Fighting, shooting arrows, traversing dungeons and slaying dragons. It’s all in a day’s work for Caddock and E’lara – two mercenaries for hire, who find themselves fulfilling a quest based on sympathy for once. It’s this quest to find the people of a small town, and to help its king rekindle his relationship with his missing daughter, that forms the basis for Hunted: The Demon’s Forge.
A mix of a hack and slash action game and an RPG, it’s a lengthy excursion filled with tons of melee and ranged combat, with two different yet similar characters. If this is a journey you would like to take part in, there are some things you should know before you pack your stuff and set out into InXile Entertainment’s virtual dark fantasy world.
The game’s storyline revolves around a dark and mysterious glowing stone, known as the death stone. It has been passed from warrior to warrior throughout generations, and has taken the lives of more than one man. Our two intelligent, witty and unlikely heroes get caught up in its lore after they stumble upon a gothic lady in a portal. She talks Caddock into picking up the stone but, just as he’s about to, E’lara grabs it first. Just a quick touch brings a vision to her mind of death and sorrow, but the pair decide to tackle the lady’s quest to save her mortal body. It’s a quest that will take them through towns, caves, dungeons and burning rubble.
Adding further intrigue to their journey is the discovery of a mysterious grey liquid known as sleg, which turns anyone who drinks it into a powerful and invincible monster. The game’s demonic enemy race, known as the Wargar, happen to have found pools of this substance in a cave. They’ve tried drinking it and it’s had some pretty terrible results – that is, if you’re not on their side. Not only does drinking it turn their skin into a nearly impenetrable substance, but it also has the power to evolve them into more powerful beings.
Caddock and E’lara come across it several times throughout their journey, where the opportunity to taste the substance presents itself. Doing so can result in a surge of power and invincibility for a relatively long period of time, but it can have some negative effects down the line. Not to mention the fact that it negates an achievement (or trophy) you can unlock for abstaining from the liquid.
Hunted: The Demon’s Forge is more of a hack and slash action game than a role-playing game. Combat is its primary focus, with some RPG-lite elements added in to allow gamers to customize their characters a bit. Both of the game’s protagonists are playable in single player and co-op (both split-screen and online), though altering characters is not an option that presents itself often, due to the need for a glowing purple portal.
You’re best to try each of them once or twice before you decide on the one who best fits your play style. Caddock is a powerful warrior who uses his sword first and a slow but powerful crossbow as a back-up, whereas E’lara is an archer first and a melee combatant second, with a mediocre dagger for use.
If you were to try to draw comparisons to other titles, the two that would probably come to mind are Gears of War and Fable. Hunted is similar to each in different ways. Its combat system closely resembles that of Gears of War – though mostly just when you’re using E’lara and her penchant for shooting arrows from cover. The resemblance to Lionhead Studios’ popular RPG series is found in the game’s focus on melee combat with RPG elements factoring in lightly. You’ll come across new weapons, bows, shields and armor, though you won’t spend hours in menus constantly swapping items.
Upgrading is completed through the use of collectible crystals, which can only be used at scarce white portals. They’re essentially your in-game currency, allowing you to add new magical powers and elemental boosts to your heroes’ arsenals, whereas gold drops you discover serve to help you unlock content in the game’s dungeon/map creation mode. Some elements from Army of Two were also noticeable such as co-operative door opening mechanics.
Based on its structure and design choices, the game plays best when you’re questing with a friend. The two heroes have abilities that complement each other quite well and the way to best take advantage of these is through planning and team execution. If you play with a computer-controlled ally, you’re going to have to put up with some hit and miss artificial intelligence. A bot that doesn’t necessarily always think to help boost your powers or team up with magic.
It sometimes tends to take a couple requests before your ally will fulfill your commands, though don’t take that complaint as being anywhere near game breaking. The only times you’ll be requesting things are when you need E’lara to light an arrow on fire to shoot it at something, or when you need Caddock to push a heavy column out of the way to find a secret area. Unfortunately, there aren’t any more in-depth commands that could allow you to ask your ally to fulfill a specific role like flanking, healing, etc. That would have greatly improved this game. As it is, the game’s combat system is very basic and can be quite clunky.
The aforementioned map creation mode is known as the Crucible. By playing through Hunted’s twelve-hour campaign, which has four different difficulty levels ranging from casual to old school, you unlock content for use in your personal maps. As mentioned previously, this is based on the amount of gold drops you find. There are thirty plateaus that must be met in order to unlock every piece of creative content (enemies included), which is a goal you probably won’t hit until you’ve played through it at least two times.
Once you’ve unlocked everything you want for your custom deathtrap, you can go into create mode and craft as many dastardly perils as your evil heart desires. Then, you can try to fight your way through it yourself (alone or in co-op) or publish it for the community to tackle. It’s a nice addition that only some people will take full advantage of. The development team has already created a bunch of new maps, which adds some replay value to keep you coming back.
Generally speaking, it runs quite well. There aren’t many glitches or noticeable hiccups. The game knows what it is and doesn’t stray too much from its core hack ‘n slash/ranged combat mechanics. The problem is that there’s nothing particularly innovative about it. It’s serviceable, relatively entertaining, and is a decent co-operative experience, but there’s just nothing new here. Nothing revolutionary that showed an effort to think outside of the box. Its repetition and basic structure may turn some people off, but it’s not a bad game by any means – just a mediocre title that fails to deliver on pre-release promises. The type of game that won’t win any awards but will impress people when they find it for a cheap price down the road.
Presentation-wise, Hunted: The Demon’s Forge is a mixed bag. It’s visually underwhelming, with a dated graphics engine that portrays its caverns and dungeons with far too many dark shadows. It looks a bit like Dragon Age: Origins in terms of art style and visual fidelity, though there may be a bit more shine in this project. Dark sections look muddy and lighter sections over-use bloom to compensate for lesser detail. Character and enemy designs look decent, but the female characters look a bit silly dressed in S&M leather. It’s not great looking by any means, but also isn’t terrible. The word for it is serviceable.
The other aspect of its presentation – its audio, is quite impressive at times. For having a female protagonist who looks like a dominatrix, the game is actually pretty well-written. Caddock and E’lara aren’t constantly hitting on each other, which is a nice change of pace. In fact, they’re usually speaking lines of two different types: intelligent discussion or witty remarks that are actually a bit funny. Making this even better is the fact that its voice acting is very strong.
Developer InXile Entertainment and publisher Bethesda Softworks did an excellent job of finding great voice talent to make the characters feel alive, interesting and most of all, believable. The cast actually includes everyone’s favourite Warrior Princess, Lucy Lawless, who plays E’lara. Your perilous journey includes a lot of combat-driven sound effects, such as steel on steel, shot arrows and explosions. They all sound pretty good, but they’re not anything to write home about, unlike the voice acting.
To conclude, Hunted: The Demon’s Forge is a mixed bag. Some will like it and others will be unimpressed. It doesn’t do anything to push the bag or set itself apart from the pack, but it does things well enough to achieve a relatively enjoyable campaign. Dated visuals, mechanics and a clunky combat system drag the game down a bit, though its well-written script and great voice acting add a lot of credibility to the project.
If the previously raised points and descriptors interest you at all, then it’s worth checking out. Though it’s recommended you either rent it or wait for a price drop, because there’s really not much replay value to be be found for most types of gamers. If you do give it a chance and dislike it at first, give it a bit of time because it gets better as you progress and will probably end up growing on you. Hunted isn’t a bad game or a great game. It’s a game that hovers over mediocrity, but has some charm that will keep some gamers interested and invested.
Hunted: The Demon’s Forge was released on May 31, 2011.