Fantasy is big at the moment. Skyrim is looming over the distant horizon and Dragon Age and Witcher sequels are memorably recent on shelves while Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale invades the digital download space with a hefty axe and a healing draught. So, will inXile’s Bethesda published action RPG add something to the healthy market for fantasy or is it destined to be an also ran by the time the next Elder Scrolls epic arrives?
The game eschews the almost standard character creation process, instead preferring to set you into a tighter narrative. Doubtless, this is a means to integrate the plot, voice work and interaction more wholeheartedly into the cooperative nature of the game. Cooperative play is a big selling point for Hunted: The Demon’s Forge with split screen and online play encouraged.[drop]The two protagonists are Caddoc and E’lara, a shaven-headed human and a lithe (and very scantily clad) elf. Both have melée weapons in the shape of swords and shields which can be upgraded by pillaging your fallen foes but each has a ranged weapon too, be it crossbow or double-curved bow. Caddoc is better at smashing stuff close up and E’lara is more successful at range. Magic makes an appearance too, with spells granted via character upgrades.
The game begins with Caddoc’s haunted dreams of a demon and a quest. He wakes and explains it to his companion, who mocks him lightheartedly for his overactive imagination. Pretty soon, elements of the dream start to become a reality and these two mercenaries are plunged into a living nightmare.
The early stages of the game hold your hand through a fairly standard tutorial in which you have to dispatch enemies in various ways, revive your companion and solve an incidental quest to earn an enchanted weapon.
These incidental quests will arise at times through what is, at least in its early stages, a completely linear, dungeon-crawling experience. You learn of them by way of “Deathstones” and corpses that you encounter on the way and it’s possible to fail the quest by continuing too far along the linear path you’re on so that return is impossible. They seem to be intended to add some atmosphere and depth to the gameplay but the first one was nothing more than a sort of puzzle tutorial. That’s likely to change as the game stops holding my hand and leaves me alone with the monsters though.[drop2]The facial animations are slightly rough, anti-aliasing (on PS3, at least) is a little hit and miss and there’s plenty of fade-in on the textures but when everything is just right, Hunted is capable of looking quite becoming.
It plays in quite a similar way to Fable, with a kind of hack-and-slash take on the combat side of what makes up an action RPG. There’s a cover system in there too which seems like it will be imperative for later areas as things get a little more taxing.
As for the RPG elements, those are going to require quite a lot more play time before they start to manifest in a meaningful way but there is a levelling system and your equipment has stats to represent its effectiveness. Skills can be levelled up using crystals collected along the way and various areas of your skillset can be upgraded. It’s not as intricate or involved as old school PC RPGs but there seems to be enough depth to it that you should be able to have some variation on multiple play throughs, at least in the early stages.
The Crucible level editor is sure to increase longevity too, with its simple system for creating wave-based dungeons and whole interlinked arenas that can be altered to allow multiple weapon loadouts and enemy types, there should be a reasonable amount of scope for variation in the downloadable levels made by others and in your own creations.
In truth, it’s a fairly familiar experience to anyone who enjoys this kind of hack-and-slash action RPG and although the PS3 version I’ve had a brief time with isn’t the most beautiful game (I imagine the PC version would be prettier), the narrative has been engaging enough to make me want to continue along with these two friends on their demon-guided quest.
We’ll have a full review as soon as we can.