QuakeCon 2010: Hunted: The Demon's Forge Hands-On Preview
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 04:45pm 23/08/10 | Comments
At this year's QuakeCon, AusGamers had a chance to check out InXile's Hunted: The Demon's Forge. Read on for our full thoughts...
It's unfortunate the hands-on demo for Hunted: The Demon's Forge wasn't the actual demo we were shown during the game's presentation at QuakeCon. InXile Entertainment have crafted a well-balanced action fantasy title that really delivers the sort of straight up adventure some of the best in the genre are renowned for, with an emphasis on being that bit more mature.
Our hands-on was very, very short with no real indication of the sort of exploration, character interaction and puzzle-solving the game actually does offer. We saw this in the presentation, which immediately opened up the game to one that is likely on the brink (no Bethesda pun intended) of landing readily on your must play manifest.
The game's story revolves around its two main characters who are essentially swords for hire. E'lara and Caddoc are a ranged and brute pair, respectively, who quest together across the land in search of odd demon-slaying jobs, or bits and bobs that involve magic or the like. An event leads them to come into contact with the ethereal Seraphine who leads the two on a journey that begins unominously enough, but quickly descends into all kinds of epic fantasy crazy as we see Empire State Building-size trolls strolling along the eerie twilight horizon off in the distance, or talking stone walls who need their eyes shot in order to work.
As far as plot, dialogue and design go, Hunted: The Demon's Forge is unashamedly reflective of the dungeon crawlers of yesteryear, if re-imagined under the hood of Gears of War. In fact the game is built off the Unreal Engine, which definitely shows, but in the instances we've seen and experienced thus far, it all works.
What this means is you'll be taking your characters on a co-op (or solo) romp through various dungeons with lots of tiers and twisty, windy paths and secrets. There's a fair amount of exploration involved we're told, and solid rewards for those of you out there who prefer to walk in the other direction, the one the game never really told you about. Rewards may come in the form of new items, weapons or treasures, or may in fact offer a little bit more of the narrative, or even a ghostly side-quest as given to you by specific dead bodies.
The dungeons then, are all bridged by wide, open game-world or various towns and cities replete with NPCs with which to interact and learn from or trade with.
From a gameplay perspective, this isn't just your usual co-op fair. The entire game has been tailored to each character's skills and abilities and, well, their character. Both are nonchalant in their delivery of on-the-fly dialogue (which is dynamic, by the way) as they react to all the creepy that's going on around them, while their "sword-for-hire" personalities pull back on the "saviours of the kingdom" rhetoric we're more often served. This actually makes both characters infinitely more appealing, and the banter between the two of them is very well written; you definitely get a sense they've been doing this sort of thing together for a while now.
What's equally appealing, is that while E'lara is a ranged class; using her bow skills and magic to engage from afar, offering Caddoc rear support, she's still quite powerful. Often a single blow from one of her arrows is strong enough to drop grunt enemies, and so you don't get that usual sense of fear at being in the thick of it - if the numbers start to fly, you're not going to be stressed donning the virtual skin of our bow virtuoso. Caddoc, in a similar vein, also has magic he can utilise from afar, giving him his own ranged abilities. The whole system has been designed to keep a variance and balance between the two characters and the game as whole, despite the differences in class.
Of course, being a co-operative game of this nature means you're going to come across a fair bit that invites a use of both characters' skills and abilities, or at the very least, opportunities to exploit combinations of them. A great example we saw was E'lara charging her arrows with an ice spell, then from up on high, blasting incoming grunts, freezing them in mid-stride so Caddoc could easily come along and smash them to icy shards with his sword and melee. Characters can also look out for each other, as was demonstrated with Caddoc throwing a life vial across the map to a downed E'lara, removing that annoying wait for your support character to physically come into contact with you for revival.
Visually the game is look very, very nice. There were some very cool effects in place, such as volumetric fog filling a dungeon floor to add atmosphere, lens flare, god rays, lots of particles (floating dust in light rays, for example), depth-of-field blurring (demonstrated best when in precision aim) and jiggle physics for E'lara (who practically wears nothing). There's also plenty of gore and maturity riddled throughout, with some cool execution moves for a lot of the different enemies. The InXile guys expressed concern in my direction about perhaps not getting through the Aussie censors, I assured them it would because I didn't want them to change anything, but there are some pretty full-on moments so far.
Another very cool aspect is that the game employs a checkpoint system which when reached, allows players to switch characters (even if you're playing solo). You can also spend crystal shards you find throughout your journey on upgrades and new abilities. So far it looks like you're not really going to have one single all-powerful weapon, as both E'lara and Caddoc could pick up dropped swords, axes, hammers, bows and shields. This is helpful also because shields will yield over time under the pressure of attacks so you'll need to swap them out - unfortunately I didn't get enough time with the game to see this in effect with actual weapons.
There are some issues that did arise though. My limited hands-on was in a very small area, and I felt like my character was constantly tripping up on the environment, or just running into silly invisible walls. There's less context in art-direction for hiding them at this stage, so I'm hoping this is something they fix in the long term (it's not due until Q1 next year, so there's still time on that). Collision detection was also a bit out in the melee department, and the game itself did feel a bit sluggish, but these aren't design features that can't change, and the point of preview sessions like this is so punters like myself can bring the issues to light - nothing that concerned me is unable to be fixed, so here's hoping the cats at InXile are reading (and listening).
Co-op will be both on and offline with full drop in, drop out supported. There's not much else known regarding their full model, though in our forthcoming interview, we did get a few juicy morsels of information (such as Horde Mode for co-op multiplayer), but they're remaining largely tight-lipped at this stage. This is also the case for voice-acting, which we're told will change from what we've seen for the game's release with a cast of known actors. We probed but got nothing - if I had to hope, I'd ask for some Charlize Theron in E'lara's case (just so I can her in-game hotness to a real-life hottie) and maybe some Ray Winston as Caddoc.
As far as the game itself goes, I'm pretty well sold. It's a difficult sell at the moment, because on paper it could be read as Gears of War meets Lord of the Rings or something, but that honestly couldn't be further from the truth. There's an amazing amount of referential wit in place, and the game clearly goes to lengths to remain modest and grounded in its characterisation, despite being fitted out with giant skyscraper-sized trolls. Where the fantasy genre is so full of games full of themselves, it's refreshing to come across a gem like this. If the demonstrated pacing can keep people engaged in both combat, exploration and characterisation, this could be a clear winner - it just needs some love and polish as we reach the home-stretch.
Stay tuned for our full interview with InXile Entertainment, right here on AusGamers.