled a Ray Harryhausen vibe. Hunted seems to be assembling some interesting ideas about co-operative play; hopefully, they’ll gel together in a way that makes the game feel more than the sum of its parts.