This Preview was written by Lee Bradley.
Hunted: The Demon’s Forge hasn’t really had the exposure that the rest of Bethesda’s stable of upcoming games have been enjoying. While Rage, Brink and Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim have all been picking up admiring glances, Hunted has slipped relatively under the radar.
You can kind of see why. The game’s generic fantasy stylings seem a little rote and the cover-based archery is a tad anachronistic. But there’s a decent game underneath it all, one that’s solid enough if not that thrilling.[boxout]It’s a two-player, co-operative adventure game, playable either online or via local split-screen. Swapping at set intervals between the pointy-eared, pointy-boobed Elf E’lara, or big burly brute Caddoc, you must navigate a mythical land infested by more animated skeletons and funny demon things than you can shake a sword at.
In a thoroughly Gauntlet-esque manner, each character has his or her own strengths and weaknesses. E’lara is an archer, capable from range, yet possessive of a weak melee attack. Caddoc meanwhile, is a bit of a tank. He’s got a piddly ranged weapon, but up close and personal he’s a monster, slashing away formidably with his sword.
As a result, your best bet in most cases is to send Caddoc wading in, while E’lara sits back and picks people off from range. It works well too, with level design that allows the Elf the space and cover she needs.
Yeah, the cover. It works perfectly well. A quick tap on a button sends the svelte archer crunching into whatever waist-high wall is conveniently scattered around the environment, and from there she can pop out and pick off baddies. But it just seems a little wrong. Fine in a shooter, but strangely out of context here. I’m no great historical scholar, but I’m sure that’s not how they used to do it back in the day.
Yes, I realise I’m questioning the believability of a detail like this in a game stuffed full of animated skeletons and monsters, but it does genuinely feel a little off.
Anyway, the combat really comes alive when you’ve collected enough mana to employ magic. Playing as E’lara, I was able to equip my arrows with a freezing ability that allowed me to twang a skeleton from distance just as they were pouncing on my team-mate. It stops them dead in their tracks, encasing them in ice mid-attack, allowing Caddoc to shatter them into a thousand pieces.
At the other end of the spectrum is Brimstone, a magical fire ability that allows you to burst enemies like a fat man’s arteries. It’s ultra-satisfying, to such a degree that I kept on forgetting to conserve mana and just spammed it until I was completely drained. It was worth it.
Yet the combat is only part of the story. Throughout Hunted’s twenty-plus hour campaign there’ll be plenty of light puzzles and side missions too. In our demo we were tasked with wandering dungeons for lost runestones and using our abilities to unlock pathways. Again, as with much of what we sampled, it was solidly executed stuff.
Which, ultimately, is the problem with Hunted: The Demon’s Forge. It plods along well enough, with nice combat touches and some well thought-out, genuinely co-operative action, in the truest sense of the word. But so far, based on what I’ve seen, it lacks that secret ingredient, that twist to really draw me in.
There is one revelation to come from Hunted: The Demon’s Forge that may yet inspire more excitement, however. The day after the demo an email dropped into my inbox from Bethesda. Alongside some other, less interesting gubbins, it said that the game will feature a map generator, called The Crucible. No other details were forthcoming, but it’s an interesting proposition. It certainly won’t just be a multiplayer map creator. Could The Crucible be that secret ingredient? We’ll have to wait and see.